Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes: Winning the Starting Role As Sooner QB

Photo Credit: Parker Burnett
Norman, Ok April, 17 (The Oklahoma Post) –

This time of year can be exciting for fans and young OU football players alike. Especially if you are observing or participating in the Oklahoma Sooner quarterback race; jockeying for the starting position in the early days of spring training camp. Spring camp is where the competition for the starting role has just begun. The winner gets a shot at a lifetime of NFL glory and at a minimum a career in insurance, sportscasting, or politics. Think Steve Owens, Dean Blevins, and the great J.C. Watts. All household names across America. There may even be a trophy unveiled in your name if you win the nod and produce.

For those that didn’t get the nod to start and are in need of improvement, well they get to watch patiently. Listening to the play calls through headphones, and maybe, just maybe, they get to throw out some signals and keep important notes on gameplay. For certain, the USFL will be calling for backup OU quarterbacks. All while earning a degree from a great college and the free beer to boot. Not a bad gig at all.

However, for many sooner fans, the upcoming spring game is different. Fans are nervous because they don’t know who to throw their hope behind. Let’s face it, OU is used to coaches and players coming and going. A new coach is one thing, a new QB is another program stress, but not having depth at the position is one scent of weakness the nose of the Sooner fan can detect from miles away.

So, here we are. Worried and unsure. Why? Unfamiliarity meeting with high expectations.

Previous OU Sooner QB’s

Baker Mayfield had his first start as a walk-on transfer and put up massive numbers starting with his first college game when he completed 43-of-60 passes for 413 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions while adding a touchdown on the ground. We knew who he was from his famed career at Lake Travis high school and his brief appearances at Texas Tech the previous year.

Kyler Murray, In his first game with Oklahoma, after sitting out the 2016 season, Murray saw some action in a blowout win over UTEP and he was nearly perfect, completing 10-of-11 attempts for 149 yards and a touchdown. We knew who Kyler Murray was from his high school legacy and he was a transfer from Texas A & M.

Jalen Hurts, In his first game with Oklahoma, after transferring from Alabama, all Hurts did was be responsible for six total touchdowns — three throwing and three rushing — as he completed 87 percent of his 23 pass attempts while running for a career-high 176 yards on 11 yards per attempt. Every college football fan in the country witnessed Jalen Hurts career at the University of Alabama. Oklahoma knew what they were getting with Hurts.

Spencer Rattler sat in waiting for a year before earning the starting nod and his first start ended with 290 yards in the air and four touchdowns for the highly touted QB from Phoenix. He completed 14 of 17 passes and had a 303.3 passer efficiency rating — the third-best single-game mark in school history.

Caleb Williams became the first true freshman to start at QB at OU since Cale Gundy in 1990. He ended the night going 18-of-23 for 295 yards and added another 66 yards rushing, including a 41-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. We all saw it. Whoa!

Spencer Rattler and Caleb Williams were both top recruits coming into OU with a deep understanding of the future stars who would soon take over as the next Sooner Legend. We knew Rattler and Williams, not well enough though to prevent a knife in the Sooner Nation’s back.

The sooner quarterback position has always been critical to the success of the team throughout the team’s championship history. While it is not unprecedented for Sooner fans to be in the dark regarding who the starting quarterback will be, it is unprecedented to have such a lack of understanding of the gameday skill levels of the new signal-caller candidates. Throughout the preseason we as fans have only seen brief glimpses of the final products being polished as the competing quarterbacks are only on the field for a handful of snaps with the first-team offense in practice.

Just take a glance at the names below; a starting OU quarterback is a superstar in the making.

  • 1950 Claude Arnoled
  • 1951 Eddie Crowder
  • 1952 Eddie Crowder
  • 1953 Gene Calame (8), Buddy Leake (3)
  • 1954 Gene Calame, Jimmy Harris
  • 1955 Jimmy Harris
  • 1956 Jimmy Harris
  • 1957 David Baker, Carl Dodd, Brewster Hobby
  • 1958 Brewster Hobby
  • 1959 Bob Cornell
  • 1960 Jimmy Carpenter
  • 1961 Bobby Page
  • 1962 Monte Deere, Ronnie Fletcher
  • 1963 Ronnie Fletcher, Bobby Page, Mike Ringer
  • 1964 Ronnie Fletcher, John Hammond, Bobby Page, Mike Ringer
  • 1965 John Hammond, Mike Ringer
  • 1966 Bobby Warmack
  • 1967 Bobby Warmack
  • 1968 Bobby Warmack
  • 1969 Jack Mildren
  • 1970 Jack Mildren
  • 1971 Jack Mildren
  • 1972 Dave Robertson
  • 1973 Steve Davis
  • 1974 Steve Davis
  • 1975 Steve Davis
  • 1976 Thomas Lott
  • 1977 Thomas Lott
  • 1978 Thomas Lott
  • 1979 J. C. Watts
  • 1980 J. C. Watts
  • 1981 Darrell Shepard
  • 1982 Kelly Phelps
  • 1983 Danny Bradley
  • 1984 Troy Aikman, Danny Bradley
  • 1985 Jamelle Holieway (8), Troy Aikman† (4)
  • 1986 Jamelle Holieway
  • 1987 Jamelle Holieway (9), Charles Thompson (3)
  • 1988 Jamelle Holieway
  • 1989 Steve Collins (5), Tink Collins (5), Chris Melson (1)
  • 1990 Steve Collins (6), Cale Gundy (5)
  • 1991 Cale Gundy (11), Steve Collins (1)
  • 1992 Cale Gundy (9), Steve Collins (2)
  • 1993 Cale Gundy (12)
  • 1994 Garrick McGee (11), Terence Brown (1)
  • 1995 Eric Moore (11)
  • 1996 Justin Fuente (8), Eric Moore (3)
  • 1997 Brandon Daniels, Justin Fuente, Eric Moore
  • 1998 Brandon Daniels (5+), Jake Sills (1+), Eric Moore (1), Patrick Fletcher, Jarrod Reese
  • 1999 Josh Heupel (12)
  • 2000 Josh Heupel (13)
  • 2001 Jason White, Nate Hybl
  • 2002 Jason White, Nate Hybl
  • 2003 Jason White (14)
  • 2004 Jason White (13)
  • 2005 Rhett Bomar (11), Paul Thompson (1)
  • 2006 Paul Thompson (14)
  • 2007 Sam Bradford (14)
  • 2008 Sam Bradford (14)
  • 2009 Landry Jones (10), Sam Bradford‡ (3)
  • 2010 Landry Jones (13)
  • 2011 Landry Jones (13)
  • 2012 Landry Jones (13)
  • 2013 Blake Bell (8), Trevor Knight (5)
  • 2014 Trevor Knight (10) Cody Thomas (3)
  • 2015 Baker Mayfield (13)
  • 2016 Baker Mayfield (13)
  • 2017 Baker Mayfield (12) Kyler Murray‡(1)
  • 2018 Kyler Murray (12) Austin Kendall (1)
  • 2019 Jalen Hurts (13)
  • 2020 Spencer Rattler (13)
  • 2021 Spencer Rattler (6), Caleb Williams (6)
Sooner 2022 QB Class

The Sooners’ 2022 Oklahoma quarterback competition includes Micah Bowens, a transfer from Penn State, Ralph Rucker, a walk-on who has skills, and former Central Florida star QB Dillon Gabriel. All great student-athletes that lacked the name power, stats, and to ease discomfort coming into the spring.

Micah Bowens did not play at Penn State last year, he redshirted. In high school, the young vegas native excelled as a three-year football letter winner was rated a four-star recruit by ESPN and a three-star prospect by 247Sports and Rivals, and was ranked No. 8 dual-threat quarterback. None of that information means much now, but it is important to understand he can ball when given the chance. Las Vegas high school products tend to excel at OU. Remember Demarco Murry?

Ralph Rucker of Lucas Texas has appeared in one game, completing two passes for 20 yards. The Oklahoma Post believes he is a future NFL prospect that needs game time.

Dillon Gabriel, transfer from the University Of Central Florida, is considered the only veteran quarterback in the group. The flashing prospect has started games in the past, as he started 25 of 26 games at UCF (2019-2021) and passed for a whopping 8,037 yards and 70 touchdowns with 14 career interceptions. He also can run, having amassed 372 yards on the ground and rushing for eight touchdowns. UCF fans questioned his ability to think through his check-downs without the coach directing the script.

Gabriel is no rookie. He was the best quarterback available in the transfer portal at the time and OU was in dire need to replace Caleb Williams. However, these are all unproven quarterbacks when compared to Sooner Nation standards. With all that information provided and in historical context, the path to greatness seems daunting. Rest assured Sooner Nation, there is a tried and true plan in place to ensure another run at a national championship in 2022. Unproven Sooners, undoubtedly to show improvement through the next camp.

So how does this new class of recruits become the newest model of the greatest QB Oklahoma has to offer? That is what fans expect, right? How do they earn the right to have the thundering chanting of your name by thousands of crazed Sooner fans in unison between rounds of Boomer Sooner shouts?

The evaluation process can be difficult and most of the decision-making criteria are completed in the QB Meeting Room. It comes down to all the little details that constitute the perfection of the Sooner QB craft. There are stats to prove that new offensive coordinator Jeff Labby will put together an even more powerful offense than those in seasons past crafted by Lincoln Riley.

Coach Cale Gundy and new Offensive Coordinator Jeff Lebby are drilling the young signal-callers now; teaching, drilling, and evaluating every single aspect of their on-field performance. They wonder: Is Bowens getting the protection calls right? Is Rucker getting the ball out on time? Gabriel looks great in seven-on-seven drills, but how does he hold up at full speed and under pressure?

The coaches right now are measuring how fast they’re thinking and developing. Coach Lebby wants to know how the next top gun deals with his teammates and his leadership, and the details of his film grades. The Sooner coaches are weighing everything.

The only way we get past the uneasiness of who the next great OU QB will be is to get out to the games. You’ll find comfort there amongst the smell of popcorn and a distance cigar, the sound of the punted football of pregame warmups, and the warm Norman, Oklahoma sun waking you up to the possibilities of another Heisman Trophy winner behind center. This Saturday you can see for yourself the progress of Rucker, Bowens, and Gabriel. Three very talented young quarterbacks who are in need of support for the fall of the 2022 campaign from the Sooner Nation. Each QB brings a different set of skills behind the center and can definitely ball. The spring game is August 23rd, 2022 and one thing for certain is that the Sooner coaches will have these young quarterbacks ready to handle the snaps come fall.

(Writing by Rachel Meyer; Editing by Robbie Robertson)

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