OU football: No shock over Jalen Hurts appointment
The great Claude Rains, portraying Captain Louis Renault in “Casablanca,” orders Rick’s Café Americain to be closed, and Humphrey Bogart himself wants to know why.
“I’m shocked, SHOCKED!, to find that gambling is going on in here,” Louis says.
The croupier then appears, hands Louis a wad of cash and says, “Your winnings, sir.”
Nothing if not real, Louis says, “Oh, thank you very much. Everybody out of here at once.”
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And in Oklahoma today, we’re all Claude Rains. All shocked – SHOCKED! – to hear that Jalen Hurts will start at quarterback for the Sooners. Except the croupier hands us a figurative wad of Heisman Trophy odds and No. 4 national rankings and all those feel-good stories about Hurts jumping from one crimson gridiron machine to another, all without breaking stride or alienating much of anyone.
We knew this was coming. And timing wasn’t even a variable. We knew this was coming this very week. As soon as classes began for the fall semester, which they did Monday at OU.
The quarterback derby seemed more hat than horse. Much like last season in Norman, when Lincoln Riley kept telling us how close were Kyler Murray and Austin Kendall before finally announcing Murray as the starter the week before game week, and just like this season, the announcement came right after classes started. Fast forward a year, and Murray already has been named the starter for the Arizona Cardinals and Kendall hasn’t been named the starter at West Virginia. Hard to believe that Riley was leveling with us.
This is no slight on Tanner Mordecai, who from all indications is an excellent quarterback prospect who very well could be the Sooner QB one day. But the whole charade of the Oklahoma quarterback competition of 2019 is the same as the charade of 2018.
A product of the calendar and culture of college football.
We’re in a transfer environment. And the Sooners lead the pack, by the way. Baker Mayfield, Murray, Hurts. All moved to Norman from other desirable locales, because they weren’t thrilled about their current situation. And that’s all the rage across the sport.
Which is fine. It’s a mobile society. Accountants. Engineers. Carpenters. NBA point guards. Americans move around much more than they ever did, and that’s clearly the case in college football. Especially at a position where playing time generally is reserved for only one player.
Coaches who try to restrict transfers are vilified, as they should be, so their counter measures have to be proactive, not reactive. And that means keeping drama in quarterback announcements.
The clock starts ticking on a player’s eligibility for any particular season when said player attends class. Hence the rash of announcements for starting quarterbacks, after school has begun.
If Kendall was considering a transfer, there would be no reason to go after school started. That season already was kaput. Same with Mordecai this season.
That’s not deviousness by Riley. That’s playing the cards that are dealt. The rules make it easier than ever to transfer, with the graduate rule providing instant eligibility and waivers frequently granted for the same.
So coaches have fewer options to entice players to stay. Keeping alive a quarterback race is one of those few options. And it’s hard to see how it hurts a quarterback.
If the derby truly is a farce, most quarterbacks will know it. If Kendall really was no threat to Murray, then Kendall was free to flee before school started. I assume he was fine with taking his chances on 2018, then going into 2019 as the heir apparent, until Hurts appeared.
Same with Mordecai. His contention seems more substantial than Kendall’s, but only because Murray was a talent for the ages. Hurts clearly was the better quarterback in the spring game, but that’s all us outsiders can go by, and some whispers have slipped that Mordecai actually looked really good and was a legit challenger to Hurts. But if not, if Mordecai knew that the job was Hurts’ in 2019 or even Spencer Rattler’s in the future, he was free to bolt before Monday, with the only penalty the traditional sitting out of one season.
But Mordecai stuck it out and now enters the season as OU’s backup.
You can’t blame Riley for any of the lateness of the decision. These are the rules he was presented, and he has run his program in accordance of those rules, even if it means we’re as shocked as Louie to find gambling in Casablanca.