OU quarterback success unmatched

NORMAN, Okla. -- In 1999, Bob Stoops arrived in Norman to discover that Lambda Chi intramurals had the best passing tradition on campus.

Problem was, Oklahoma didn't have the backs or offensive linemen to run the ball, either. The glory days of the Switzer wishbone had long since passed.

"We didn't have the players to pound people," Stoops recalled. "And we didn't have a quarterback on campus, with all due respect to the guys who were here, ready to play at this level."

So Stoops went and hired passing guru Mike Leach, who recruited Josh Heupel, who quarterbacked the Sooners to the 2000 national championship. Since, OU has been college football's gold standard for passing quarterbacks. This season is no different with Landry Jones, who was second nationally in passing yardage last year and is fifth so far this season.

Many schools can claim "Quarterback U." But only a couple come close to matching what OU's quarterbacks have accomplished this century. Going back to 2000, the Sooners have as many national award winners (five), Heisman Trophy finalists (four), Heisman winners (two) and passing efficiency champs (two) as any school in the nation.

"From 2000 on, the way the quarterback position has been played at OU is as impressive as anywhere," said former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, who, mimicking Stoops, implemented a pass-first offense at Indiana then got a commitment from the class of 2012's No. 2 quarterback, Gunner Kiel.

OU's breadth of success is unmatched, as well. This century, six different Sooners, including converted wideout Paul Thompson, have quarterbacked their teams to conference titles. Among BCS programs, Ohio State and USC come closest with four apiece.

"The guy who really started all of it was Josh, the way he was as a quarterback," said Kansas offensive coordinator Chuck Long, OU's QBs coach from 2000-2005, and offensive coordinator from 2002-2005. "Josh kick-started the whole thing."

As a player and as a coach, Heupel has been the driving force. But to be fair, Stoops kick-started it all by hiring Leach away from Kentucky to be the Sooners' offensive coordinator. As Florida's defensive coordinator, Stoops never lost to Kentucky. But twice, the Gators had to prevail in shootouts.

"I was like, 'Here's Kentucky, and they have good players, but during the time I was in the SEC, they didn't have as good as most,' " Stoops said. "And they led the league in first downs, led the league in time of possession and moved the ball and scored on everybody. And I had to defend them. And I was like, 'Man, is this a pain.' "

At first, Leach made Oklahoma fans nervous. To them, 10 passes a game seemed excessive. But Stoops believed by hiring the preeminent passing coach in college football, he'd be able to give the program an identity. And, perhaps, that would convince high-profile passing quarterbacks to give OU a look.

"It worked out that way," Stoops said. "We attracted three great quarterbacks. It attracted Nate Hybl to want to transfer here (from Georgia). It kept Jason White from going to Miami -- he wasn't going to stay here. And then Josh comes."

Leach left for Texas Tech after one season. But the foundation had been established. In 2000, Heupel finished second in the Heisman voting and led the Sooners to their seventh national championship. In 2002, Hybl won a Big 12 title and the Rose Bowl. In 2003 and 2004, White became OU's first quarterback to win the Heisman and led the Sooners to consecutive title game appearances.

"When Josh was there, Jason and Nate were in his hip pocket and emulated whatever he did," Long said. "Josh set the standard. And once you start a tradition like that, it gets handed down from quarterback to quarterback."

From there, blue-chip quarterbacks from Tommy Grady to Rhett Bomar began flocking to Norman. But as it turned out, it was a lightly recruited, lifelong Sooners fan from Oklahoma City who elevated, then solidified OU's burgeoning status as the top passing quarterback program in the country.

Recruited by Long and mentored by Heupel, Sam Bradford ultimately developed into the most productive passer in school history. In 2008, he quarterbacked one of the most prolific offenses of the modern era as the Sooners scored 60 points in an NCAA-record five consecutive games.

In 2010, Bradford was drafted first overall by the St. Louis Rams. On his way to earning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, he became the first OU quarterback other than Troy Aikman (who transferred to UCLA) to attempt an NFL pass since "Indian" Jack Jacobs in 1947.

"Anytime you have the No. 1 pick and he's a quarterback, that's going to be a big sell for that school," Long said. "Every school would want to have that to sell. That alone gets you in the door with all the top quarterbacks in the country. Doesn't mean you get 'em. But a lot of us don't get in the door."

That pitch helped land Blake Bell, the No. 3 quarterback in the ESPNU 150. In the class of 2012, four-star quarterback Trevor Knight committed to the Sooners over LSU, Clemson and Texas A&M, noting that what Heupel did with Bradford "played a role" in his decision.

"Sam's success speaks volumes of what we're doing here, how we're training guys, and how that transitions to the next level, which is important in recruiting, because kids want that opportunity," Heupel said. "There are certain expectations here now. There's a work ethic that's been built here, and that's been passed on from player to player. The pieces are in place here for a quarterback to be successful."

Jones is just the latest to enjoy such success. After throwing for more than 4,700 yards and 38 touchdowns a year ago, Jones entered this season on the short list of Heisman contenders. Two weeks ago, he did nothing to hurt those chances, leading the Sooners on a game-winning touchdown drive in to beat then-fifth ranked Florida State in the fourth quarter.

"That's the standard that's been set," Jones said. "That's what's expected of the quarterbacks, the way we work, the way we prepare.

"Just how it is around here now."

Jake Trotter covers University of Oklahoma football for SoonerNation.

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