At Oklahoma and Texas, pressure comes standard. The starting quarterbacks of each respective program—Trevor Knight and David Ash—are feeling similar pressure to live up to expectations in 2014.
The Sooners and Longhorns are in different places, however. Oklahoma is ranked No. 3 in the Amway Preseason Coaches Poll and have national championship aspirations. Anything less could be a major disappointment.
Texas, ranked No. 24 in the same poll, is starting over under first-year head coach Charlie Strong. With the 15th-toughest schedule in the nation, according to Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com, and numerous suspensions/dismissals, it's hard to know exactly what to make of the Horns.
Fitting into those storylines are Knight and Ash, both of whom are looking to chase down Baylor's Bryce Petty as the top quarterback in the conference.
What type of pressure will each quarterback feel this year?
Knight: Replicating the Sugar Bowl
When your last impression is a four-touchdown performance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, that gives media and fans alike a lot to talk about for the next seven months.
That's what Knight is facing. The second-year starter had an inconsistent and injury-filled 2013, appearing in eight games and starting five. However, he came up huge against the Tide by dropping dimes to his receivers. It was a complete transformation as a passer considering he began the season 11-of-28 for 86 yards against Louisiana-Monroe.
"As a [redshirt] freshman, getting into a new collegiate environment is difficult," Knight told Lindsay Schnell of Sports Illustrated. "I don’t think I felt overwhelmed, but I needed a little time to step into my shoes a bit."
If Knight can be anywhere near as good as he was in the Sugar Bowl, he becomes one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the Big 12. There's no denying Knight is a gifted runner who can make people miss in the open field. If he's an accurate, confident passer, he gives the Sooners another dimension on offense that they haven't had in the Bob Stoops era.
It would also show Stoops was on to something when he chose to start Knight a year ago over Blake Bell.
Besides developing as a passer, Knight's other issue is staying healthy. That's always a concern with a mobile quarterback. As John Hoover of the Tulsa World writes, figuring out the right balance of running Knight and keeping him in the pocket is a quandary for offensive coordinator Josh Heupel.
With the Sooners tabbed as the overwhelming preseason favorites to win the Big 12, and with a College Football Playoff berth possibly on the line, keeping Knight healthy is a top priority.
Ash: Staying Healthy
If there's one similarity between Knight and Ash, it's that both have struggled to stay healthy. To put it bluntly, Ash hasn't been healthy in almost a year.
His 2013 season ended not long after it started because of a concussion. Then, in the spring, Ash was sidelined again because of a Jones fracture in his foot. Still, despite the injuries, Ash was named the Longhorns' starting quarterback by head coach Charlie Strong last month.
On Monday, Ash was made available to the media for the first time since last year's BYU loss. In his own words, Ash acknowledged that injuries have been a point of frustration.
Can Ash stay healthy for a full season this time around? Like Knight, Ash can run, but that also exposes him to more hits. Furthermore, the Horns are breaking in a mostly new-look offensive line this season.
As B/R's Taylor Gaspar notes, Ash has experience. He also has the physical tools—6'3", 220 pounds and a big arm—to be successful. He just hasn't been able to put it all together yet.
If Ash is healthy, David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest agrees that the Longhorns can do big things in Strong's first year.
Who Is Under the Most Pressure: Knight
Knight is facing pressure to succeed from two fronts. On one side, and as odd as it sounds, Knight could lose his job if he doesn't show improvement this season. Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield was the star of the Sooners' spring game, but he has to sit out a season to satisfy Big 12 and NCAA transfer rules. If Knight struggles, next spring could start an intriguing quarterback battle.
Ash faces a similar situation if he doesn't take a step forward. Ultimately, though, the difference is the expectation facing Oklahoma. The Sooners have their sights set on a playoff appearance with a preseason ranking to match. Along with a returning defensive front seven, much of that has to do with Knight's potential.
Those preseason expectations, fair or not, will play a role in how closely Knight is followed.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.
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