Mistakes could decide Sooners' starting QB

Few college football coaches understand what it takes to compete for championships better than Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. The Sooners have made four BCS title appearances including a championship in 2000 during Stoops’ 14 seasons in Norman, Okla.

Yet the Sooners’ last BCS title appearance came after the 2008 season and OU is coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons which have Sooners’ fans wondering when, or even if, they’ll see OU return to the national championship game.

A closer look at the Sooners’ troubles taking care of the football shows why they’ve struggled to remain in the BCS title hunt for the past few seasons and could offer a glimpse at what may decide the current quarterback competition as Blake Bell and Trevor Knight battle to be the starting quarterback.

A four-year starter at OU, Landry Jones ended his career as the winningest quarterback in OU history. Yet he also ended it as one of the more maligned figures ever to wear crimson and cream after turnovers and mistakes became a consistent problem during his career.

A closer look at Jones’ 52 career games and the quarterbacks who led the Sooners in the five seasons before Jones could explain OU’s expectations for the quarterback who replaces Jones. When asked how he can win the starting job, Knight, a redshirt freshman with zero game experience, had a revealing response.

“Not make as many mistakes as the other guys,” Knight said. “Whoever performs will be the guy. We have guys who are going to make plays for us, we just can’t be the guy to make the big mistakes.”

Big mistakes have cost the Sooners in recent years. Thanks to ESPN Stats & Info, let’s take a closer look the play of the Sooners quarterbacks since 2004.

  • As great as Jones was for the Sooners, he was a turnover machine at times. He committed at least one turnover in all 11 of his losses as a starter (37-11 overall). In his 13 total career losses [he replaced Sam Bradford in two games], Jones threw 14 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.

  • Jones never threw less than 11 interceptions during any season he played and averaged 13 interceptions per season during his four-year career.

  • Overall, Jones committed at least one turnover in 37 of 52 career games, finishing with 123 touchdowns and 52 interceptions for a 2.3 touchdown-to-interception ratio while winning one outright Big 12 championship and one co-Big 12 title during his four seasons in Norman.

Those numbers aren’t pretty when compared to Bradford, Jason White and Paul Thompson, the three quarterbacks who started and combined to win four outright Big 12 titles in the previous five seasons under Stoops before Jones was pushed into starting duty as a redshirt freshman after Bradford’s injury in 2009.

  • During OU’s 2004 season, White had six interceptions in 12 regular-season victories before a three-interception outing in the Sooners’ 55-19 loss to USC in the BCS title game. He had 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions to finish the season with a 3.8 TD-to-INT ratio.

  • In the Sooners’ 2006 Big 12 title year, Paul Thompson grabbed the starting nod after Rhett Bomar was dismissed. He finished the season with 11 interceptions, including five combined interceptions in losses to Texas and Boise State. His 2-to-1 TD-INT ratio is the lowest of any Sooners’ quarterback since 2004 and he committed one turnover in eight of 13 games. But he led OU to a 11-3 record including an eight-game win streak to end the regular season. He also split time with Romar at quarterback in 2005 as the Sooners’ stumbled to a 8-4 mark, their lone season without a Big 12 title during this five-year span.

  • 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford sets the standard for what the Sooners are looking for in their signal caller. The Oklahoma City native played 31 career games, finishing with 88 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions and eye-popping 5.5 TD to INT ratio. Bradford never had a season with more than 8 interceptions before he became the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft.

Stoops and offensive coordinator Josh Heupel have repeatedly said the player who makes the least mistakes will have the edge as they decided a starter during preseason camp. And those numbers make it apparent why limiting mistakes has become priority No. 1 as the Sooners’ strive to find a signal caller heading into the 2013 season.