INDIANAPOLIS - Matthew Stafford refuses to accept the title of second best. Mark Sanchez won't like it either.
So the NFL draft's two top-rated quarterbacks will spend the next two months proving who is better.
Stafford and Sanchez insist this high-stakes duel will not devolve into a personal battle despite the temptation to make this about money, prestige and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be the first quarterback selected in the 2009 draft. They figure football should never ruin a good friendship.
'Of course I think that (I should go first), and he should think that, too,' Sanchez said Friday at the NFL's annual scouting combine in Indianapolis. 'All I want to be is the best and No. 1 is the best, so that's what I want to be.'
Most draft analysts believe Stafford, a three-year starter at Georgia, holds the lead. They claim he's the top quarterback in the class and a possible No. 1 selection in April.
Sanchez's supporters point to Southern Cal's offense, the track record of recent Trojan quarterbacks in the NFL and believe that experience makes Sanchez a better choice even though Sanchez didn't win the starting job till last summer.
The decision, of course, rests with the scouts and general managers who scrutinize everything from the obvious, like arm strength, to minute details, like hand measurements.
But the quarterbacks embrace the competition.
'We're having fun with it, trying to keep it lighthearted,' said Stafford, who measured in at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds.
The dialogue on Friday between the two provided hints about how much fun they are having.
As Stafford addressed reporters, Sanchez sneaked up to the podium with a small video camera, ducked his head and shouted a question about Stafford's weight.
Stafford started to answer before realizing who it was, then responded with a playful scolding more reminiscent of brothers than challengers.
'Get out of here Mark, go away,' Stafford said, laughing. 'I'll to have get you back.'
The two first met at the influential Elite 11 camp in California. There, they emerged among the nation's best quarterbacks and started the quest that has turned them into two highly prized players.
Stafford then headed to Georgia, while Sanchez stayed home in California. When they got together again last summer, their outgoing personalities seemed a perfect match. The two traded text messages, e-mails and phone calls through the fall, and continued chatting while debating whether to turn pro.
When Stafford and Sanchez both opted to leave school, it put them in arguably the highest-profile battle in this year's draft.
'I'm doing everything to prove to teams that I'm worth a pick, and if it's the No. 1 pick, that's great,' Stafford said. 'To go to the Lions, I'd be happy to go there.'
But going in the first round, or No. 1 overall, has big risks for a quarterback.
The busts, like Ryan Leaf, Tim Couch, and Alex Smith, have become almost as identifiable as the successful players, like Peyton and Eli Manning.
And when the competition gets close, the relationship can become tense.
Sanchez and Stafford will not let that happen.
'He's a great guy, and from what I hear a great teammate,' Stafford said. 'He'll definitely help some team.'
Which one may depend on who answers the questions best.
Some believe juniors have a more difficult transition to the NFL than seniors.
It hasn't seemed to matter this year.
Each of the top four quarterbacks this year - Stafford, Sanchez, Kansas State's Josh Freeman and Ball State's Nate Davis - left school early. Two other underclassmen, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Tim Tebow of Florida, both Heisman Trophy winners, didn't come out.
That makes Sam Houston State's Rhett Bomar, the former Oklahoma quarterback who was dismissed from the program, the top-rated senior at No. 5.
'I think experience really does help,' Bomar said. 'The more you play, the more things you experience, the better you're going to be. I wished that never happened to me (at Oklahoma), but I think it's matured me and I've grown up a lot. I think it's good training. For some of these guys, everything's gone perfectly all their lives and it's not like that in the NFL.'
Stafford and Sanchez hope to debunk those contentions.
Sanchez, who measured in at 6-2, 227, contends the big-city environment of Los Angeles and high expectations at Southern Cal have been good preparation for the scrutiny he will face next season.
On Sunday, Sanchez will be one of the rare top prospects who plans to participate in the workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Stafford does not plan to work out this week, opting instead to audition at his pro day next month in Athens.
'I've got to throw because I feel like I want to do it,' he said. 'I'm a competitive person and that's what it's about. It would kill me not to throw.'
Or to go behind Stafford on draft day.
So they will battle hard, hear the judgments, shake hands and wish each other well till they meet again.
'We're the same type of guys, so we hit it off right away,' Stafford said. 'I had to take the guys around Orange County and show them what to do. Now we're competing against each other and everyone wants to make it 'Who will be No. 1?' But we're having fun.'