In Bob Stoops’ tenure as coach, Oklahoma has won eight Big 12 Conference football titles with six different starting quarterbacks, all of whom share something besides trophies.
Their names aren’t Blake Bell, Kendal Thompson or Trevor Knight.
That in itself provided a relatively rare subplot to the Sooners’ spring camp, which concludes with a final non-pads practice Tuesday after OU held its spring game Saturday.
For the first time since 2006, Oklahoma enters a season with a starting quarterback who isn’t Sam Bradford or Landry Jones. But it might not be until fall camp before Stoops formally anoints a successor to Jones, who in 50 games as a starter became the Big 12’s all-time leader in passing and total offense.
No one from among Bell, Thompson and Knight — in order of seniority — separated himself from the others this spring. Bell, long considered the favorite if for no other reason than that he, unlike the others, has actually played in a college game, probably has the inside track. But nothing is etched in stone.
“At this point, we haven’t determined anything yet,” Stoops said in his Saturday press conference after the Red-White game.
You probably know Bell as the “Belldozer,” since the 6-foot-6-inch, 263-pounder earned the nickname by bulling his way for 24 rushing touchdowns in 20 games in his first two seasons. The Longhorns certainly know him; Bell blasted them for four touchdowns in last year’s 63-21 Sooners’ romp in Dallas.
For much of the spring, Bell shared the same consistency issues as the sophomore Thompson and the redshirt freshman Knight. But in the game, he completed 14 of 23 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns. More important, he had no turnovers. That showing, as well as his experience, probably gives him a leg — or an arm — up going into summer.
While Bell’s ability to run in short-yardage and goal-line situations is well-documented, his skill in throwing the ball was one of the reasons he was a highly recruited prospect from Wichita, Kan. As a high school senior, he completed 67 percent of his passes for more than 2,750 yards. He threw 32 touchdown passes and was intercepted only five times.
In his first two seasons at OU, however, Bell has had few chances to show off his arm. He has completed a total of 10 of 20 passes for 115 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception.
Bell, Stoops said, “has been in a lot of critical situations.”
“Even though his opportunities to throw the ball have been limited, he’s been in some high-pressure, stressful spots,” the coach added. “That’s definitely something you could tell. He has an easier demeanor right now out there.”
“I thought I did OK,” Bell told writers after the scrimmage. “Overall, I thought I made some good plays and was pretty accurate with the ball. … I can always get better in a lot of areas.”
Knight, a San Antonio Reagan product whose athleticism has been compared by some to Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel’s, was expected to be Bell’s prime competition for the job. But Thompson, who did not play in 2012 after redshirting in 2011 and playing in only three games as a high school senior because of an injury, has made it a three-man race.
“He’s given himself a chance to be the guy,” offensive co-coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel recently said of Thompson.
Knight completed 11 of 17 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown in the scrimmage; Thompson hit 8 of 15 for 86 yards and a score. They, like Bell, didn’t throw an interception.
The scrimmage was the last significant showcase for the trio to make a major impression before the Sooners formally reconvene in August. Stoops is not ready to say what the eventual answer at quarterback will be.
“As in the past, when we have been given these situations, we give it time to play out,” he told reporters. “Part of the reason is sometimes younger players who haven’t been on the field as much need the summer and snaps in the summer to have an opportunity to catch up, and they should have that opportunity. The good part about it is you generally like to have more than one that you feel like you can win with, and so it will help the other guys develop.”
SPRING TOUR: OKLAHOMA
2012: 10-3 (8-1 in the Big 12, tied for first); lost to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl
They’re gone: QB Landry Jones, WR Kenny Stills, WR Justin Brown, S Tom Wort, OL Lane Johnson, DL David King, DB Demontre Hurst, DB Tony Jefferson
But they’re back: RB Damien Williams, OL Gabe Ikard, FB Trey Millard, DB Aaron Colvin
Returning leaders: Passing — Blake Bell (9-16-107, 0/0); Rushing — Damien Williams (176-946-11); Receiving — Jalen Saunders (62-829-3)
Spring cleaning: Oklahoma’s two biggest issues? Settling on a quarterback in the post-Landry Jones world and rebuilding the secondary
THE PAST FIVE YEARS
How Oklahoma has fared since 2008:
2009;8-5;5-3;3/ — ;Sun (W)
2008;12-2;7-1;4/5;BCS title (L)
* AP preseason/final ranking
OUR SPRING TOUR
This is the third stop on our annual 10-day spring sweep around the Big 12 by six reporters on the American-Statesman’s college team:
April 14: Texas Tech
April 15: Kansas State
April 16: Oklahoma
April 17: Baylor
April 18: West Virginia
April 19: Oklahoma State
April 20: Kansas
April 21: Texas
April 22: Iowa State
April 23: TCU
BIG 12’S SPRING GAMES
March 30: Texas
April 6: Baylor
April 13: Kansas, Oklahoma
April 20: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, West Virginia
April 27: Kansas State