One of the biggest questions going into next season is how Oklahoma performs without Baker Mayfield as its starting quarterback for the first time in three years.
There’s an old saying in sports: you never want to replace a legend, you want to be the guy who replaces the guy who replaces the legend.
And there’s no doubt Mayfield is a legend who’ll go down in college football history as one of the game’s best quarterbacks of all time. In his three seasons at Oklahoma, he led the Sooners to three consecutive conference championships, a 34-6 record and two appearances in the College Football Playoff.
Oh yeah, he also won the 2017 Heisman Trophy, while accumulating a ridiculous 119-21 touchdown-to-interception ratio during his stellar career in Norman, Okla.
Mayfield, who figures to be selected in the first round in April’s NFL Draft, leaves behind gigantic shoes to fill, but he believes Oklahoma won’t miss a beat.
“They’re in great hands,” he said following the Sooners’ loss in the Rose Bowl. “They have the best coach in the country. Kyler [Murray] is the best athlete in the country. They’re going to be just fine.”
Just who is Kyler Murray, the guy expected to take the reins as Sooners’ starting quarterback, you ask?
A consensus five-star recruit, he was the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the Class of 2015, according to ESPN, so he’s got the talent. Murray signed with Texas A&M, before transferring to Oklahoma following his freshman campaign, during which he played in eight games.
After sitting out 2016 due to NCAA transfer rules, Murray played in seven games for the Sooners last year, completing 18-of-21 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns. Granted, all of his action took place when Mayfield had given the team a sizable lead and head coach Lincoln Riley pulled starters.
While he performed admirably in spot duty, there’s no guarantee that translates to success when he becomes the starter. Listed on Oklahoma’s official roster at just 5-foot-10 and 192 pounds, Murray will be one of the smallest quarterbacks in the country when he takes the field next fall.
Mayfield’s slight frame was one of the biggest reasons why he began his career as a walk-on at Texas Tech, but he’s almost two inches taller and nearly 25 pounds heavier. It’s a legitimate question whether or not Murray’s body can hold up, especially in an offense that uses a lot of quarterback runs.
Over the last two years in Riley’s offense, Mayfield averaged 85 rushes per season. Murray’s considered a much more dangerous runner, too, which means there’s a chance there are even more designed runs coming next season.
Quarterback development is unquestionably important for national success in college football, and Riley has quite the track record when it comes to that position.
As East Carolina’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2010 to 2014, Riley developed two record-setting passers in Dominique Davis and Shane Carden. Davis set school records for completions and passing touchdowns even though he played just two seasons; and is perhaps best known for his stretch of 36 straight completions in 2011, an NCAA record.
Most of Davis’ records were broken by Carden, who became the starter in 2012. In 2013, Carden became the first quarterback in school history to throw for over 4,000 yards, while also setting the school record for completion percentage in a season (70.5). The following season, Carden had the most completions in the country (392) and set the school passing yardage mark with 4,736 yards, on the way to becoming the American Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Riley’s last three quarterbacks–Mayfield, Carden and Davis–all experienced tremendous success and record-breaking careers in his system, so there’s definitely a feeling that Murray will be just fine once he gets the chance to shake off the early season nerves.
If I’m a Sooner fan, I’m not worried if Murray’s good enough or if Riley can make him great, but I think whether or not Murray can stay healthy with his short stature will make or break the season.