With Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray surely leaving college to play a professional sport—either baseball or football, depending entirely on who you ask—there has already been speculation about who will start at quarterback for the Sooners in 2019.
Rumors have begun to stack up around two quarterbacks who have no visible ties to Oklahoma and, even more eyebrow-raising, have not declared they’re intentions to transfer from their respective schools at all in Arizona Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate and Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Tate is an intriguing quarterback because he, like Murray, is as capable with his feet as he is with his arm. In 29 games, Tate has passed for 4,364 yards and rushed for 1,873.
Playing his first three seasons in former Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez’s spread-to-run-offense in 2017, he passed for over 1,500 yards while rushing for more than. 1,400. Those numbers were eye-popping enough for many to wonder aloud if he’d be a Heisman Trophy contender in 2018.
But with the coaching change—Rodriguez was fired, and Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin was hired—came a new offense. Tate was asked to throw more in his career than he’d ever thrown before. After passing just 179 times in 2017, he accounted for 302 attempts in Sumlin’s air raid-based offense.
Tate completed just 56.4 percent of his passes in a disappointing 2018 campaign, and there have been rumors since the season ended about his perhaps transferring because the system, the coach and the overall feel for his role at Arizona was no longer one he wanted.
Someone threw Oklahoma against the wall, and all of a sudden Tate to Oklahoma is a question fans want to know the answer to? Nah, fam. This ain’t it, chief.
A similar story could be put forth for Hurts who could have announced his decision to transfer when Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was awarded the starting job for good during the 2018 season. Instead, Hurts stuck it out and played in mop-up time for the bulk of the regular season before saving the Tide from a loss to Georgia in the Southeastern Conference title game.
Without Hurts playing those final snaps against the Bulldogs, an argument can be made that the Tide might not have won that game. And, in the same breath, media and fans began to wonder if Hurts would be willing to stick out another season behind an underclassman.
After all, Hurts was the 2016 SEC Player of the Year. He’s passed for 5,616 yards with 48 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions. He’s also rushed for 1,976 yards as the Tide’s signal caller.
Sports Illustrated college football writer Andy Staples postulated Oregon as a possible landing spot for Hurts as well as Oklahoma.
“He will wind up on a team with a good roster,” Staples said. “He’ll have a good supporting cast. Put Jalen Hurts in the right offense and he can put up some really good numbers. I say Oklahoma, because look, Austin Kendall was the backup and he’ll be the presumed favorite to win the starting job next year.”
Well, since Hurts hasn’t said a word about wanting to transfer, why not Auburn? Why not Texas? Why not North Dakota State?
These questions are fun and entertaining, but until Tate or Hurts say they’re willing to transfer—let alone to Oklahoma—that’s all they are.
Still, these questions seem to forget about Kendall.
Kendall is listed as a better betting favorite to win the Heisman in 2019 than Hurts. Why? Because Staples is right to say Kendall is the presumed starter at OU.
Not just because he’s on campus. Not just because he’s spent the last three years at Oklahoma. Not just because he’s been in meetings and practices with back-to-back Heisman winners, and not just because he’s spent the last three years learning and developing in Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley’s offense.
But because he’s good.
Folks tend to forget that Kendall and Murray each played in the 2018 spring game, and no one saw much of a difference. Now, to be sure, there’s only so much you can glean from quarterbacks with blue jerseys on.
But most expected to see a clear separation in the spring game between the two, and there was none. Then, into the summer and through preseason camp, Riley was adamant that two quarterbacks were neck-and-neck in the race to be the starter in 2018.
And when the race was won? Riley called it one of the toughest he’s ever had to judge as coach. We are to infer from that that, at worst, Kendall is just a step behind a quarterback who put together one of the best seasons by a big-time collegiate quarterback ever and just won the Heisman.
It’s either that, or Riley is telling tales. But since that man has fielded two of the best offenses in the history of the college game and put Heisman on the podium in back-to-back seasons, it behooves us all to take him at his word and begin to believe Kendall can absolutely play.