By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — Oklahoma has its starting quarterback. Thursday’s announcement that redshirt freshman Trevor Knight won the job should relieve a little anxiety.
However, the hard part is just beginning for Knight. Winning the job is one thing. Keeping it is where his true mettle will come to the surface.
Before the quarterback race began, offensive coordinator Josh Heupel laid out what quality he expected his choice to exude.
“We expect him to play at a championship level. We don’t want him to wait until Week 10, we want him to do that at Week 1,” he said. “Certainly guys are going to get better with more snaps and more opportunities that they have. But I really feel that these guys are capable of playing at a high level and doing it immediately. Whoever ends up earning the job, we expect him to play well Week 1.”
What happens when the 16th-ranked Sooners face Louisiana-Monroe at 6 p.m. Saturday at Owen Field will ultimately decide whether Knight has truly claimed the job.
Under OU coach Bob Stoops, history says rocky starts can lead to quick changes at the position.
Back in 2007, Sam Bradford won a competition with junior college transfer Joey Halzle and freshman Keith Nichol. There was trepidation among Sooner fans because all three shared a common trait: They hadn’t played in a real game.
Then Bradford went out and completed 21-of-23 passing attempts en route to 363 yards, three touchdowns and a 79-10 romp over North Texas.
Didn’t matter that the Mean Green went 2-10 and gave up over 60 points three times that season. Bradford showed from the opening series he was OU’s quarterback of the present and the future. The case for anyone else was baseless.
Saturday is Knight’s opportunity to make his argument.
Blake Bell, who spent all of the 2012 season, the spring and at least the first part of the preseason as OU’s presumptive starting quarterback in 2013, has shown Sooner fans some of what he can do. He’s never truly run the offense, but he’s scored 24 touchdowns the last two seasons. He’s played in big games and performed his job well in clutch situations.
Stoops has shown starting quarterbacks can change quickly. Paul Thompson won a preseason battle with Rhett Bomar prior to the 2005 season. After Thompson struggled — 11 of 26 for just 109 yards and an interception in the 17-10, season-opening loss to TCU — the job belonged to Bomar.
Only Bomar’s dismissal from the team prior to the 2006 season brought the job back to Thompson.
It’s scenarios like Thompson’s 2005 debut that make Thursday’s announcement more of a starting point than the finish line for OU’s quarterbacks.
Stoops said there’s been a big emphasis on developing both Knight and Bell in the preseason. They’ll do their best to get sophomore Kendal Thompson up to speed when he returns from a foot in injury in mid September.
The Sooners are going to use their quarterbacks in the run game for the first time in years. They’re going to be asked to extend passing plays with their feet and turn busted plays into gains.
Because of that, OU’s quarterbacks are going to get hit more than any of their predecessors under Stoops.
One quarterback may not be enough.
“I still believe there’s a place for it in that you go through a long season, sometimes you need more than one guy,” Stoops said.
But Knight gets the first chance to prove he’s the guy. If he wastes it, the quarterback competition goes from settled back to wide open.