NORMAN, Okla. – Bob Stoops told us the decision was a tough one.
But it couldn’t have been. No way.
The Oklahoma football coach told us Blake Bell is still the kind of quarterback the Sooners can win with, if need be, and ultimately, it was a close call to select Trevor Knight over the guy who scored 24 touchdowns over the past two seasons. It wasn’t an easy choice.
But it had to be.
Because no matter how Stoops tried to pacify Bell, the media or whoever wanted to know how the quarterback decision was made, it’s pretty obvious Knight became the clear choice, not the close one.
No other way to process that kind of news – not when you take a redshirt freshman, who has never taken a snap without a blue jersey on, and put him out in front of Bell, a guy who has his own nickname, own style and plenty of experience.
We’ve heard from Stoops all August about how they want to be more diverse offensively. We heard from players all last season how great Knight was running the scout team, then impersonating all the good things Johnny Manziel could do with a football.
And finally we heard Stoops say Monday afternoon, “You see it early in the year and mid-year, this doesn’t change,” about Knight’s ability, his knack for making plays, extending opportunities with his legs and getting first downs with his arm. “It’s every day. You shake your head and say, ‘did you see what he just did?'”
Stoops is telling us there wasn’t an “ah-ha” moment. There was no definitive line Knight crossed and Bell tripped over. It was a steady progression of arriving on campus, putting in the work and proving himself that got Knight the first opportunity of 2013.
And he may be right about that. What Stoops isn’t right about is saying the competition between the two was close. Not a chance. The game was rigged before practice this August even began, and Bell had no chance, despite being a great goal-line closer and enforcer in shoulder pads.
Once Robert Griffin burned the Sooners in Waco two seasons ago and once Manziel beat Alabama, won the Heisman and then exposed the Sooners in a number of ways that January day in Dallas, it was over for Bell.
Not that many of us anticipated it, but credit for Stoops for looking ahead, while telling anyone who would listen that Bell, Knight and Kendal Thompson were all viable candidates. Really though, the idea of anyone who couldn’t run and throw, extend plays and provide an element the Sooners haven’t had in years from their quarterback, couldn’t be the first choice.
Not now. Not after a redshirt freshman quarterback led UCLA and another won the Heisman. Not now, after three seasons of Landry Jones sitting back in the pocket, picking and choosing his targets, but playing a game more one-dimensional than Pong.
Stoops recognized change was necessary, he just didn’t say anything about it throughout August, while the rest of the Oklahoma football world tried to handicap the quarterback race.
Monday, Stoops said, “We’ve always wanted to be more athletic at quarterback,” but they chose not to with Sam Bradford. Then the OU coaches warned against it with Jones, who ran because he had to, never because he wanted to.
Saturday, we’ll see how athletic Knight is. Oh, we’ll see Bell, too. Of course we will, because he is like a good basketball team throwing a full-court press at you midway through the second half. It’s a change of pace to bring in a downhill runner when all the defense has seen is a side-to-side finesse player. Bell will be, and should be, successful again this year, but he’s the second choice and it’s not even close. Thompson, fractured foot and all, will be more suited to take over for Knight, when he returns in about a month.
But the Sooners will never go back. Yes, it’s easy to believe Stoops when he says they look at the arm first and then the legs second when they evaluate quarterbacks for recruiting purposes, but the decision to go with Knight over Bell isn’t just a freshman getting a shot.
It’s a philosophical change of thought and process for Stoops. He saw it work too many times and too many times against his team.