Oklahoma hoping to exceed expectations in 2013

BY foxsports • July 23, 2013

DALLAS -- Bob Stoops was quick to correct a reporter who presumed that Blake Bell would be Oklahoma's starting quarterback in 2013.

"You're kind of making assumptions if you think he's the guy right now," the Sooners' coach said Tuesday at Big 12 Media Days.

So if assumptions are off the table, then logic follows that it's not wise to assume Oklahoma will be the top team in the Big 12 once again.

The Big 12's preseason media poll reflected that. The Sooners finished second with eight first-place votes, behind favorite Oklahoma State with 15. Even TCU, which finished third in the poll, had one more first-place vote than Oklahoma.

There are reasons to think Oklahoma is not going to be one of Stoops' better teams in 2013. There's the issue of an Oklahoma defense that was gutted by graduation.

But mainly it's the fact Oklahoma, with a long history of fielding some of the nation's  top passers, doesn't have a starter declared at quarterback. It's the first time the Sooners haven't had a designated starter over the offseason since 2007, when Sam Bradford eventually won the job.

And the guy that most observers, ahem, presume to be the starter, hasn't thrown the ball much.

Bell, a 6-6, 263-pound junior, has gotten plenty of attention as a short-yardage quarterback. He's earned the nickname "The Belldozer" by rushing for 24 touchdowns over the last two seasons, mostly in goal-line situations.

The fact that Bell hasn't wrapped up the job has led some to question his ability as a passer. While Stoops refutes that, he doesn't mind that people think the quarterback job is still up in the air.

"We've got a number of guys in there in competition with him that are doing really well, Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight, to go along with Blake Bell," Stoops said. "We've never been real excited about naming a guy too early."

But Stoops was concerned enough about the speculation on Bell's throwing ability to address that issue. Bell has thrown just 20 passes over two seasons, completing 10 of them for 115 yards.

"Blake is a guy that does throw the football well," Stoops said. "We have a history in my [tenure] going on 15 years of having guys in quarterbacks that are really excellent throwers, and Blake fits that mold. We would never recruit a guy that we didn't feel would be a great passer."

Then again, it's been proven that a college quarterback can have a terrific career and still not be a gifted passer.

"He throws the ball better than Tebow," center Gabe Ikard said. "Just watch the motion. He's got a great arm. Very strong, accurate, very good when it comes to throwing the deep ball."

Ikard said Bell, who was not brought to Media Days, has some of the same qualities as OU's most recent accomplished passer, Landry Jones, although the personalities are different.

"He's definitely more vocal than Landry," Ikard said. "Blake's got the same fire that Landry had, he just expresses a lot more than Landry did.

"He's really nice off the field, but when you get in that competitive spirit of the game he can get a little hot. He's definitely a little different than what we've had."

Ikard said Bell wasn't been afraid to show his competitive spirit as a backup.

"He even did it when he was in the Belldozer package last year," Ikard said. "He kind of said something to the tone of, ‘Let's get this in' is how I would put it, but a little different diction than that. He's got an attitude to him."

Oklahoma's defense has also had an attitude in the Stoops era, but the Sooners gave up a lot of yards last season despite the return of Mike Stoops, Bob's brother, as coordinator.

While the Sooners return seven starters on offense, just four return on defense with heavy losses on the defensive line.

"In some of our schemes a year ago, we were more coverage-conscious and it hurt us in the run game," Stoops said. "Personnel-wise, we do lose quite a few guys, but we are excited about the talent and ability of some of the young players coming up that we're still developing."

Oklahoma finished 10-3 last season and shared the Big 12 title. At most places that would be a banner season, but not at tradition-rich Oklahoma. Although the Sooners are respectful of the depth in the Big 12, predictions of a runner-up finish don't sit well with them.

"I feel like people are sleeping on us," cornerback Aaron Colvin said. "I feel like people don't know what to expect from us because we are losing so many people, which I can't blame you. At the end of the day, I'm confident in the players that are going to step up and fill those positions, and I know we'll be competing for another Big 12 championship."

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire