This time last year, approaching mid-August, no quarterback had been named to replace the vaunted starter who had moved on to the NFL.
It wasn't until Aug. 16 that the head coach settled on a starter.
Turns out Kevin Sumlin made an OK decision. Johnny Manziel could play a little.
By season's end, Johnny Football was running ragged not just the beleaguered defenses of Oklahoma and Texas, but the sabertooths of Alabama. Yet as kickoff neared for the 2012 season, Texas A&M didn't even know what it had.
Blame it on the black jerseys.
That's what A&M quarterbacks wear for protection, the same way Sooner QBs wear blue and Cowboy QBs wear green.
Stark colors that shout, off limits. Don't touch. Quarterbacks in practice these days are like the Ark of the Covenant. Touch it, and God strikes you dead. Touch a quarterback, and the head coach will strip your scholarship and have you flogged at the campus library.
Protection of quarterbacks has become paramount not only in games, but in practice. Which has led to greater health (though OU's Kendal Thompson suffered a broken foot when he stepped wrong, wearing blue) but also greater confusion.
Coaches truly don't know what they have at quarterback until the games start.
In Norman, Trevor Knight hasn't played at all, and Blake Bell has played only under the guise of the Belldozer, which is nothing like the quarterbacking the Sooners need.
That uncertainty is what Mike Gundy faced last season in Stillwater, where Clint Chelf hadn't played a meaningful snap and Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh hadn't played a snap at all. Turns out, all three Cowboys could quarterback, and the same is likely true with the Sooners.
But you never know. A&M didn't know.
“To an extent, that's true,” said Kliff Kingsbury, now Texas Tech's head coach but last season A&M's quarterback coach.
“Last year, Coach Sumlin stands behind the line in practice and has a quick whistle if anybody gets close. He'd shut those plays down that are really Johnny's forte. Until you see him out there extending plays and making things happen on the field, you don't know exactly what you have at that position.”
Think about that. Remember the Cotton Bowl, when Johnny Football made the Sooner defense look like sandlot ragamuffins. Manziel threw for 287 yards and ran for 229 yards. Johnny Football wasn't tackled so much as he tired of winning an endless game of tag.
Alabama can empathize with the Sooners. Yet Sumlin wasn't sure of the best choice to replace Ryan Tannehill until two weeks before the season opener.
With Bell a mobile quarterback, and Knight even moreso (Knight has drawn rave reviews from the secret squirrels who get to watch OU practices), the blue jersey complicates things. Is a quarterback's performance limited in practice, the way Manziel's obviously was? Or is a quarterback's performance enhanced, with a gun-shy QB getting to play free knowing his rib cage won't be assaulted?
The off-limits jersey is not just a mobile quarterback issue. A pocket passer who knows he can't get hit is a different animal than a pocket passer who knows his head is hunted. Practice is flag football; games are tackle football. Big, big difference.
“Until it starts,” Stoops said of games, “yeah, it's a little bit of an unknown, definitely.”
Stoops said the Sooners tried to spice up the spring competition.
“We actually got to where instead of running by the quarterbacks, we were tagging ‘em, pushing ‘em, so they were used to somebody being there,” Stoops said.
“So we kind of already got a little closer to ‘em, trying to bother ‘em a little bit, knowing they can't hold it forever, or they better tuck it and do something with it.”
The off-limits jerseys are what made Brandon Weeden and Chelf such OSU success stories.
Gundy has admitted he wasn't enamored with either, because of their practice performance. Weeden's attitude was lackadaisical; Chelf's demeanor was low-key.
But both proved to be gamers.
Heck, when Zac Robinson was injured and unavailable for OSU's 2009 game against Colorado, Gundy famously started Alex Cate. Anyone who thought Cate and Weeden were in the same hemisphere of quarterbacking wasn't paying attention. Unless the green jerseys clouded the quarterback competition.
It happened at OSU. It happened at A&M. It could happen at OU.
Whoever starts for the Sooners on Aug. 31 against Louisiana-Monroe might turn into a superstar. Or, without the comfort of the blue jersey, he might need to be replaced sooner rather than later.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.