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Big 12 Week: Targeting Oklahoma's Young and Restless

Overtures to the candidacy of junior Joey Halzle aside, Oklahoma is almost certainly starting 2007 with a freshman quarterback, of either the redshirt (Sam Bradford, the favorite) or true (Keith Nichol) variety. No one considers this a positive, but so stacked are the Sooners in virtually every other capacity that two mainstream outlets - Street and Smith’s and the inimitable Steele – think OU is bound for its third Big 12 championship in four years, and a third (Athlon) has the Sooners in line for a BCS bid and top ten finish regardless of who’s playing quarterback. Their thesis: Oklahoma is a strong enough running and defensive team to win the Big 12 with a caretaker under center who doesn’t turn the ball over and knows how to pick his spots.

Given that Oklahoma’s defense has been remarkably consistent under Bob Stoops, statistically, this is what we can gauge about playing quarterback for the Sooners:

Oklahoma Quarterbacks Under Bob Stoops
Year Quarterback Starts* Record Won Comp. % TD:INT Rating
1999 J. Heupel 0 7-5 - 61.9 30:15 133.9
2000 J. Heupel 12 13-0 Big 12/BCS 64.2 20:14 139.2
2001 N. Hybl/J. White 0 10-2 Cotton 59.8 21:16 117.1
2002 N. Hybl 12 11-2 Big 12/Rose 57.6 24:8 133.7
2003 J. White 2 12-2 South Div. 61.6 40:10 158.1
2004 J. White 15 12-1 Big 12 65.4 35:9 159.4
2005 R. Bomar 0 8-4 Holiday 54.2 10:10 113.5
2006 P. Thompson 1 11-3 Big 12 60.7 22:11 142.5

*-Career starts entering season

The Big 12 championship seasons are shaded, and so emerges an interesting trend beyond the obvious year-on, year-off pattern: senior quarterbacks do a champion make. Heupel, Hybl and White all had very solid first seasons as juniors, ultimately fell short, and used the simmering vengeance of their failure as fuel for a title run. Or something like that.

Anyway, a lot of these numbers as they relate to championships are fairly obvious: the winners here were the players with the highest completion percentages, best TD:INT ratios and highest efficiency ratings. Hip hip for conventional wisdom. Some of the differences are subtler, though, most notably Jason White’s barnstorming, chart-topping 2003, his shining moment, which ended suddenly – and quite unlike those of Hybl or Thompson, who had much more pedestrian regular seasons in ’02 and ’06, respectively - in spectacular, Heisman-nullifying meltdown. This is a small enough set of data to be adequately explained away by the differences in competition at the end of the year, or timing - Hybl’s losses to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State en route to the ’02 title were as bad as White’s, weren’t they? And Thompson lost to Texas, where White’s teams owned the Shootout. Both wound up with much easier championship draws in Colorado and Nebraska, respectively, than White had in Kansas State; aside from that game, in fact, White was undefeated as a starter against the Big 12 and never needed a fortuitous tiebreaker scenario to get the Sooners into the championship. So we’re looking at a very general but not steadfast trend here in favor of veterans, preferably seniors with a year under their belt as a starter, which is no revelation. The most relevant example for extreme youth is Bomar, Exhibit A in defense of experience.

Still, White’s late season struggles in ’03 does fall within the context a slightly stronger trend, as do the trajectories of Hybl and Thompson, one that’s more optimistic for a young starter:

Oklahoma Rushing Under Bob Stoops
Year Yds./Gm. (Rank) Yds./Carry
1999 105.5 (97) 4.0
2000 134.6 (68) 4.1
2001 119.4 (89) 3.5
2002 190.6 (32) 4.5
2003 146.7 (65) 3.8
2004 208.4 (16) 4.8
2005 177.5 (33) 4.0
2006 177.1 (17) 4.5

UT has a term for what it does to freshman OU quarterbacks.
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Again, the championship years are shaded, and again, the results are completely not surprising: OU wins when it can run, as evidenced by Quentin Griffin’s scatback piece d’resistance of a season in 2002, its exact opposite in the form Adrian Peterson’s baby bull routine in 2004 and the Peterson/Allen Patrick/Chris Brown/Norman Soux Chef of the Week collaboration last year (look at the rankings there, rather than the total yards; the stupid clock rule did a thorough hatchet job on the yards). And all indication for the upcoming season, with Patrick and the Dashing DeMarco Murray and four returning linemen and so forth, etc., is that Oklahoma can still run. The only way this isn’t true is if the new quarterback entirely lacks Thompson’s wily opportunism and represents a greater threat to his own team against a defense like Texas’ or Miami’s than he does to the defense itself. Thompson had to make plays to push OU past Washington and Texas Tech and Nebraska, but with the Sooners’ ability for pounding, he could also win games in which he finished 3-12 for 39 yards, as he somehow did last year at Texas A&M. He was not as good, though, at overcoming mistakes, like the two interceptions he threw in the loss to Texas and the three he threw in the bowl game, one of them returned directly for a touchdown (remember Oklahoma required a muffed Boise State fair catch, multiple opportunities at the tying conversion and a momentary vacation by the nerve endings running from Jared Zabransky’s right arm to his brain to even be in a position to lose that game so dramatically once the initial hole had been dug). A more gaffe-prone quarterback couldn’t have kept such an injury-plagued team’s BCS egg from cracking in College Station or down two touchdowns to Texas Tech, waiting to be bailed that unlikely Texas loss all the while, and ultimately would have been counterproductive to the one thing the offense did well. And if any description succinctly summarizes the concept of the average freshman quarterback across from very unsympathetic Longhorns, Hurricanes and Aggies (oh my!, etc.), it’s "gaffe-prone." But as for the average freshman quarterback from Oklahoma, at least in the relevant past, we have very little idea beyond Bomar. His being, well, Bomar’d is not necessarily a scientific forecast for his doppelganger this fall. But it’s certainly no comfort, either.