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Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer 17d

How Bedlam became the matchup of college football's best QBs

College Football, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys

Baker Mayfield was caught off-guard this week when asked about the possibility of going down as the best quarterback in Oklahoma history.

From wishbone godfather Jack Mildren to Heisman winner Sam Bradford, the Sooners have boasted several prominent QBs over the years. But should Mayfield guide the Sooners to a third consecutive Big 12 title, take them to the College Football Playoff for a second time and become just the second player since the 1940s to finish in the top four of the Heisman voting three times, he very well could go down as the greatest that OU has ever had behind center.

A similar case could be made in Stillwater.

Mason Rudolph already owns several Oklahoma State passing records, including career touchdowns and completions. He's also the winningest QB in Cowboys history with 29 career victories. Defeating the Sooners for a second time while propelling OSU to the Big 12 title game could shoot him past Brandon Weeden and Mike Gundy as the Cowboys' best QB.

Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium, Rudolph and Mayfield will face off for perhaps the final time, pending a rematch in the Big 12 championship game.

Here's a look back at how two of college football's most prolific passers arrived at this massive Bedlam showdown:

Starting out

At the beginning of high school, neither Mason Rudolph nor Baker Mayfield looked like future star college QBs.

Rudolph grew up in Virginia before his family moved to South Carolina. His mother ran track at Liberty University and his dad played football for North Carolina, and during his freshman year at a private high school, the coaches saw Rudolph as a tight end. But his sophomore year, Rudolph transferred to powerhouse Northwestern in Rock Hill, and his high school coach there, Kyle Richardson, saw him as a QB.

"Physically, he had all the tools," Richardson told ESPN.com in January 2015. "It was just a matter of changing them into the tools of a quarterback."

Mayfield didn't even have the tools when he entered high school. Instead, he was 5-foot-5 as a freshman.

"He was a late bloomer," his high school coach, Hank Carter, told ESPN.com in September 2013. "We always made the comment, 'If Baker Mayfield ever grows, he's going to be a freaking stud.'"

Before long, Mayfield and Rudolph would develop into just that.

As a senior, Rudolph led Northwestern to a 15-0 record and passed for eight touchdowns in a 62-35 victory in the state title game. As for Mayfield, after the starter was injured in the opener of his junior year, he took over and also led Lake Travis (Austin, Texas) to an unbeaten season and a state title.

Yet while their careers on the field followed similar scripts, their recruitments veered in opposite directions.

Diverging recruitments

At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Rudolph became one of the top QB recruits in the country, holding offers from LSU, Louisville, Mississippi, Virginia, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Rudolph, however, hit it off with Oklahoma State's new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, who passed his first test after arriving at Oklahoma State from a Division II program by convincing Rudolph to join the Pokes.

After that first conversation with Yurcich, "it was more, 'Oh, it's cool to get an offer from them, but I'll never be going there. It's a ways away,'" Rudolph told the Oklahoman in June 2013 after committing. "But ... between the coaches, the facilities, the game feel, it just really seemed like a good fit."

Mayfield thought he had found the school that fit him, as well. Though he grew up a fan of the Sooners, he would often visit TCU with Lake Travis teammate Shaun Nixon. But while the Horned Frogs ultimately signed Nixon, they passed on Mayfield, and instead inked Zach Allen out of Temple, Texas, a month before signing day 2013.

"They told me they were going to offer me a scholarship and kind of drug it out," Mayfield said later, days before the playoff game against Clemson in 2015. "I told other schools that I wasn't interested because I thought I was going to go there. I truly believed that they were going to offer me because they told me that. They disappointed me and kind of hung me out to dry right before signing day."

By that point, the other school interested in Mayfield, Washington State, had moved on, leaving Mayfield with the option of going to New Mexico or Florida Atlantic, or walking on somewhere. Mayfield decided on the latter, and followed former Lake Travis QB Michael Brewer, who was a couple of years older, to Texas Tech.

Breaking out

Upon arriving in Lubbock, Mayfield became one of the biggest surprises in college football.

While Brewer suffered a back injury and Davis Webb came down with an illness, Mayfield tore up summer seven-on-seven on the way to winning the starting job out of nowhere.

"He's a special type of talent," TCU offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, who was then a Tech assistant, told ESPN.com in September 2013. "He's got the 'wow' factor to him."

By October, Mayfield had helped lead the Red Raiders to a 5-0 start. But that's when his Tech career began to go sideways.

A knee injury opened the door for Webb to take over as the starter. When Mayfield returned, he didn't automatically regain the starting job. As Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury began juggling his three talented QBs, Mayfield became disillusioned.

"Going from a week-to-week basis not knowing whether I was going to play or not and how short the leash would be if I had an average half, how quickly I would be pulled or anything like that. ... It was making me uncomfortable, and I just didn't want to be there anymore," Mayfield told ESPN.com in January 2014.

OU had always been Mayfield's dream school. So, he showed up in Norman a couple weeks later without an invitation, much less a scholarship offer.

That same spring, Rudolph enrolled at OSU. Initially, the Cowboys wanted to redshirt their prized QB recruit. But when J.W. Walsh and Daxx Garman both suffered injuries, Mike Gundy was forced to burn Rudolph's redshirt for the second-to-last game of the regular season.

Rudolph instantly ignited a previously dormant OSU offense in a 49-28 loss at Baylor. Then, with Mayfield ineligible watching from the sidelines, he tossed a 43-yard, fourth-quarter strike, which was followed by Tyreek Hill's game-tying, 92-yard punt return score. The Cowboys won in overtime, making them bowl eligible, while giving Rudolph a signature performance in just his second game.

Rivalry emerges

When Mayfield first transferred to OU, his chances of ever seeing the field again seemed slim. Trevor Knight, after all, had just led the Sooners to an upset over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. But after sitting out OU's rocky 2014 campaign, Mayfield improbably beat out Knight for the starting job.

"No matter what people say about me, I'm gonna believe in myself. And as a quarterback, you've got to believe in yourself," Mayfield told reporters in August 2015 after being named the starter.

It didn't take long for him to put his imprint on the OU program. In Week 2 at Tennessee, he willed the Sooners back from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter, before tossing the game-winning TD in overtime.

Rudolph, meanwhile, built off his breakout freshman finish to put the Cowboys in the thick of the Big 12 title race that season alongside Oklahoma. In early November, he threw five TDs, lifting the Pokes to a 20-point win over eighth-ranked TCU.

But leading up to a Bedlam de facto Big 12 title game, Rudolph suffered a broken foot. He tossed only three passes against the Sooners, one of which was intercepted and returned for a TD.

Mayfield, meanwhile, shined in his Bedlam debut. He grew a mustache beforehand, as a signal that "a new sheriff was back in town." And the 58-23 rout sent his Sooners to the playoff.

Back for more

The summer of 2016 was a wild one for the Big 12, on top of the expansion drama. After first voting down a rule proposal to eliminate eligibility restrictions for walk-on transfers, the league reversed course the following day, making Mayfield eligible at OU for the 2017 season.

In 2016, Rudolph passed for more than 4,000 yards and tossed only four interceptions. Mayfield would get invited to New York as a Heisman finalist.

Once again, Bedlam would decide the Big 12 title.

Mayfield wore a shirt with the words "Back to Back 2015 & 2016" under his pads. Then, he went out and turned that to reality, throwing for three TDs, while Rudolph struggled in the rain, and the Sooners rolled again, 38-20.

Immediately afterward, Mayfield confirmed he would be returning for the season the Big 12 gave him back.

Rudolph did the same before OSU's bowl game, then shredded Colorado for 314 passing yards and three TDs.

The best ever?

Mayfield's final year got off to a rough start.

Before spring ball, he was charged with misdemeanor complaints of public intoxication, disorderly conduct, fleeing and resisting arrest in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

"It's a special honor to play quarterback here -- I messed up," he said in his first interview after the arrest. "I can't have any slip-ups. Because not only do I have my teammates looking up to me, I have my coaches counting on me, I have Sooner Nation, all the fans looking up to me, all the little kids -- I was once that little kid. That was the biggest thing that was eating me up."

Mayfield agreed to a plea deal, then worked toward putting the arrest behind him.

This season, he has never been better, albeit not without controversy. After taking down Ohio State in Columbus, he planted the OU flag at midfield of The Shoe. Mayfield later apologized, but kept the swagger that has made him a transformational player.

As a senior, Rudolph has had plenty of swagger, too. He ranks just behind Mayfield at No. 2 nationally in Total QBR. And like Mayfield, Rudolph has the Cowboys right in the hunt for a spot in the Big 12 title game and the playoff.

Over the years, the two have become friends, through mutual acquaintances, the Manning Passing Camp and like experiences. That friendship, however, doesn't carry over when they play.

"I don't like him on the field at all, and he knows that," Rudolph said during Big 12 media days in July. "I don't like him and I don't like his team."

Both have the chance for another exclamation point Saturday. And to add to their cases as the best their schools have ever had.

"I think the biggest thing for both of us, we have great supporting casts and teams that are playing hard for us," Mayfield said, when asked this week why he and Rudolph have had such great careers.

"But I'm not done yet. We'll see when that happens."

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