Opportunity knocks for Bell

Is this the week the OU quarterback race is decided? Blake Bell gets his first chance to start and has something to prove.

It's coming a few weeks later than most anticipated, but junior quarterback Blake Bell will make his first start Saturday morning against Tulsa.

Bell has seen action in each of OU's first two victories but not when the spotlight was only on him. It will be Saturday with the news redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight is out with a knee injury.

The injury allowed OU coach Bob Stoops to avoid having to answer the question. Would a healthy Knight been chosen as the starter this week? Or would his performance last week meant Bell was going to get the nod anyway? We'll never know.

What we do know is this is Bell's chance. It might be his only chance to make his statement about why he should be OU's starting quarterback going forward.

"Every quarterback we have is there for each other," wide receiver Jalen Saunders said. "They are like brothers. They always cheer each other on. This week he is going to make it happen."

This week is an example of why fans speculating about Bell transferring was way too premature. Stoops made it clear Knight was the starting quarterback for that week and not for the season. And history has shown too many times losing the quarterback competition doesn't mean you're out of it.

From what players and coaches have said, that has been Bell's attitude the entire way. Once he got over the initial disappointment, he has been the model teammate and has prepared like he would get that opportunity.

"You just never know and this is the level of football we're at – it's competitive," Stoops said. "You're going to have your ups and downs and you are going to have to keep working it. And usually when you do, things turn out positive for you."

It will be Bell's first start, but it obviously won't be the first big-game experience for the Wichita, Kan., native. During his time at OU, Bell has rushed for 403 yards and 24 touchdowns, while completing 13 of 26 passes for 153 yards.

Any experience is better than no experience, and his teammates believe that will serve Bell well in adjusting to his new role.

"He has some experience, of course, from last year and the year before playing certain packages," Saunders said. "I feel like he is going to come in and do really well."

But does he have a chance to earn the starting position Saturday? With Kendal Thompson returning, he is back in the picture. And Stoops said Monday he is hopeful Knight can return during the bye week.

Is Bell just keeping the spot warm, or is Saturday officially the start of the Bell Era at OU? Another issue is judging what makes Saturday a success.

OU enters the game a heavy favorite against its in-state opponent, and the Sooners have never had any issues against Tulsa during Stoops' tenure.

With how successful the running game has been for OU, it will be interesting to see just how much the passing game is even utilized against the Golden Hurricane.

But don't expect kid gloves on Bell, either. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said he has full trust in Bell, and the offense will certainly be tailored to his strengths.

"Blake has played in a bunch of football games, a bunch of big games," Heupel said. "He's played in high-pressure situations. He's pretty confident as a football player so I expect he will handle himself the right way and play well on Saturday."

The future of Bell and the future of the starting quarterback position are still to be decided. We've seen Knight's auditions. Now it's time for Bell.

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