NORMAN — Blake Bell stood in the Switzer Center hallway two weeks ago and recited many of the usual talking points during an interview with The Oklahoman.
The junior quarterback stressed the importance of always being ready to play and staying even-keeled regardless of circumstances. He reiterated that the team is more important than any individual.
For one brief moment, though, Bell went off script during an answer about the Sooners' Dec. 7 Bedlam victory and his monumental role in it.
“Obviously going in there as the third quarterback, you're never really thinking you're gonna play,” Bell said. “I would say no, I wasn't ready.”
Catching himself, Bell quickly added, “Well, I was ready to play, but I didn't think I was gonna get a chance.”
Ready or not, Bell was forced into action that frigid Saturday in Stillwater after starter Trevor Knight separated a shoulder and sophomore Kendal Thompson was ineffective. Bell's performance on Oklahoma's final drive — particularly the spot-on, game-winning touchdown pass to Jalen Saunders with 19 seconds to go — has, without question, become the junior's defining career moment.
That Bell would shine in the backup role isn't necessarily a surprise. He spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons replacing starter Landry Jones in short-yardage and goal-line situations, taking a shotgun snap and plowing forward for first downs and touchdowns.
He rushed for 24 touchdowns, won a bowl game's Most Valuable Player Award and developing a cultlike following as the “Belldozer.”
Most considered him the clear favorite to replace Jones on a full-time basis to start the 2013 season, but Knight bested Bell in the preseason quarterback derby.
When Knight was injured in the second game of the season, Bell took over and shined throughout his first two starts, including a 35-21 win at Notre Dame in late September.
But Bell's performance wasn't consistent, and he struggled mightily in losses to Texas and at Baylor. When he was knocked out of the Sooners' Nov. 16 home win over Iowa State with a concussion and Knight played well off the bench, Bell's fate seemed sealed.
Knight started the Sooners' 41-31 win at Kansas State, seemingly cementing his status — once again — as the Sooners' quarterback moving forward.
That was only affirmed the week leading up to Bedlam, when coaches determined that an option-heavy, run-first attack would be best against sixth-ranked Oklahoma State, so Bell was relegated to third on the depth chart.
His close friend and team captain Gabe Ikard said Bell “took maybe five reps all week in practice” because of the scheme.
Not only had Bell been schemed out of Bedlam preparations that week, but he was thrown into sudden duty after spending much of the first three quarters standing still in below-freezing temperatures.
A strength coach stretched him out, and Bell stood in front of the sideline heater to warm up when coaches decided to put him in the game.
The Sooners led 20-17 until Oklahoma State marched down the field on a seven-play, 89-yard touchdown drive that appeared to be a backbreaker.
Oklahoma hadn't scored an offensive touchdown the entire game when Bell trotted onto the field with 1:46 remaining.
Bell completed two straight passes to Sterling Shepard to open the drive, and after the second — an 18-yard gain to OSU's 39-yard line — the junior started truly believing OU would win.
A pass interference call and Justin Gilbert's dropped interception helped the Sooners pick up yards, and on first-and-goal from the Cowboys' 7-yard line, Bell dropped the football right into Saunders' hands in the back corner of the end zone.
“That would definitely go down as one of the best moments I've had here,” Bell said. “There have been a lot of great moments, you know, last year's Bedlam, and Notre Dame this year.
“But I would say this is the one that I'll remember the most, just because of how the whole game played out.”
Now, the question remains: Who will be the Sooners' starting quarterback against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl? Cases can be made for Bell, Knight and even some combination of the two.
“I think we've gotta be ready to use one of us, or several of us,” Knight said. “As you've seen throughout the year, that's happened in several different games. We've all gotta be ready to go no matter who starts the game.”