Sooners still with unproven QB, holes to fill after beating ‘Bama

Oklahoma’s win over Alabama in last season’s Sugar Bowl may have been the biggest win in program history since the Sooners won the 2000 national title.

If not the biggest, the victory over the Crimson Tide was certainly the most significant.

The 45-31 January win not only reestablished OU on the national scene, but set up the Sooners for the 2014 season, all while solidifying quarterback Trevor Knight’s status as the team’s starter in 2014.

Beating Alabama means the Sooners means a top-five start instead of a top-20 starting position. The win makes OU a favorite to make the four-team playoff.

And Tuesday, as coach Bob Stoops addressed the media for the first time at the annual Big 12 Conference’s Media Day in Dallas, Stoops mentioned the benefit of what it meant to beat Alabama.

"Like all experiences you build off them," Stoops said. "That really did give us a boost in the last week or two of recruiting and it inspired our players to build on it in the winter. We’ve had a fabulous summer."

No denying the Sooners earned the win over mighty Alabama and no doubt OU has benefitted in the short term, too, but when it comes to looking at 2014, there’s some serious danger into suggesting past performance will be indicative of future gains. Be wary of false advertising.

Of course, Tuesday wasn’t the time or the occasion to bring up such details, and to Stoops’ credit, he certainly didn’t gloat about or linger on the specifics of that cold January night in New Orleans. No need to. OU heads into summer workouts as the overwhelming favorite to win the conference.

Whether or not you want to overlook a good number of holes and issues surrounding the team or not.

In addition to having a favorable schedule this season, the Sooners have the benefit of knowing who their quarterback is going to be. It’s Knight, who was so good in the bowl game against Alabama and so effective against Kansas State (14of-20 passing, 82 yards rushing), it’s easy to overlook the fact Knight was benched after two starts, going 21-for-48 against ULM and West Virginia. And it’s not like Knight was a savior against Iowa State and Oklahoma State either (11-of-21 passing combined).

However, when your best game is the last one, you land a job at a big school if you’re a mid-major NCAA basketball coach and you put yourself in the Heisman discussion if you’re an Oklahoma quarterback.

The truth is, Knight’s game against Alabama (32-for-44, 348 yards, four TDs) was so drastically different from his games earlier in the season. The Sooner coaches became liberal and aggressive, consistently throwing downfield with a quarterback who was not asked to do that at any other point. Remember, Knight lost his job twice – maybe the first time due to injury. We still don’t know what kind of quarterback Knight will be. All we do know is he’s the starter because he played so well against Alabama.

Knight is largely unproven. And aside from Sterling Shepard at receiver, so are the rest of the skill position players for the Sooners. The names are impressive, but that’s about it so far, and because there so much distance between OU’s dismal showings against Baylor and Texas, it’s hard to conceive the Sooners would lose those games again this year. But they could.

Because we really don’t know what this team has. 

Gone is Roy Finch and Damien Williams and dependable Brennan Clay. In their place at running back is Joe Mixon, the running back of the future, but the present shows he’s a freshman. There’s sophomore Keith Ford, who played just well enough to get carries early in the season, but sat for most of the second half of the season, a victim or fumbling. Alex Ross played the first week. He had one carry and then had just two more the rest of season. 

Durron Neal, Austin Bennett, Derrick Woods, Jordan Smallwood, Michiah Quick and Blake Bell will all catch passes. Who do you trust?

The defense looks great and got better as the season went on and with an unproven offense, it could be a situation where the defense gets exposed in 2014. If Knight can’t find his way and if the Sooners’ up-tempo offense can’t get enough first downs, it means more time on the field for the defense which should be strong up front but weaker toward the back with no Aaron Colvin and Gabe Lynn. Zack Sanchez, Quentin Hayes and even Hatari Byrd are big names to go along with Julian Wilson and Cortez Johnson, but are equal parts unproven mixed with potential.

There’s plenty of room for optimism in 2014, but there are a bunch of questions, too.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK