Friday, August 23, 2013

Stoops Chooses Knight Over Bell

Bob Stoops wasn't paying lip service when he insisted all summer the quarterback competition was wide open at the University of Oklahoma.  Stoops announced Thursday that redshirt freshman Trevor Knight would start at quarterback over redshirt junior Blake Bell.  For two years fans and analysts alike assumed Bell would follow Landry Jones as the next OU quarterback.  Bell is the Sooners most heralded quarterback recruit on the roster, the most veteran and the only one with any game experience.  Bell's emergence as the short yardage and goal line quarterback prompted Drew Allen to transfer.  Had Jones decided to leave for the NFL after his junior season, Bell would have likely eased his way into the starting role without competition.

Instead, Jones returned for his senior season which gave younger quarterbacks Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson a year to develop.  Even with the emergence of the two younger quarterbacks, the job was Bell's to lose.  Although he can never say it, I'm sure Stoops wanted Bell to seize control of the position.  The choice to start a freshman over a junior who has three years invested in the program and two years as a solid contributor could not have been easy.

So how should Sooners fans react?  I think there is a general feeling of disbelief mixed with excitement and a dash of letdown.

The letdown is the promise of Bell as the starter that we miss out on.  A vision all of us had of Bell throwing the ball like Jones and then powering home touchdowns on the ground.  Fans saw Tim Tebow when they thought of Bell.  No matter how many passing records Jones broke the grass was greener with Bell as the heir apparent.  The Sooners wanted a quarterback who could make plays with his feet if need be.  They wanted a quarterback with toughness and moxie, exactly what Bell showed when plowing over defenders on the goal line.  They were sick of the sacks, sick of the pout face and sick of the same letdowns the past four years.  Bell was going to make all of that better.  There would be no need to shuffle different quarterbacks on and off the field because the Belldozer would already be in the game.  That's the letdown.  The death of that vision.

The disbelief is the fact Bell couldn't win the job as a redshirt junior.  It seemed like he had paid his dues.  After three years in the program and tons of meaningful snaps, how could anyone beat him out?  And losing to a freshman?  Implausible.  No one saw Knight coming this season.  Entering competition he was a distant third.  Even if the competition was close, or if Bell made some mistakes, surely the coaches couldn't ignore the on field experience.  Bell was on the Heisman watch list for Switzer's sake.  Thompson's injury reaffirmed Bell's chances of starting.  The competition was supposed to over.  Someone forgot to tell Knight he wasn't supposed to win the job.  That's the disbelief.  Bell wasn't a sure thing after all.

The excitement is wondering what happens next.  From day one, Stoops said the best players will play.  No matter what the expectations were, Knight beat Bell on the field.  If Knight really is better than Bell, then how good can he be?  We have heard stories of the freshman terrorizing the scout team, but that was the scout team.  Other than a couple of scrimmages, we don't know much about Knight.  We know he's fast and can make plays with his legs, something Sooners fans were looking forward to with Bell.  The unknowns of the coming season are exciting.  How good can this team be?  Who will step up on defense?  Will we run the ball more?  And now, what will a Knight led offense look like?  Instead of dreaming the Tebow dream, fans can hope Stoops found himself the next Sam Bradford.  That's the excitement.  The discovery of an unknown commodity with unlimited potential.

The most intriguing question to me is whether Knight won the job or Bell lost it.   That's what we'll find out a week from Saturday.  A starting job at quarterback is not guaranteed under Stoops.  Nate Hybl was named the starter before losing his job to Jason White mid-season.  Paul Thompson started the first game of the 2005 season and only made it through a half before losing his job for the season.  If Knight isn't moving the ball, you can be sure Bell will come in.  Stoops said "both quarterbacks will be ready to play" after naming Knight the starter.  I would expect both players to continue competing.

Another intriguing question is what will happen to the Belldozer package this season?  Will coaches continue to shuffle in Bell with no threat of the pass?  I have never been a fan of the package.  I know I'm in the minority, but there are talented running backs all over the roster who aren't getting enough touches.  If Josh Heupel can't find a way to get them involved then he's not a very good offensive coordinator.  At this point I wouldn't be surprised to see the Belldozer, but I would be disappointed.  It would seem like a slap in the face.  Backing up Jones is one thing.  Backing up your freshman competition is humiliating.

To bottom line things, no matter which of the three quarterbacks got the nod, the offense was going to be good.  All three quarterbacks are mobile and talented passers.  Beyond that, the offense is littered with playmakers.  The offensive line is as deep as it's been since 2008, the receivers are experienced and talented and the running backs go six deep.  The only problem for the offense is that there's only one ball and lots of playmakers to feed.  Knight is stepping into a dream situation.

The defense is really what will define the 2013 Sooners.  How will Mike Stoops overcome the lack of defensive line depth?  What wrinkles has he added to slow down potent spread attacks?  Will the linebackers play to their potential?  Those are the real questions.  I can't wait to find out the answers.  Boomer Sooner!

As an aside: We won't be spared the headline puns that Bell lends itself to.  Knight will create equal opportunity.  The Bell Tolls for Bell.  The Difference Was Knight and Day.  Bell of the Ball.  Knight Wins the Day.  Ring the Bell.  Good-Knight.  Yeah, can't wait for those.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sooners Get No Respect

I am not a pessimistic Oklahoma Sooners fan. I will admit, however, the older I get, the more realistic fan I have become.  Last season finished on a sour note when the Sooners were humiliated by Johnny (and all I got was this lousy autograph) Manziel and Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.  The past two seasons have produced some of the worst defense in OU football history.  To be honest, the past four seasons have been frustrating for Sooners fans.  It started in 2009 when numerous injuries derailed a potential national championship team.  In each of the next three seasons OU squandered winnable games eliminating championship hopes.

Until now I have approached this coming season realistically.  The Sooners are breaking in a new starting quarterback and lost seven of eleven starters from a defense that finished last season humbled.  That said, a realistic approach to the season was admitting the Sooners probably wouldn't win the national championship.  I still expected them to win the conference, beat Texas and Oklahoma State, and play in the Fiesta Bowl.  Realistic.

Those realistic goals are similar to what the Sooners have produced the past five seasons.  Since 2008, the Sooners have played for a national championship, won three Big XII championships and went 3-2 in bowl games including a BCS bowl victory.  Despite this, rated OU as the most overrated college football team of the last five years.  The site compared teams preseason ranking with final rankings and calculated the difference.

I know what you're thinking.

With their resume, how are the Sooners considered overrated?

No?  That's not what you were thinking?

Then, you were probably thinking the bulk of the poll differential (-49 from preseason rankings) came in 2009 when they began the year ranked 3rd only to finish unranked after Sam Bradford's injury.

No again? Okay, I got it.

You're thinking, who the hell is and why the hell would I care what they say?

That's exactly what I was thinking too when I read it.  But apparently I'm not the only person that noticed.  The moniker of overrated has been tossed OU's way after losing back to back national championship games in 2003 and 2004.  It's funny that being one of the final two teams would earn you an overrated label, but that's what happened.  Now this pollspeak article appeared and gave detractors all the ammunition they need to insult OU football, and they are taking advantage.

The Sooners start the season ranked 16th in the coaches poll.  Probably fair aside from being ranked behind Texas and Oklahoma State.  In three college football preview shows I watched, analysts unanimously trashed the Sooners. One went so far as to say Oklahoma State has taken over as the best program in Oklahoma.

What a joke!  OSU has exactly one series win in the last decade.  ONE!  In a DECADE.  The all-time record is 83-17-7 in favor of the Sooners.  One win per decade is all OSU fans need to be the most obnoxious in college football.  So many years of living in big brother's shadow has left Poke fans with very low self esteem.  The Mets have a better chance of taking New York from the Yankees than the Cowboys have of taking Oklahoma from the Sooners.  OSU will always find a way to lose if they are expected to win, so I guess it's good that everyone outside of Norman expects the Cowboys to beat the Sooners this season. 

Speaking of obnoxious, the pundits also predicted Texas would beat OU even though the Sooners have won the last three games by a combined 88 points (their overrated years, don't forget).  Texas hasn't even been competitive the last two games allowing the Sooners to score 55 and 63 points.  I understand that Texas has talent, but when have they not had talent under Mack Brown?  The problem is you actually have to coach and develop that talent, neither of which are strong suits for Texas.  As long as Brown is on the burnt orange sideline, I will never worry about a disparity in talent.  Never.  Outside of Stoops, Brown is my favorite head coach.

That's not all.  Apparently, TCU is also going to beat OU, and if the Sooners aren't careful, Baylor will get them too.  Not one analyst had anything positive to say about OU.

After hearing all that my blood boiled.  My transformation into Football Blake is nearly complete and I am sick of the Sooners getting disrespected.  Screw being rational or realistic, here's what I know.  Since 2000, the Sooners have won eight of the 13 conference championships.  With six different quarterbacks.  For those who think the Sooners will suffer without Landry Jones, it looks like Stoops has a pretty good idea what he's doing.  They won't be the most talented or deep Sooners ever, but I don't see them dropping off into mediocrity, and I sure as hell don't see them losing to Texas or Baylor.

Maybe this is the kick in the ass the Sooners needed, coaches and players alike.  They are no longer college football royalty and the SEC has a strangle hold on championship football.  I used to hope the Sooners weren't reading their headlines.  Now, I hope to hell they are.  No one has OU in the championship hunt.  No one has OU even being dangerous.  Not even in a conference they have owned for 13 years.  I can't wait to see how they respond.

The Sooners have a roster full of potential and an offense that should average 45 points a game.  Josh Heupel needs to do a better job of staying balanced and getting the ball to Trey Millard often.  He has as much to prove as Blake Bell or whoever the Sooners name as the starting quarterback.

The defense has even more to prove along with Mike Stoops entering his second year in his second tenure as defensive coordinator for the Sooners.  The defense might not dominate against the spread attacks they will face in conference, but I expect great athletes with pride.  I don't know who will step up, but someone will.  I feel it now where I didn't before.  No matter who takes the field August 31, they will have Sooners written across their chest, 80,000 fans wearing crimson and both Stoops patrolling the sidelines.  I like our chances.  It's time to unleash the beast.


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