For Baker Mayfield, Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens represents a chance to get back into the AFC North race, an opportunity to get the Cleveland Browns' offense on track and a weird college reunion where he is clearly the odd-man out.
At Oklahoma, Mayfield threw for 14,607 yards and won a Heisman trophy by flinging the ball to Ravens' Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown while being protected by Orlando Brown Jr. In the NFL, Mayfield is quarterbacking the Browns while watching his BFFs become part of the NFL's top-ranked offense with quarterback Lamar Jackson and the rival Ravens.
“It’s different looking over there and seeing a lot of the guys I played with,” Mayfield said. "It’s fun to watch those guys, knowing how talented they are and exactly who they are.”
Mayfield remains friends with his former Sooners teammates even though the Ravens and Browns could become the fiercest rivalry in the AFC North over the next decade. They still text and talk throughout the year, including the week leading up to their games against each other (no game plans are ever discussed).
In the midst of the Browns hype this offseason, Andrews, Marquise Brown and Orlando Brown attended Mayfield’s Malibu, California, wedding in July. Andrews was one of Mayfield’s six groomsmen, wearing a matching blue suit with his name embroidered on the inside of the jacket.
"I think it's definitely a unique situation for him and me," Andrews said. "He's one of my best friends. That'll be like that forever, no matter what. But when this week comes up, it's all business."
Did the topic of Ravens-Browns come up during the reception?
"I can’t really tell you too much about those conversations. But it does come up,” Orlando Brown said. "I wouldn’t say it gets intense. We both love our teams. It’s as much as I can say about it.”
The start of this friendship between these NFL starters began, of all places, on a scout team. In 2014, Mayfield was sitting out his transfer season at Oklahoma, and Andrews and Orlando Brown were redshirting (Marquise Brown was still in high school). They believe that scout team could've been the starting offense at any other Big 12 school at the time.
Three years later, Mayfield was hailed as the best player in college football, Andrews won the award for college football's most outstanding tight end, Orlando Brown earned unanimous All-American honors at offensive tackle and Marquise Brown averaged over 19 yards per catch.
"It really sucked for the defensive guys in the Big 12," said safety Tony Jefferson, who is another Oklahoma alumnus on the Ravens.
In the 2018 NFL draft, Cleveland made Mayfield the No. 1 overall pick and the Ravens selected Andrews and Orlando Brown in the third round. A year later, Baltimore continued its raid of Sooners talent by taking Marquise Brown in the first round.
The Ravens are atop the AFC North primarily because of the league's highest scoring offense (36.7 points per game), which has been fueled by Mayfield's ex-teammates.
Marquise Brown is fifth among wide receivers with 282 yards receiving, and Andrews is fourth among tight ends with 235 yards. Orlando Brown has allowed one sack in 13 career starts at right tackle.
"I see why [Oklahoma was] so good," Jackson said. "Guys are fast. They can do it all, man. I’m glad they’re on my team."
Those Ravens who've played with Mayfield understand what it means to play against his team.
Asked what information he could pass along about Mayfield, Marquise Brown said, "He's a competitor -- the ultimate competitor."
Mayfield's ex-teammates remember the time when ESPN's Lee Corso called the Sooners "pretenders." Mayfield made up a sign with "pretenders" on it and carried it around to the weight room and meetings.
There were also the texts from Mayfield to remind teammates to get in extra work, which included getting together to go over routes or throw some passes outside the scheduled practices.
"He’s a guy who has been doubted his whole life and has proved people wrong ever since high school and college," Andrews said. "So, to have a guy like that in your division, it's fun to go against and you have to bring it every week."
Mayfield acknowledges he catches himself watching the Ravens more than other teams. When Andrews scored his first NFL touchdown last season, he received a congratulatory text from Mayfield.
"Anytime you know people out there, you are going to pay attention to it," Mayfield said.
Mayfield gets another up-close look at Andrews, Orlando Brown and Marquise Brown on Sunday. In last season's finale, the Ravens won the AFC North by beating Mayfield. This time, first place is on the line when the Oklahoma contingent meet at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.
"Obviously he's family, but I’m used to it now," Orlando Brown said. "I understand he’s a division rival. Our friendship isn’t altered in any way."
ESPN Cleveland Browns reporter Jake Trotter contributed to this story.