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:
|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|
|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:
UT has a term for what it does to freshman OU quarterbacks.
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