NORMAN — Blake Bell has been on quite the roller coaster ride throughout his football career at Oklahoma.
Bell became a cult hero to Sooner fans as the “Belldozer,” when he would replace starting quarterback Landry Jones and plow ahead for short-yardage first downs and touchdowns. He was named as Jones' primary backup before the 2012 season, seemingly cementing his status as the record-setting quarterback's heir apparent.
But Bell lost the preseason quarterback battle to redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, who struggled and then was injured after less than two full games, giving Bell his shot. In his first two starts, Bell was outstanding, but mostly struggled after that. He suffered a concussion against Iowa State, Knight started the Sooners' road victory at Kansas State two weeks ago and played well, making it clear that Bell's career as Oklahoma's starting quarterback is all but finished.
Academically, Bell is classified as a senior, meaning he could graduate and transfer to another FBS school without sitting out a season, per NCAA rules. If Bell took that path, here's a look at three possible programs that he could look to for one final shot at being a major college football starting quarterback:
The connection: Bell listed Kansas as one of his favorites early in the spring of 2009. The Lawrence campus is only about a two-hour drive from his hometown of Wichita. His cousin, Beau Bell, is currently a sophomore linebacker for the Jayhawks. Also, KU coach Charlie Weis tried to recruit Bell to Notre Dame while Weis was head coach there, so a previous relationship between the two exists.
Why it could work: Weis has brought in FBS-transfer quarterbacks the past two seasons, and OU coach Bob Stoops allowed receiver Justin McCay to transfer to Kansas two years ago. This season, junior Jake Heaps — a BYU transfer — hasn't been effective and was benched after starting the first nine games. True freshman Montell Cozart started the final three games of the season but wasn't much better. Heaps replaced him in the third quarter of a 34-0 shellacking from Iowa State two weeks ago. Cozart did help the Jayhawks snap their 27-game Big 12 losing streak against West Virginia on Nov. 16.
QBs returning in 2014: Heaps, Cozart, sophomore Michael Cummings, freshman T.J. Millweard, freshman Jordan Darling, and junior Blake Jablonski all return next year. Bell's chances in a quarterback battle against any of them would seem to be good.
The connection: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini recruited Bell heavily before he committed to the Sooners, and Bell told Rivals.com the Huskers were at the top of his list after visiting the school's junior day in February 2009. Then-offensive coordinator Shawn Watson is now at Louisville and Pelini's seat seemed hot after last week's loss to Iowa, but all indications are now that Pelini will be back in Lincoln next season.
Why it could work: The Cornhuskers lose senior quarterback Taylor Martinez to graduation, and Ron Kellogg III — who has played lots this season while Martinez battled injuries — is also a senior. If Bell were to choose Nebraska and quickly pick up its system, he could provide an immediate boost to Pelini's hopes of keeping his job beyond 2014.
QBs returning in 2014: Redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. has started seven games this year, but has completed just 53 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. Sophomore Tyson Broekemeier, redshirt freshman Ryker Fyfe, redshirt freshman Evan Williams and true freshman Johnny Stanton all return next season as well.
The connection: There isn't much of a connection readily apparent, though Tulsa is roughly a 2 1/2-hour drive from Wichita. Bell made his first career start against the Golden Hurricane in September and completed 27 of 37 attempts for 413 yards and four touchdowns.
Why it could work: Tulsa finished the 2013 season with a 3-9 record, the program's worst in more than a decade. Senior Cody Green was hurt much of this season, allowing redshirt freshman Dane Evans to start five games. Evans wasn't effective, though, completing just 43 percent of his pass attempts with four touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Bell would step onto campus and immediately give the Hurricane a major upgrade at the position. Tulsa is moving into the tougher American Athletic Conference (formerly the Big East) next season.
QBs returning in 2014: Evans, sophomore Joseph Calcagni, sophomore Brad Valentino, freshman Jaylen Lowe and freshman Ryan Rubley are all back next year.