New QB, new defense, same expectations

Photo by Michael Kinney

By Michael Kinney

DALLAS — Heading into the 2018 college football season, there was one burning question on every Oklahoma fan’s mind. Who was going to be the starting quarterback?

Throughout the Spring and Summer, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley kept telling the media that the battle between Kyler Murray and Austin Kendall was a tight one and either could be the man under center when the season began.

Murray wasn’t named the starter until right before the season kicked-off. He then went on to not only lead OU to the College Football Playoffs, but also take home the Heisman trophy and set numerous offensive record before being drafted No. 1 overall in the NFL draft.

Now fast-forward a year. With most fans and college football analyst believing that Alabama graduate transfer Jalen Hurts is going to be the team’s No. 1 quarterback for the 2019 season, Riley finds himself once again trying to sell the idea that he has an intense QB battle on his hands.

During Monday’s annual Big 12 Media Days at AT&T Stadium, Riley tried to push this mindset that Hurts, Tanner Mordecai and true freshman Spencer Rattler are in an intense competition for the job.

“One of them’s got to go win it,” Riley said. “We’ve got an interesting dynamic in there with Jalen as an older, more experienced guy that’s been through a lot of battles, and we’ve got some very young, talented players in there with a chance to make a name for themselves. It’s really, truly, ‘May the best man win.'”

Even the players have gotten in on the sell job. Preseason All-Big 12 wideout CeeDee Lamb insists the three quarterbacks are on equal footing, which is something he said last season.

“Those guys (Mordecai and Rattler) are so overlooked and they don’t get credit for what they’ve done up to this point,” Lamb said. “Obviously, Spencer just got here. He’s maybe two months in but the guy is a competitor. His accuracy is out of this world. Tanner, he can really spin it from any distance. With Jalen transferring in, I feel like everybody else just got overshadowed. And that is no disrespect to him or any of them. The other two guys in that room are playing with a chip on their shoulder and they’re not just going to let that opportunity go out the window because a grad transfer came in.”

However, for many, it would seem impossible to believe that Hurts, who has 28 starts under his belt and led the Tide to a National Championship as a freshman, is not at the very least the favorite heading into camp.

But as Riley pointed out, Hurts is in a different situation than his previous pair of Heisman winning quarterbacks.

“He brings game experience that Baker (Mayfield) and Kyler did not have when they got here, but also doesn’t have as much experience in the system. It has been quicker but it’s been fun,” Riley said. “He’s been eager. There have been things that we do that he’s been able to trace back kind of the roots to different things that he’s done at Alabama or even in high school. So it’s not like you’re starting from scratch. It’s a fun process. He’s a smart kid. He’s eager and works very hard at it, and we have meshed together well.”

While most of the eyes will be on the quarterback battle, it is the other side of the ball that could determine how successful Oklahoma will be in 2019. Under new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, the Sooners are looking begin a new era of defensive ball at OU.

According to the Sooners Neville Gallimore, that defense will be led by Kenneth Murray.

“He’s a dog. He’s a playmaker,” Gallimore said of Murray. “Obviously he stands out from the moment he steps on the field. His heart, his hunger and his passion for this team and to play football stands out. As a guy I played alongside the last couple of years, whether on the practice field or a game, he wants to sell out and be at his best no matter what. It’s good to have a guy like that in your corner, because I know the expectations I have for him are high, and I know it’s the same for me.”

Even with a new quarterback and an unproven defense, the Sooners have been picked to win the Big 12 Conference title again.

“I think the expectations and standard of Oklahoma football are so high that it almost helps a little bit in a funny way,” Riley said. “It almost helps you refocus in that, yeah, the last four were great, but what about the fifth one? That’s the mindset around the program. I think we’ve got a good culture. I think our guys understand and have a healthy respect for how difficult each and every championship has been, each and every win has been. We have had to play our tails off and coach our tails off to get it done, and that’s how it should be in the Big 12. And to make another run will be just as difficult — if not more difficult — and it will take everything we have.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

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