By Clay Horning
CNHI News Service
Not for the first time, but for the first time like this, Josh Heupel has warn me down.
As a player and coach, for the longest time, getting the Stoops era’s first quarterback to delve deep on much of anything has been a study in frustration.
Either that or, as a manipulator of the media, this is Heupel’s finest hour.
Indeed, for the very first time, I’m convinced the competition to be the next starting quarterback at Oklahoma is no charade. Instead, it’s a battle between Blake Bell, who we’ve seen the last two seasons, and Trevor Knight, who we haven’t.
Heupel, the Sooners’ play-calling co-offensive coordinator, for the first time, has me believing, however small it may be, there is nonetheless a distinctly real chance Landry Jones’ heir could end up being Knight and not Bell.
Even though Bell’s run for 24 touchdowns the last two seasons. Even though Bell, and pretty much Bell alone, delivered the Sooners at Bedlam last year, somehow skipping over Poke linebacker Caleb Lavey, who showed up unblocked in the Sooner backfield.
Bob Stoops played it coy.
“When we feel a guy has definitely separated and we feel comfortable in doing it,” is when OU’s head coach said a starter would be be named, the second part of the sentence more important than the first. “There have been times where we’ve known it and worked it for a week before we released it. When we feel we’re ready to release it, we will.”
But if Stoops was trying to tease media or a fan base that covets knowing who the next guy will be, Heupel wasn’t.
“When we chose Sam Bradford, they knew seven days before kickoff. It worked out pretty well,” he said. “Whenever the guy earns the job, that’s when we’ll name the guy.”
That only set up the clincher. I told Heupel that we keep hearing there’s a real race, yet many of us believe it’s already Bell. If it’s a race, could he explain the case Knight’s been making.
It’s like I made him mad.
“The guy’s smart, he’s competitive, he can make any throw you want him to make, he’s a good decision maker, he’s grown tremendously in his understanding of what we’re doing from spring ball,” Heupel said. “He is an extremely talented, competitive, smart football player that has great leadership skills.”
After a statement like that, the next question probably should have been how the heck’s Bell still in the race?
Anyway, you get used to hearing coachspeak at so many turns that hearing the real thing can be a jolt.
Maybe Bell’s still in the race because he’s five inches taller and about 50 pounds heavier than Knight, who stands in at 6-1 and 202 pounds.
Rivals.com rated Knight the No. 5 quarterback in the nation coming out of San Antonio Reagan High School. Pretty good, even if it had Bell No. 6 at any position, coming out of Wichita Bishop Carroll.
If Bell thinks he’s the guy, he still sounds pretty genuine explaining he’s in the middle of a race.
“I feel like it’s a job I have to go win,” he said. “The only thing I can do is go out there each and every day and show them my skills and I feel like I’ve done that.”
He’s also changed his body. Somehow, Bell appears noticeably trimmer, but still weights north of 250 pounds.
All the same, it’s worth pointing out all of that stuff can end up being pretty meaningless because the great ones have something the others don’t , something that’s hardly measurable even if it’s sometimes witnessed, even in practice.
You wonder if Bell or Knight has that. You wonder if the coaches think they might be waiting on the great intangible to show.
You wonder, too, how it is between the two principals, Bell and Knight.
“He’s a great guy. I enjoy being around him every day,” Knight said of Bell. “He’s a funny guy and we do push each other … Obviously, there’s a barrier there because we’re competing for the same job, but if you sat in on our meetings, you’d never know.”
Easy for him to say.
Knight’s a redshirt freshman. He’s got three more seasons in the program after this one.
Bell has only this one and one more. Not winning the job would be crushing. Not winning it and reprising the “Belldozer” to clean up the rest of the offense’s mess a third consecutive season could be worse.
Maybe he’s earned the job but I’m going with Heupel.
Who’s next? Blake Bell, probably but Trevor Knight’s got a shot. Really.
– Clay Horning is the sports editor at the Norman Transcript