Murray lone heir apparent among 5-star backup QBs in playoff

January 1, 2018

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Kyler Murray was among the most sought-after players at Oklahoma's Rose Bowl media day session for about 15, maybe 20 minutes.

Then Baker Mayfield rolled in and most of the reporters and television cameras that were trained on Murray peeled off to focus on the Heisman Trophy winner, who has been fighting flu-like symptoms while preparing to play No. 3 Georgia in the Rose Bowl.

Such is the life of the backup quarterback, though Murray is not your typical clipboard-holding, headset-wearing understudy.

Murray was a five-star recruit and one of the most celebrated high school players to come out of Texas in recent years. He started three games as a freshman for Texas A&M, but it went sour quickly in College Station and he transferred to Oklahoma. He sat out last season to satisfy NCAA requirements and has spent this season mostly mopping up as Mayfield led No. 2 Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff.

"I'm just being patient," Murray said.

Murray is one of four former five-star quarterbacks who will be -- barring something unexpected -- serving as backups during the playoff semifinals. Sophomore Jacob Eason was behind freshman Jake Fromm for Georgia. At the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, freshman Hunter Johnson was listed at No. 2 behind Kelly Bryant on the depth chart for No. 1 Clemson. Highly touted freshman Tua Tagovailoa will be backing up Jalen Hurts for No. 4 Alabama.

For Georgia, Clemson and Alabama, the talented No. 2s are destined to cause offseason intrigue.

Short of a coaching search, nothing ramps up message-board speculation like competition at quarterback. And there's more on the way. Georgia and Clemson will be adding the top two quarterback recruits in the class of 2018 in Justin Fields (Bulldogs) and Trevor Lawrence (Tigers).

Eason's future is already the topic of speculation, with many wondering whether he will transfer after the season. The former high school star from the Seattle area started as a freshman, but injured his knee in Georgia's 2017 season opener. By the time he was healthy enough to play again, Fromm had become entrenched as the starter. Georgia coach Kirby Smart was in no mood to address Eason's future with the playoff looming.

"That's not a big concern of ours right now," Smart said.

At Oklahoma, it seems much simpler. While nothing is guaranteed, Murray is Mayfield's heir apparent.

Murray spent one tumultuous season at A&M, starting three games, flashing some of the skills that drew comparisons to Johnny Manziel, getting replaced by another five-star freshman in Kyle Allen, and then finally leaving the team before the Aggies played a bowl game.

When Murray made the move to Oklahoma, it looked as if Mayfield would be gone after the 2016 season. Instead, Mayfield, a transfer himself, had a year of eligibility restored when the Big 12 tweaked its rules regarding walk-on players transferring. With Mayfield back, Murray was relegated to No. 2 this season.

This wasn't the way it was supposed to go for a quarterback who went 42-0 with three state championships as a starter for Texas powerhouse Allen High School. But Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said he thinks it has been the best thing that could happen to Murray.

"I don't think we could have dreamed up a better scenario for him," Riley said. "He probably had more attention coming on him than just about any high school player that's ever played in the state of Texas, which is saying something. I think it was good for him to get here and be able to catch his breath, kind of get under the radar a little bit, Having a chance to learn from Baker, to really get settled in within the system."

If the glimpses of Murray are any indication, the Sooners have a lot to look forward to in 2018. Murray is 18-for-21 passing for 359 yards and three touchdowns, and has run for 142 on 13 carries with another score this season.

"Everything happens for a reason," Murray said. "I'm glad I'm where I'm at."

Murray got one start, in the final game of the season against West Virginia, when Mayfield was serving a team punishment for inappropriate sideline antics the week before versus Kansas. Murray was to play the first series. It lasted just two plays because Murray ran 66 yards to set up a short touchdown.

"I've been proud of his development," Riley said. "He's a guy that I sleep well at night knowing if something happened and it was time for him to play, I don't think we'd miss a beat."


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