NORMAN, Okla. — Kyler Murray is a starting quarterback again.
The fourth-year junior from Allen, Texas, and transfer from Texas A&M won the job this preseason for the No. 5-ranked Oklahoma Sooners.
OU announced the news on Wednesday that Murray will replace 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield as the Sooners’ starter and that third-year sophomore Austin Kendall will be the backup.
“Kyler did a really nice job in camp,” Riley said in a press release. “IT was really a great competition between Austin and him, one that we carried on longer than maybe even we expected because of how well both guys played. There weren’t a lot of differentiating factors in the end because both did play so well and so efficiently, but just felt like from an overall perspective that Kyler was just a little bit ahead.”
Murray’s unique skill set adds an entirely new dimension to Riley’s innovative offense. Riley has coached prolific passers who could run — Mayfield became the first player in FBS history with 14,000 career passing yards and 1,000 career rushing yards as the Sooners led the nation in total offense last season — but he’s never had a quarterback as fleet as Murray.
“We feel like we’ve got a great quarterback tandem there and we’re really proud of the way that Austin has improved through the redshirt year last year and during camp,” Riley said. “We’re excited for Kyler and his opportunity and the team looks forward to getting ready for FAU.”
After redshirting the 2016 season as a transfer, the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Murray ran the ball 14 times for 142 yards in 2017, averaging more than 10 yards per carry. But he’s also an adequate thrower. He completed 85.7 percent of his passes last season (18-of-21) for 359 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, including a long of 87 yards.
“I think the things we can do, you can’t put a limit on it. So I’m ready to go,” Murray said in July. “I feel I can do anything on the field.”
In the Sooners’ Red/White Game last spring — their only public head-to-head competition — Murray completed 11-of-21 passes for 85 yards with 35 yards rushing on nine carries, while Kendall went 11-of-18 for 134 yards with one touchdown and one interception and 32 yards rushing on five carries.
The Sooners staged their final preseason scrimmage on Saturday, and Riley made his decision.
As a true freshman at Texas A&M in 2015, Murray played in eight games and made three starts. He was second among all Aggie ballcarriers with 335 rushing yards (6.3 per carry), and completed 59.5 percent of his throws (72-of-121) with five TDs and seven INTs.
In his first career start in College Station, Murray hit 20-of-28 passes for 223 yards and rushed 20 times for 156 yards against South Carolina.
Murray said he’s changed “a lot” since his days at Texas A&M and has grown as a quarterback under Riley.
“Nobody really understands how much coaching matters,” Murray said. “ … A&M, it just wasn’t the right fit. You can’t really play up to your capabilities if you’re not being coached or you’re (not) in the right system, really. Me and coach Riley, since I’ve been here, I’ve gained, really, a lot of respect for coach Riley. I think I’ve progressed well and right now I think I’m playing the best football of my life.”
As a prep star, Murray was a consensus five-star recruit who led Allen High School to 43 consecutive victories and three straight Texas state championships behind 14,500 yards total offense and 186 career touchdowns. He was tabbed national high school player of the year by Parade Magazine, Gatorade, MaxPreps and USA Today. He chose Texas A&M over offers from OU, Oklahoma State, Texas, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oregon.
Murray also was the first player ever selected to play in the Under Armour All-American Game in both football and baseball.
Murray, son of record-setting former Texas A&M quarterback Kevin Murray, likely will be the Sooners’ starting QB for just one season as he recently signed a rookie contract with the Oakland A’s that will pay him $4.66 million. The A’s picked Murray No. 9 overall in this year’s Major League Baseball Draft, but he maintains he’s all football at the moment.
“I mean, I wouldn’t be here right now if I wasn’t hungry to play this game,” Murray said. “I think this is the most anticipated football season that I’ve ever been ready for in my life. So I’m ready to go.”
In 51 games with the Sooners last season, Murray batted .296 (56-of-189) with 46 runs, 13 doubles, three triples, 10 home runs, 47 RBI, a .398 on-base percentage and a .556 slugging percentage. Both Murray and the A’s have said he’ll play only one more football season with the Sooners, though Riley hasn’t closed the door on a 2019 return.
“Right now my focus is playing football and working towards a national championship,” Murray said. “I’ve been doing both my whole life, so shuffling back and forth is obviously something I’ve been doing. But yeah, my focus right now is winning a national championship.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.