Heading into the Sugar Bowl against mighty Alabama, a game Oklahoma was supposed to lose by more than two touchdowns, head coach Bob Stoops held his cards close to his chest.
All the way up until kickoff, he refused to reveal who would start at quarterback. He played coy with the media, deflecting reporters' questions with empty truisms like "that will be a game-time decision," per Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman.
It was a gutsy choice—to say the least—at a position that's troubled the Sooners all season. But now, after watching redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight carve up Alabama in New Orleans, 45-31, it's clear that Stoops chose right.
Knight completed 32 of 44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns, posting career-highs across the board. When it came time to declare the MVP, there was little to no suspense. How could it be anybody else?
Even the most quixotic, delusional Sooners fan didn't see this coming. He or she might have given Oklahoma a shot at beating Alabama, but if it did, the defense would be the main reason why. Few could have expected to leave Thursday's game with an answer to the season-long questions at quarterback, a guy who looks like the bona fide future at the position.
And none could have guessed it would be Knight.
Blake Bell, after all, was the one who had gotten Oklahoma here. Knight's competition and co-starter led the heroic comeback at Oklahoma State after Knight left the game with a shoulder injury. Bell had played more snaps on the season; he had both the hotter and the healthier hand.
But Stoops trusted his guns and handed the ball to Knight, who won the job out of fall camp and always seemed to have the higher ceiling. At certain times this season, he had the offense functioning at a very high level, as it was at Kansas State in November.
At other times, like the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe, the redshirt freshman could barely walk and chew gum against the dregs of the Sun Belt Conference:
Trevor Knight went 11-for-28 for 86 yards against ULM.— Bill Connelly (@SBN_BillC) January 3, 2014
But on Thursday in New Orleans, Knight was an entirely different player, someone even the Kansas State version of himself wouldn't recognize. He was a player you could rightfully compare to Teddy Bridgewater, who shredded a powerful SEC defense in this same game last season, and even Johnny Manziel, who's been kryptonite to Alabama on more than one occasion.
That second comparison is particularly intriguing, especially given the unwitting way their fates have crossed. Before getting blown out by Texas A&M in last year's Cotton Bowl, Knight was tasked with impersonating the Heisman Trophy winner during pregame practice.
According to CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman, he was "virtually untouchable" in the role:
Buzz from an #OU insider on QB Trevor Knight: "4.5 guy. Strong arm. Played Manziel during Cotton Bowl practice. Was virtually untouchable."— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) August 22, 2013
After beating out Bell for the starting job, that's the player OU fans expected to see. Maybe not Manziel, but at least Manziel-lite. Someone who could do some of the same things, provide the same spark. Definitely not the guy who got benched after only two games.
On Thursday evening, however, OU fans were finally treated to the player they'd been promised. Leading by seven points, Knight threw what became the game-winning touchdown in classic Manziel fashion.
Extending a play to his right, Knight went against what quarterbacks are taught and heaved a pass across his body, from the sideline toward the middle of the end zone. Watching on TV, it was impossible to tell what he was thinking ... until the ball fluttered into Sterling Shepard's waiting hands.
It was the signature play of a truly signature performance:
Alabama entered the Sugar Bowl allowing only 166.3 passing yards per game, trailing just Florida State and Michigan State among BCS-conference teams. Its secondary was considered a relative weak spot, but Alabama doesn’t have true weak spots. It only has spots that are less strong.
Knight carved up pretty tight coverage for most of the game, hitting vertical receivers in stride on plays where anything less wouldn’t have done. In roughly four hours of real time, Oklahoma went from not knowing its quarterback to looking at a potential Heisman contender.
Still, it's hard to say what the future might hold for the Sugar Bowl MVP. The ceiling of Knight's potential has undoubtedly been raised, though it remains to be seen how long he can maintain such dazzling play. There's a chance he comes back next season and makes this standard the norm. There's also a chance that he doesn't.
None of that matters at the moment, however. Right now, Knight is officially the quarterback of the future, and he's the man who led one of the greatest wins in program history.
When you suit up in Norman, Okla., that alone is one giant feat.