Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith won’t have to wait until New Year’s Day to cross paths.
Both will be at the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta on Thursday night, two of 24 stars of the 2017 season who will gather from around the country for the “College Football Awards” show, a two-hour made-for-TV event that will air on ESPN beginning at 7 p.m.
The 27th annual event, which is in Atlanta for the third consecutive year after a long run at Disney World, brings Mayfield to the heart of Bulldog Nation just a few days after the College Football Playoff set a semifinal matchup of Georgia vs. Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl.
Mayfield, who arrived in Atlanta on Wednesday, said in a media session at the Hall of Fame that he sees the Rose Bowl as “strength against strength” – Oklahoma’s prolific offense, which ranks No. 1 nationally among FBS teams with 583.3 yards per game, vs. Georgia’s stellar defense, which yields 270.9 yards per game, the nation’s fourth fewest.
Mayfield hasn’t gotten deep into study of Georgia yet, but he has noticed Smith.
“Unbelievable player, a guy that is always around the ball,” Mayfield said. “His stats show that, but when you watch the film, you really see just how much an impact he makes on the field. Teams have tried to game-plan to make sure he’s not a factor, but he always makes sure he is the factor in the game.”
Smith, of course, knows about Mayfield, too. “Awesome player,” he said of the Oklahoma quarterback, the heavy favorite to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday in New York.
“Looking forward to meeting him,” Smith said.
Mayfield got a sneak peek at the Heisman Trophy on Wednesday, looking at one (from 2002) on display in the Hall of Fame.
Mayfield is a finalist for two of the nine individual awards that will be presented during Thursday night’s show here: the Maxwell Award as college football’s player of the year and the Davey O’Brien Award as the best quarterback. Smith is a finalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award as defensive player of the year.
Among others on hand will be Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and Stanford running back Bryce Love, who are Mayfield’s fellow finalists for the Maxwell Award; quarterbacks J.T. Barrett of Ohio State and Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State, who are the other finalists for the O’Brien Award; and N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb and Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, who are Smith’s fellow finalists for the Bednarik Award.
“Having a chance to meet some of the best players in college football and being able to interact with those guys and hear about them and their stories,” Smith said, “I’m definitely looking forward to the opportunity.”
The two-hour awards show on ESPN will be preceded by a one-hour red-carpet show on ESPNU beginning at 6 p.m. and followed by a one-hour post-show “Championship Drive: CFB Playoff Preview” on ESPN at 9 p.m., both also originating from the College Football Hall of Fame.
Mayfield didn’t have to come to Atlanta to hear from Georgia fans. About 100 of them found his cellphone number posted online Sunday, shortly after the Georgia-Oklahoma matchup was set, and barraged him with prank calls and texts.
Mayfield said Wednesday that he had to change his cell number “for the first time since I got the phone in eighth grade,” but he added that he came away from the incident with “respect” for UGA fans.
“I’d hope our fans would do the same thing if they got a chance,” Mayfield said.
“They were creative, I’d say that,” he said of Georgia fans. “Got probably about 100 text messages and calls in about 45 minutes. My phone blew up.”