During this past offseason it was assumed that Blake Bell, who backed up Landry Jones for the previous two seasons and had seen significant playing time, would be the starting quarterback for the Sooners in 2013. But much to everyone's surprise, redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight won the starting job during fall camp.
Knight, much like Bell, is a run first quarterback. The biggest difference, when it comes to their running styles, is that Knight relies more on his speed, while Bell is a bruising, between the tackles runner. And Knight's running ability was on display in the first two games of the season. Against Louisiana-Monroe, Knight ran for 103 yards on 13 carries and against West Virginia he totaled 42 yards on 7 attempts. But his throwing ability left much to be desired -- 11 completions on 28 attempts against Louisiana-Monroe (86 yards) and 10 completions on 20 attempts against West Virginia (119 yards). West Virginia, a relatively poor defense, was able to hold Oklahoma to only 16 points in Norman. But an injury to Knight late in that West Virginia game, coupled with his ineffectiveness, led to Bell regaining the starting job.
Bell started the next 7 games, with the team winning 5 of them. In the 5 wins, Bell played anywhere from excellent to decent. Here were his stat lines in the wins ...
Tulsa: Passing -- 27/37; 413 yards; 4 TDs; 0 INTs ... Rushing -- 24 yards on 10 attempts
Notre Dame: Passing -- 22/30; 232 yards; 2 TDs; 0 INTs ... Rushing -- 59 yards on 12 attempts
TCU: Passing -- 20/31; 152 yards; 0 TDs; 0 INTs ... Rushing -- 61 yards on 14 attempts
Kansas: Passing -- 15/25; 131 yards; 2 TDs; 1 INT ... Rushing -- 53 yards on 10 attempts
Texas Tech: Passing -- 14/22; 249 yards; 2 TDs; 0 INTs ... Rushing -- 44 yards on 9 attempts
However, in their 2 losses he was awful ...
Texas: Passing -- 12/26; 133 yards; 0 TDs; 2 INTs ... Rushing -- -27 yards on 7 attempts
Baylor: Passing -- 15/35; 150 yards; 1 TD; 2 INTs ... Rushing -- 5 yards on 8 attempts
Bell started the Iowa State game (the game following Baylor) but left early in the second quarter with a concussion. With Oklahoma well ahead for much of the game Knight wasn't asked to do much through the air, but once again he was spectacular on the ground, rushing for 123 yards on only 10 attempts. With Bell still suffering from post-concussion symptoms Knight started the following game against Kansas State, and played the best game of his young career. He was 14/20 through the air (171 yards) and he rushed for 82 yards on 14 attempts. Even though Bell was healthy for the Oklahoma State game, Knight was given the start anyway. But this time it was Knight's turn to leave the game early with an injury, and Bell took over in relief, playing well -- 10/16 for 140 yards through the air -- and leading a last second touchdown drive to secure the win.
So we're talking about a situation filled with a great deal of uncertainty. It's expected that Knight will be healthy enough to play in the game, so it really comes down to which quarterback the coaching staff feels will give them the best chance to win. And I'm honestly not really sure of the answer.
The old adage says that if you have more than one quarterback you don't have any quarterbacks, and I think that's applicable in this case. Neither option is really a great one -- both have their upside and downside. Knight is a more explosive runner than Bell, but at this point in his career he's a poor passer. Bell is a better passer than Knight, although still not much better than mediocre. And while Bell is mobile he's not explosive in the same way that Knight is.
Bob Stoops will take this decision right down to the wire, and the earliest we can expect an announcement is in the days before the game -- and, more than likely, Stoops will choose to take this right down to game time. That will complicate Alabama's preparation a bit, but it's nothing that they haven't dealt with before. Even this year, going into the Kentucky game, they were forced to prepare for two quarterbacks. They've also been in similar situations against LSU in years past. So I wouldn't expect Alabama's preparation to be lacking in any meaningful way.
Finally, given all this time to prepare, it wouldn't surprise me if the Oklahoma coaching staff chooses to give both quarterbacks an opportunity early in the game, both to keep the Alabama defense on their toes and give one of the quarterbacks a chance to get hot and win the job for the rest of the game. In the week before the game, when I break down Oklahoma's offensive scheme and strategy, we'll take a closer look at how each quarterback fits in the offense. Until then -- and afterward -- keep an eye on any Oklahoma practice reports and press conferences, which may provide us with a little insight into their plans for the Sugar Bowl.