Some would say Oklahoma has a quarterback quandary. The Sooners look at it as a quarterback conundrum — for Alabama.
As his team arrived in New Orleans on Friday to begin final preparations for the Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops gave no indication whether junior Blake Bell or redshirt freshman Trevor Knight will get the starting nod in Thursday’s game against the Crimson Tide.
“We intend to be unsettled at quarterback all the way up to the game,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s unsettled; I would say it’s purposeful. And, let’s face it, both of those guys in different situations have really done well, so we have to have both of them ready to go.”
Bell and Knight present styles as contrasting as their sizes (6-foot-6 and 252 pounds vs. 6-1 and 201).
Bell, known as the “Belldozer” because of his bulk, is generally considered a pocket passer (1,648 yards, 12 TDs), although he has managed 255 yards on 75 carries.
Knight is more effective in the read option, averaging 7.1 yards per carry, although he has five TDs in his 90 passing attempts.
“You see two-quarterback systems all over the country,” said Oklahoma senior Gabe Ikard, the team’s only offensive player made available to reporters Friday. “And you have two guys who are very talented, but talented in different things. So it’s not a problem.”
The Sooners’ use of both Knight and Bell isn’t exactly by design. Knight earned the starting job in the fall but was sidelined after two games, both victories, with a shoulder injury. Bell took over for the next eight games with mixed results before being injured as well.
Knight returned for the Sooners’ 41-31 victory at Kansas State but went out again in late in the first half of the regular-season finale at Oklahoma State.
When third-teamer Kendal Thompson proved ineffective, the Sooners turned to Bell, who completed 10 of 16 passes for 140 yards, including the game-wining 7-yard TD pass to Jalen Saunders with 19 seconds left that secured Oklahoma’s first BCS bowl berth since 2010.
With time for both players to heal, the Sooners have been coy about their intentions.
“We used a little bit of everything in the last ballgame,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel told ESPN.com before the Sooners left Norman. “We mixed and matched. Some of it was planned, and some of it wasn’t.”
Either way, the result has given Alabama something extra to plan for.
“We have a lot of respect for both of their quarterbacks and what their capabilities are,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said Friday. “Both guys are people who will run their offense very efficiently and effectively. Our players have to be very aware of the two styles these two guys have.”
Memories of ’04
This is Oklahoma’s first trip to the Sugar Bowl since the 21-14 loss to LSU in the 2004 BCS title game.
A decade later, Stoops obviously has some less-than-fond memories of the experience, apart from the final result — which obviously didn’t go the way the Sooners wanted it to.
“We’re expecting a better reception this time than we did then,” Stoops said of the overwhelming number of LSU fans the team encountered. “It felt like we were playing the game in Baton Rouge. There’s just no denying that.”
Considering the coach of the opposing team this time, Oklahoma can count on being the unofficial home team.
Although the exact terms were not revealed, Ikard said the captains working out a curfew with Stoops for the team’s first two nights in New Orleans was “the easiest negotiation I’ve ever had with him.”
“He asked me what time I thought we should be in, and I told him, and he said ‘OK,’ ” Ikard said. “He realizes we have a lot of senior leadership on this team and we’re going to do whatever is best for the team.”
Stoops said he wasn’t particularly worried about his players succumbing to the temptations of the Big Easy.
“If they wanted to, these young guys could find trouble just about anywhere,” he said. “Oklahoma City is a big town right up the road from us, and we’ve seemed to manage that pretty well. I trust them like I always do.”
Stoops’ bucket list
With a victory Thursday, Stoops can join the late Joe Paterno as the only coach with victories in the Sugar, Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Cotton bowls.