NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — After watching Blake Bell slice and dice Tulsa's defense, the question seems obvious — how in the world did anyone beat him out as No. 14 Oklahoma's starting quarterback during the preseason?
On Saturday, Bell gave what was — statistically, at least — the best performance ever by any Oklahoma quarterback making his first career start, completing 27-of-37 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns as the Sooners rolled to a 51-20 win.
By comparison, in the debuts of Oklahoma's two most recent starting quarterbacks before this season, Sam Bradford (a future Heisman Trophy winner) threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns in a 2007 romp over North Texas, while Landry Jones had 286 yards passing and three TDs in a rout of Idaho State in 2009.
But rewind two weeks, and Bell, a junior, was standing on the sideline for Oklahoma (3-0), watching freshman Trevor Knight start at quarterback in the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe after beating out Bell during what, by all accounts, was a spirited preseason competition for the job.
Knight struggled with his passing, then suffered a bruised knee a week later against West Virginia, opening the door for Bell.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, given a chance Saturday to explain their thought process in choosing Knight over Bell, opted not to go there.
"I'm not going back to all of that," Stoops said. "There's no sense in rehashing all of that. (Bell) played really well today. He showed poise, consistency. He threw the ball great and was on the money. I didn't detail it all when Trevor was the guy, either."
Bell was asked if he showed anything against Tulsa that he didn't show in practice. The answer? "Not really."
"I just prepared all week and came out there and felt poised and making my reads, and just not doing anything too crazy out there," he said. "Just making smart decisions and taking care of the football."
Did he practice well during the preseason?
"I did," he said. "What happened in August was in August. Now we're in the season, so, like I said, I can just take day by day and just get better."
Bell acknowledged that it initially wasn't easy to accept his backup role. Heupel said Bell was particularly down the day after the decision was announced. But Bell quickly bounced back emotionally, said senior center Gabe Ikard, one of Bell's close friends.
"He could have handled it a lot of ways," Ikard said. "Just like any position, you want to be the guy starting. He had worked very hard, competed throughout the entire year. So of course he's going to be down. But he handled himself like a veteran, like the leader he is for this football team."
Bell said his performance really didn't surprise him, other than that he broke a school record once held by Bradford.
"I just went out there and played ball," he said. "I did nothing really too up or too down. I just played ball and acted like it's another day at practice. I had a fun time doing it. I felt like I was seeing my reads pretty well and my keys and just having fun with it."
What did surprise some people, though, was Bell's passing acumen. While he'd seen considerable playing time the last two seasons, most of it was as part of a power running package dubbed the "Belldozer."
Bell performed well enough in that package to earn offensive most valuable player honors in the 2011 Insight Bowl, but he'd never thrown a touchdown pass before Saturday. Heupel said that's in good part because Oklahoma coaches were loathe to give less playing time to Jones, who finished third in career passing yards among major-college quarterbacks.
"Everybody in the country recruited Blake and they recruited him as a passing quarterback," Heupel said. "We said that around here for a long time. The package that he played in the past couple years limited his exposure or your guys' exposure to what he is capable of."
Now Bell - a self-described "Catholic boy" who once starred at Bishop Carroll High School in Wichita, Kan. - will start for the Sooners at No. 22 Notre Dame on Sept. 28.
That's a far cry from how he felt on Aug. 22, when he lost the starting job.
"It was a bad deal," Bell said. "But . the next day, it just kind of felt like, I could either go back and just blow everything off, or I could keep working and keep studying and studying, and then when I get my opportunity, show them what I can do. I feel like I did that."