This wasn’t gamesmanship.
This was just more savvy by Oklahoma’s precocious CEO coach.
Lincoln Riley finally named his starting quarterback today — it’s fourth-year junior Kyler Murray, to no one’s surprise — and now the Sooners have just 10 days to prepare for the 2018 season opener against Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic team with Murray as their No. 1 guy.
But that’s OK. Actually, it’s quite smart.
It was incumbent on Riley to get both Murray and now backup Austin Kendall as many first-team reps in practice as possible because, well, football happens.
Murray is a mobile quarterback, a fleet-footed runner who, frankly, isn’t very big. He’s 5-foot-10 and about 190 pounds — a moderately sized meal for some college football defensive ends.
Kendall needs to be ready.
If Murray takes a big hit — whether he’s running or passing — Riley needs to know that his backup QB can play. At the very least, Riley needs to do everything in his power to get him ready to play.
Spending all of training camp and the first part of FAU prep giving Kendall lots of first-team reps was imperative, and it’s smart.
We all knew Murray would eventually win the job. Certainly, Riley did, though he can’t admit it. Murray is too dynamic a player to keep on the bench, too dangerous a weapon to hold a clipboard.
But if Riley had named Murray the starter last spring or at the start of camp or even last week, he would have diminished Kendall’s opportunity for growth. (There’s also the not-so-little issue of the recent trend of backup quarterbacks deciding to transfer to another school, though Kendall has given no indication that he was ever considering such a thing.)
If Kendall enters his first game this season having only worked with the backup offensive line and the backup receivers and the backup running backs, then Riley would have been doing a disservice to the team.
Besides, even if Murray stays healthy and plays great all season, he will be playing professional baseball this time next year. Giving Kendall first-team reps now makes him better next year — and the third-year sophomore still will have two years to win the job and be the Sooners’ starter.
That process has been underway since last spring.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.