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Too Sooner: Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield Face Each Other In NFL

Oklahoma Heisman winners/No. 1 draft picks/friends battle in Cardinals-Browns

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) after handing the ball off to his backup, Kyler Murray (1), during a play at the 2018 Rose Bowl. Mayfield and Murray will face each other in the NFL for the first time Sunday when the Browns visit the Cardinals.
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) after handing the ball off to his backup, Kyler Murray (1), during a play at the 2018 Rose Bowl. Mayfield and Murray will face each other in the NFL for the first time Sunday when the Browns visit the Cardinals.

Oklahoma will have some football recruits visiting Sunday in Norman and there is a college football playoff game coming up, so Lincoln Riley has some work to get done.

But come the afternoon, the Sooners coach admitted there will be NFL on his mind, right around 3:05 p.m. Central time, when the Cardinals and Browns kick off.

"I'll be checking in on the game for sure," Riley said by phone Wednesday.

Success has been plentiful for Riley during his stint with Oklahoma, but it doesn't get much more tangible than Sunday's game at State Farm Stadium, where the Browns will be quarterbacked by Baker Mayfield, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner and subsequent NFL draft's No. 1 overall pick, and the Cardinals will be quarterbacked by Kyler Murray , the 2018 Heisman winner and subsequent draft's No. 1 overall pick.

The two are more than just Oklahoma quarterback icons. They grew close in the two years they spent together after Murray transferred there from Texas A&M, spending hours together in the meeting rooms, the practice field and away from football.

There was a reason Mayfield tweeted at Murray as soon as the Cardinals drafted Murray – the schedule for 2019 already set – that he was looking forward to December.

"This is real bragging rights being in the same quarterback room for a few years and just razzing each other back and forth," Mayfield told Cleveland reporters Wednesday. "It is going to be a fun one."

Murray smiled wide and chuckled when told that Mayfield said it was about bragging rights. "For sure," Murray said.

Mayfield first reached out to Murray via text right after Murray transferred to Oklahoma.

"We've been boys since," said Murray, who most recently was texting with Mayfield during Oklahoma's win in the Big 12 championship game.

Murray had no bigger cheerleader than Mayfield, by then a rookie with the Browns, as Murray dominated in his one full year as college starter. Mayfield acknowledged he did encourage Murray, who already had been drafted in the first round by Major League Baseball's Oakland A's and signed a contract, to leave baseball and play in the NFL.

Mayfield then was on the Murray hype train as it became more likely the two would end up as the top NFL picks in back-to-back years.

"He is one of a kind," Mayfield said. "After being around him for a few years in practice watching him tear it up on scout team and then play, he is who he is. He is a special player."

Murray transferred to Oklahoma expecting that Mayfield's eligibility would've run out after the 2016 season, giving Murray two years to start. But Mayfield petitioned for an extra year and the NCAA granted him that, meaning Murray had to be the backup.

So Murray made the most of it. He and Mayfield good-naturedly would battle in practice -- "I can imagine if a ball touched the ground in practice, they were probably talking trash to each other," Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said – and Murray said he sat back and learned what to do, and what not to do.

"We're a little different," said Murray, a monumental understatement given Murray's reserved nature and Mayfield's in-your-face persona. "I would never do some of the stuff he's done.

Murray laughed. "That's my boy. He knows that. I just let him do those things, and we just laugh at him."

Baker Mayfield (left) and Kyler Murray at the GQ x NFL After Party the night before Super Bowl LIII in February.
Baker Mayfield (left) and Kyler Murray at the GQ x NFL After Party the night before Super Bowl LIII in February.

Still, Murray called Mayfield "a great dude," and while they had different styles, both were effective leaders.

"They push each other, challenge each other," Riley said. "There is a ton of mutual respect."

Mayfield said he probably was able to help Murray when he first arrived in Norman as a transfer, having once been a transfer himself – leaving Texas Tech, not under the best circumstances, under then-coach Kliff Kingsbury.

That's one of Sunday's secondary stories, with Kingsbury and Mayfield. Mayfield had come to Texas Tech as a walk-on, earned a starting job in 2013 and was excellent. But he got hurt, and was benched. Mayfield transferred and made no secret of his displeasure with Kingsbury.

But the two are now "in a good place," Kingsbury said, adding they spent time together at this year's Kentucky Derby. The coach acknowledged he wishes he would've handled things differently then, and Mayfield said that had been at the core of how they had made up in the six years since.

"Those are conversations that we have had and so we have both acknowledged that an 18-year-old Baker was not the all-knowing that he thought he was," said Mayfield, who also said they were in a good place. "Just having a conversation goes a long way."

But Mayfield has competed against Kingsbury before. This game, for him, is all about Kyler. Well, it's about more than that, of course. The Browns had heavy expectations coming into the season after Mayfield's hot finish to his rookie season, but they have to win Sunday to keep slim playoff hopes alive.

Murray, meanwhile, has been good in his rookie year but has struggled the past two weeks.

"There are always going to be twists and turns," Riley said. "When you are the first pick … you're not going to an elite team. You're going to teams where you are trying to build them into something special.

"Both have had a lot of ups, and they've had tough times too. But I promise you those guys are going work and keep getting better. They're in it for the long haul."

Riley would have liked to attend the game in person. He said he was "excited" when Murray was drafted, and he saw that the Browns and Cardinals didn't meet until after the college regular season in December. Maybe there would be a chance to attend.

"But that was before I had another Heisman candidate," Riley added, and indeed, the Heisman ceremony – which includes an Oklahoma quarterback again, Jalen Hurts – will be Saturday night in New York.

Hurts has had a fantastic season, although he is a longshot to win a third straight Heisman for the Sooners. He's a longshot to be the No. 1 overall pick.

Murray and Mayfield already have that on the resumé, forever linked by friendship and accomplishment.

"They are still in the early stages of their careers," Riley said. "This is just the first of many battles."

Images from practice at the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center