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Oklahoma Football: The purpose of a preseason QB competition

Jalen Hurts is going to win the job, but he should prove he deserves it first.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma Spring Game Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

With preseason practices opening up for the Oklahoma Sooners over the weekend, head coach Lincoln Riley is going to have problems convincing anyone that his quarterbacks are engaging in an actual competition for the starting job. If graduate transfer Jalen Hurts isn’t taking the first snaps against the Houston Cougars over Labor Day weekend, it would surpass Trevor Knight’s victory in OU’s 2013 QB derby on the upset scale.

Nevertheless, OU’s head coach is insisting on portraying the next four weeks as a duel between Hurts, redshirt freshman Tanner Mordecai and true frosh Spencer Rattler. Count on a steady stream of post-practice updates from the media about Riley declining to name a starter. When the announcement is made about a week before the opener that Hurts won the job, expect it to be met with usual sarcasm.

So why go through this charade? It’s an obvious question for anyone outside of the program to ask, given the overwhelming consensus about Hurts. For Riley – and anyone else on the inside – it’s just as easy to answer.

Based on the trend in college football now, the cynical response would be that Riley doesn’t want Mordecai to transfer. The thinking goes that the head coach will string Mordecai along until it becomes untenable for him to leave OU, then give the job to Hurts. That ensures the Sooners enter the season with an experienced reserve QB.

But let’s give Mordecai some credit — he probably understands why Hurts is wearing the Crimson & Cream this year. He has had seven months to watch Hurts perform, so he should have a sense of the competitive landscape. Unless Hurts stunk it up behind closed doors during summer workouts, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to Mordecai if and when the Alabama transfer is officially named the starter.

But even though no one expects Hurts to fall flat on his face during practices this month, what if he does? What if Mordecai or Rattler is just so good in preseason camp that Riley can’t deny one of them the starting nod?

The reality is that players on the team are watching the QBs compete this month, not just Riley and the coaching staff. As a transfer, it really does matter that Hurts can prove to the team he deserves the job. If Riley simply names him the starter right off the bat, Hurts doesn’t get the opportunity to show he can win the gig, fair and square.

Although the outcome is all but certain, handing Hurts the job without going through a competition invites doubts in the minds of players that he gives them the best chance for success this season. That type of situation is begging for fractures in the locker room, especially if adversity hits during the season.

So don’t think about this as a competition to reveal to Riley who’s the best QB for this team. He pursued Hurts for a reason. Instead, take it OU’s coach using the opportunity to validate his decision.