MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – College football fans will get an early Christmas gift on Black Friday.
Sure, West Virginia’s regular-season finale against Oklahoma is exciting enough on its own merits. A trip to the Big 12 championship game awaits the winner. But even fans across the country with no rooting interest can be drawn in by the hook of Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray squaring off against West Virginia counterpart Will Grier.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “Both have had a lot of success and are obviously two of the best quarterbacks in the country. We get to watch them play here one last time on Friday night.”
Murray and Grier are already two of the three finalists for the Maxwell Award, and if both put in big-time performances in prime time, it could assure that they will meet again in New York in a couple weeks as Heisman Trophy finalists.
“There’s a lot at stake in the future of all these awards they are up for,” said West Virginia offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. “I think Friday night after the game you’re going to figure out who is going to be in the lead for one of those awards.”
Few people are as familiar with both quarterbacks as Spavital. He originally recruited Murray to Texas A&M, making a splash with then-Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin by arriving to one of Murray’s high school games via helicopter.
“He was the guy who I put all my eggs in one basket on,” Spavital said. “If I didn’t sign Kyler Murray at Texas A&M, I probably wasn’t going to take a quarterback that year. He’s a special player.”
Murray went 43-0 in high school, but struggled in three starts at A&M as a true freshman in 2015, throwing seven interceptions against five touchdowns. Spavital was fired as A&M’s offensive coordinator, and Murray transferred to Oklahoma.
Now he has molded into the player Spavital envisioned.
“I think Kyler is playing exactly how we thought he would play,” Spavital said.
With Grier, Spavital gets to work with a quarterback on the other side of the transfer fence.
Grier’s freshman season at Florida got off to a promising start, but ended when he was suspended for taking an over-the-counter supplement on the NCAA’s banned substances list. Shunned by then-Florida head coach Jim McElwain, Grier came to West Virginia to revive his career.
“Both of these kids who are going to play Friday, it’s a testament of overcoming adversity and staying out of the limelight when they’re used to it all through high school and at the beginning of their college careers,” Spavital said. “Then, you take that two-year lull where you have to stay away from the limelight. Now, they’re out there doing what they’ve always done.”
In addition to sharing a similar back story, Spavital says the players share the same personalities.
“They’re both very quiet in nature and they’re both very confident in themselves,” Spavital said. “When you talk to both of them and you hit those times of adversity, they have the confidence to stand up and bounce back and attack the next opportunity.”
There’s little similarity to the players when they’re on the field – which is just another element that makes this an enticing matchup.
“What makes Kyler so special is his ability to extend plays and create those ESPN Top 10 moments where he’s running one direction and throwing it the other way, or hitting an 80-yard touchdown run,” Spavital said. “What makes Will very special is his accuracy. He’s one of the best I’ve seen. That throw against Oklahoma State to Gary Jennings in the two-minute drill was right along with the one at Texas. Very accurate.
“They’re two special players. Both are different in what they do, but electric in the way they do it.”