Blake Bell’s sensational debut as a starting quarterback couldn’t have come at a better time for Oklahoma or the Big 12.
Before Bell took over for the injured Trevor Knight, the Sooners looked mediocre. Sure, they won their first two games, but neither victory came decisively and their offense looked sluggish. Then Bell, a Bishop Carroll grad, stepped in and threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns in a 51-20 trouncing of Tulsa. They looked like a totally different team.
They also found a quarterback in time for a much-hyped game at Notre Dame on Sept. 28.
That is wonderful news for Oklahoma and the Big 12. Why? Because for the first time, it appears as though the league has a team capable of winning a marquee nonconference game. So far, the Big 12 doesn’t have many of those.
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Oklahoma State’s victory over Mississippi State on the opening weekend was solid, but the Bulldogs are off to a 1-2 start. That is all the conference has to brag about at this point. Its next biggest win was arguably Texas Tech over SMU, which was expected. Every other nonconference win has come against directional schools or Championship Subdivision opponents. All while disappointing losses — North Dakota State over Kansas State, Northern Iowa and Iowa over Iowa State, BYU and Mississippi over Texas, Rice over Kansas — continue to mount.
The Sooners could stop that trend and give the conference a boost of confidence with a win at Notre Dame.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops hopes a strong defense and Bell can keep the Sooners undefeated. That’s not a combination he envisioned at the start of the season, when he named Knight the team’s starting quarterback. But Bell handled the situation beautifully.
“I thought he had that in him,” Stoops said. “We have been watching him now for several years, the way he works. I was very pleased to see him come in with such poise and play the way he did. He kept a good attitude about it (being a backup). He knew if he had his opportunity he was going to be prepared for it, and that’s what happened.”
Many scratched their heads when Stoops went with Knight, a redshirt freshman, over Bell, a popular junior with years of on-field experience. Granted, most of Bell’s success came as a short-yardage runner out of the “Belldozer” formation. But he appeared ready for more.
Turns out, Oklahoma’s offense needed his mixture of athleticsm and accuracy. Now everyone is calling him “Bellthrower.”
“Blake is the guy right now,” Stoops said when asked if Bell will be the starter moving forward. “We will see how things go as he continues. That is something we will see as time goes. But right now we don’t have an issue.”
Some quarterbacks might have sulked or looked elsewhere as a backup. Not Bell.
“What I talked about (with him) is this isn’t the end. We’ve got a long season in front of us,” Stoops said. “You don’t know what is going to happen. You have to prepare and be ready for your opportunties. At any position the starter could be down and you’re in the game. You need to be prepared for it. The example I gave was Jason White and Nate Hybl.
“After a tight quarterback competition, White tears his knee and Hybl leads us to a Big 12 championship and a Rose Bowl victory. He was the MVP of the Rose Bowl and he didn’t start the season as the guy.”
Bell hopes to lead the Sooners on a similar arc. A win at Notre Dame would be an ideal start to the journey.
Trouble at Texas
Another week, another mind-boggling loss that keeps Mack Brown on the hot seat. At least this time, all of the Longhorns’ coordinators kept their jobs.
Mississippi thumped Texas 44-23 on Saturday almost the same way BYU smashed Texas the week before. Ole Miss rushed for 272 yards and confused the Longhorns with the zone read. The result left Texas fans booing Brown, and Brown said Monday he sometimes feels like booing himself.
Brown hopes the idea of a Big 12 championship will motivate his players, but it’s hard to envision that kind of turnaround at the moment. Up next is K-State, which has beaten Texas five straight times. And Oklahoma, which has beaten Texas three straight times, isn’t far away.
Still, Brown remains positive.
“Our goal was to win the Big 12 championship,” Brown said. “We still have a chance to do that. It starts on Saturday.”
Texas Tech validated its hot start with a convincing victory over TCU on Thursday.
The Red Raiders threw for 293 yards and came up with timely interceptions to beat the Horned Frogs 20-10. They are now in the national polls at No. 25.
Kliff Kingsbury has fans thinking big in his first year. And why not? Check out Texas Tech’s upcoming schedule: Texas State, at Kansas, Iowa State, at West Virginia. A 7-0 start is within reach.
Hope you’re not looking forward to a full slate of Big 12 action over the next two Saturdays. West Virginia is the only team that has two games remaining in September.
Bell won Big 12 offensive player of the week following his first start against Tulsa. Kansas State’s Kip Daily won defensive honors for his two-interception effort against Massachusetts. Oklahoma State’s Josh Stewart won special-teams honors.
Blake Bell: How, again, did Bell lose the preseason quarterback battle? He did everything against Tulsa.
John Hubert: With more than 150 yards in total offense and a touchdown, the K-State senior played his best game against Massachusetts.
Sam Richardson: Iowa State lost, but its quarterback looked great throwing for 260 yards and three touchdowns.
Kip Daily: The K-State cornerback had two interceptions and a touchdown last weekend.
Kansas receivers: Drops plagued the Jayhawks against Rice.
Texas defense: Changing coordinators didn’t help against Mississippi.
Paul Rhoads: Iowa State’s coach has fed off nonconference wins, particularly over Iowa, in past seasons. That won’t be the case this year.
Trevone Boykin: Not only did he throw two interceptions against Texas Tech, he wore a K-State basketball shooting sleeve while doing it.
Ranking this week’s games
Watch it live: K-State at Texas.
If you get the channel: West Virginia vs. Maryland.
Why bother? Texas State at Texas Tech, Louisiana-Monroe at Baylor, Louisiana Tech at Kansas.
Big 12 power rankings
1. Oklahoma (3-0): Sooners look like a brand-new team with Bell at quarterback.
2. Oklahoma State (3-0): Cowboys dominant in home opener.
3. Texas Tech (3-0): Don’t look now, but the Red Raiders have three solid wins and are in the top 25.
4. Baylor (2-0): How soft is Baylor’s nonconference schedule? Louisiana-Monroe is by far the best opponent.
5. Kansas State (2-1): Bounced back well from loss in the opener.
6. TCU (1-2): Frogs no longer seem like conference championship contenders.
7. Texas (1-2): Mack Brown’s approval rating has never been lower.
8. West Virginia (2-1): Two wins over small-name opponents haven’t been telling.
9. Kansas (1-1): You know a program is struggling when it loses both games of a home-and-home series with Rice.
10. Iowa State (0-2): Tough start for the Cyclones. Can they bounce back?