MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

OU

December 16, 2013

Q(B)uestion mark: Stoops may leave signal-caller decision in air until Sugar Bowl

NORMAN   — Bob Stoops has become so accustomed to questions about Oklahoma’s starting quarterback this season that he headed off the first inquiry in mid-sentence on Monday.

“That will be a game-time decision,” the Sooners coach said to a room full of laughter.

The guessing game that has surrounded the quarterback position for Oklahoma dates back to the end of last season when four-year starter Landry Jones graduated.

And if anything has become clear with the ongoing competition between Trevor Knight, Blake Bell and Kendal Thompson, it’s that the situation is fluid and Stoops isn’t likely to name a starter before the 11th-ranked Sooners (10-2) faces two-time defending national champion Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.

“We just like to keep you guys guessing with who we’re going to put back there,” Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard said.

Knight began the season as Jones’ replacement at quarterback, beating out Bell during the preseason. However, the redshirt freshman was injured in the second game of the season against West Virginia — opening the door for Bell to step into the role many had assumed was his to lose before the season.

After taking over for Knight in the second half against the Mountaineers, Bell started the next seven games for the Sooners. He led Oklahoma to a win at Notre Dame, but was also on the field for losses against Texas and Baylor — finishing the regular season 140-of-233 passing (60.1 percent) for 1,648 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Following an injury to Bell against Iowa State, Knight once again returned to action as did Thompson, a sophomore who missed much of the preseason with a broken foot.

The next week, it was all Knight in a 41-31 win at Kansas State, with the freshman accounting for 253 yards of total offense and three touchdowns. For the season, he’s rushed for 438 yards — with an average of 7.1 yards per carry — and throw for 471 yards and five touchdowns on 47-of-90 passing (52.2 percent).

The performance against the Wildcats was enough to earn Knight a start against rival Oklahoma State, but he injured his non-throwing shoulder late in the half against the Cowboys and gave way to Thompson to start the second half.

It wasn’t long, however, before Bell once again emerged as Oklahoma’s best option under center. He proved that on the game-winning drive, a 66-yard march that he capped with a 7-yard touchdown throw to Jalen Saunders with 19 seconds remaining — securing the Sooners’ first BCS bowl game since playing against Connecticut following the 2010 season.

Bell was 5 of 8 for 57 yards on the drive and finished 10-of-16 passing for 140 yards in his relief role.

“I’m sure he’s extremely confident right now and he should be,” Ikard said. “To come in and do that on the last drive was impressive and really made our season.”

Stoops said Monday that Knight is full recovered from his shoulder injury, and that he’s practiced each of the last two days. The Sooners will begin their Alabama preparations in earnest on Tuesday, and Stoops said he expects the starter to be determined based both on the pre-bowl practices and which quarterback fits the game plan best against the third-ranked Crimson Tide.

Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin said the team has a “full level of confidence” in whichever quarterback is under center against Alabama. That should come as no surprise, given how accustomed the Sooners have become to changes at the position this season.

“We’re not really necessarily worried about who’s in there at quarterback,” Colvin said. “We know that coach (Stoops) is going to give us the best chance to win. Our job, as a defense, we’ve got to go out there and maybe cover up some of the mistakes that go on, or go out there and save them sometimes.”

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