SAN ANTONIO — Missouri plays in the Big 12 title game tonight, and quarterback stability is a big reason why. In the last six years, Mizzou has employed just two QBs in building to this point: Brad Smith (2002-05) and current phenom Chase Daniel (2005-07). The Sooners are on the Riverwalk, too, in the Big 12 gala for the sixth time in eight seasons. And quarterback stability has not been OU's recipe. In those eight seasons, the Sooners have had six starting quarterbacks. Josh Heupel (2000), Nate Hybl (2001-02), Jason White (2003-04), Rhett Bomar (2005), Paul Thompson (2006), Sam Bradford (2007). Four of those six quarterbacks have won Big 12 titles, and Bradford tonight can make it five. What does such a quarterback carousel mean? Different things to different people. Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel: "Bob's done a great job recruiting quarterbacks. To win at a high level, you have to have a great quarterback. Bob knows that, that's why they've had great success.” OU coach Bob Stoops: "It shows we're strong in a lot of ways, not just that position. That position is supported by the overall strength of the team. We don't count on just him to win it for us.” Both are right. Stoops' staff has done a solid job in stockpiling quarterbacks. In all but 2005 and 2007, the Sooners have had a veteran hand ready to take over. But OU also has surrounded its quarterbacks with quality blocking and playmakers. Truth is, OU's Big 12 title wins rarely are quarterback-driven. Josh Heupel was sore-armed by December 2000; his gutty game is best remembered for an option play he ran, which is quite a hoot if you remember Heupel's non-knack for running. Hybl in 2002 and Thompson in 2006 were solid but not spectacular. Only White in 2004, against hapless Colorado, had a monster quarterback game. A monster game might be needed out of Bradford tonight. Missouri figures to score in bunches, thanks to Daniel and that amazing array of pass catchers. And Bradford certainly could produce. Bradford is not in Daniel's league as a quarterback, not yet anyway, but the Sooner coaches have put together a system that maximizes Bradford's plusses (accurate arm, good decision-making) and minimizes his minuses (lack of mobility, inexperience). The result? Bradford has 32 touchdown passes and seven interceptions, great numbers for a redshirt freshman. "It's probably fair to say that none of us saw this coming,” Stoops said. "Obviously, we couldn't have asked for much more. The guy is exceptional and has an incredible future in front of him.” "He's doing everything we need him to do and more.” If OU wins tonight, Stoops' quarterback reputation should go through the Alamodome roof. Win tonight, make it five titles under five quarterbacks in eight seasons, a feat achieved in major-college football only by Bud Wilkinson's Oklahoma (1950s) and Bear Bryant's Alabama (1970s) teams. Stoops can send a chill through the rest of the Big 12. Those other four titles? Those other four quarterbacks? All were seniors. If Stoops wins with a freshman, he comes back next year, and the year after that, with what Pinkel now has: quarterback stability.
Former OU quarterback Josh Heupel