Uncertainty was stitched into the beginning of Baker Mayfield’s senior season, played under a first-time head coach, who was the country’s youngest in charge. Skepticism was sewn into the start of Kyler Murray’s final year at Oklahoma, a first-time starting quarterback who’d thrown just 21 passes combined the previous two years, and was intent on pursuing a professional baseball career with the Oakland A’s.
Each led the Sooners to a Big 12 championship and playoff berth. Each won the Heisman Trophy. Each became the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.
Lincoln Riley’s newest quarterback has already achieved what Mayfield and Murray couldn’t. Jalen Hurts’ final season will be spent chasing a second national championship ring, and fourth straight title game appearance.
“The whole situation is unique and it’s happening to a unique person,” the Alabama transfer said during his introductory press conference in Norman. “I’m not your average Joe. I’m kind of built for these kinds of situations. There’s never been anything in my way that I couldn’t overcome or see through.
“I clearly understand what I got myself into, but I also know I have expectations for myself.”
The expectations aren’t new. Only the setting.
The 21-year-old Houston native and graduate student carries a 26-2 record as a starter, having led the Crimson Tide to a pair of national championship games, before coming off the bench to carry them to a comeback in last year’s SEC title game, when Tua Tagovailoa — who supplanted Hurts in the previous year’s national title game — got injured.
With the Heisman runner-up back in Tuscaloosa, Hurts’ competition with Tagovailoa could continue in the chase for the sport’s top individual honor. Last year, Oklahoma became the second school since 1946 to win back-to-back Heismans with different players. No school has ever captured three straight. Hurts has the third-best odds — behind Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Tagovailoa — to win the award.
“He certainly brings a lot of great game experience that Kyler and Baker did not have when they got here,” Riley said last month. “It’s not like you’re starting from scratch. He’s a smart kid. He’s been eager. He’s worked hard at it, and we’ve meshed well together.
“We don’t plan on the offense dipping.”
The Sooners’ attack ranked first in the nation last season, averaging more than 48 points per game, under the guidance of Riley, perhaps the country’s best offensive mind. In Hurts’ two seasons as a starter, the Crimson Tide led the SEC in scoring. As Alabama’s first true freshman starting quarterback in 32 years, Hurts was named SEC Offensive Player of the Year. As a sophomore, the dual threat threw for 17 touchdowns and one interception. Then, he became the best backup in the nation, awaiting another chance.
“My past success, the things I have done and achieved, those don’t help us win any games [at Oklahoma] in the fall,” Hurts said. “I’m wiser. I’m better. I’m stronger for it with everything that happened last year, and over the last three years. Obviously, I didn’t get the snaps. I had limited time there, but I’m at a new place now. New opportunity. I think it’s a different team on the same mission.”
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