Texas and Oklahoma enter rivalry week with QB questions

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 01 West Virginia at Texas
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AUSTIN, Texas – Two rivals, two quarterback injury conundrums.

Texas and Oklahoma are preparing for this weekend’s annual matchup in Dallas with big questions at the most important position on the field.

Longhorns coach Steve Sarkisian at least has the luxury of two solid options. His decision on who starts revolves around Quinn Ewers, a big-armed freshman who is getting healthier by the day after missing three games with a clavicle injury, and Hudson Card, an experienced backup who is steadily improving each week.

Oklahoma coach Brent Venables, meanwhile, has to prepare his offense for the possibility that starter Dillon Gabriel won’t play after taking a hard blow to the head that knocked him out of last week’s blowout loss to TCU.

Oklahoma (3-2, 0-2 Big 12) acknowledged after the game that Gabriel was in the team’s concussion protocol, but the Sooners offered no updates Monday on his condition. Pitt transfer Davis Beville came on for Gabriel after the injury and could get the start.

Texas (3-2, 1-1) fans are eager to see Ewers return to the field. His slingshot right arm and long, golden mullet hairstyle has been little more than a Texas tease so far. The five-star high school recruit from the Dallas area transferred from Ohio State and won the job over Card, who started the first two games in 2021.

Ewers won his debut over Louisiana-Monroe and was flinging the ball all over the field in the first quarter in the second game against No. 1 Alabama. But Ewers was injured late in the first quarter when a tackler drove him hard into the turf.

Sarkisian has refused to offer much in the way of updates on Ewers, but the freshman dressed for last week’s 38-20 win over West Virginia. With Ewers watching and available to play, Card had a career night with 303 yards passing and three touchdowns.

And while most expect Ewers to return to the field in the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma. Sarkisian still wouldn’t say that Monday.

“My philosophy is pretty simple: Play the guy that I think gives us the best chance to be successful, whether he’s the starter, the backup, the hot hand or not,” Sarkisian said.

The Texas-Oklahoma rivalry in the Cotton Bowl, with its 50-50 split of Longhorns and Sooners fans and wild momentum swings, can be hard on young quarterbacks, or even any player who hasn’t experienced it. The bus ride through the massive crowds at the Texas state fair, and the run through the stadium tunnel into the pandemonium inside the walls, can shake the knees of first-timers.

Texas running back Bijan Robinson thinks Ewers can handle it. Ewers didn’t seem overwhelmed by the atmosphere of a record crowd of 105,213 when Texas played Alabama, which escaped Austin with a 20-19 win on a field goal in the final minute.

“That’s a huge atmosphere (in Dallas) to be a part of, but he played in the Alabama game.,” Robinson said. “That was a huge atmosphere. I would think this game wouldn’t be a whole lot different for him.”

Beville had attempted just two passes in a Sooners uniform before Gabriel got hurt. He was 7 of 16 passing for 50 yards in the 55-24 loss to TCU.

Texas at least has two quarterbacks who grew up in the state and are familiar with the passions that surround the game. Beville may not know what’s coming in Dallas.

“Ultimately, it’s gonna fall on myself to make sure whoever’s out there is put in positions of success,” Sooners offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby said Monday. “Create layups for guys and…shoot, again, create a situation where we know what the outcome is going to be before we call the play.”

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. returning for 2023 season

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE – Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said Sunday he will return to the school for his sixth and final season of eligibility in 2023.

Penix announced his decision on social media and it was a surprising one at that. Penix was the national leader in passing this season, throwing for 4,354 yards and led Washington’s turnaround. The No. 12-ranked Huskies went 10-2 in the regular season, finished tied for second in the Pac-12 and will face No. 21 Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Penix will have a chance at setting Washington’s single-season record for yards passing in the bowl game. He also threw 29 touchdowns this season. Because of his performance this season, Penix saw his NFL draft stock rise to where he was being expected to be a second-day pick at the latest.

In his announcement, Penix wrote, “As I look back on this special season we had, I realized there were so many great moments and things to celebrate, but I KNOW there is so much for out there for this team and the job is still not finished. I can’t wait to be playing in Husky Stadium for the 2023 season!”

Penix started his career at Indiana and showed flashes of stardom while also battling injuries. He transferred to Washington after the 2021 season, a move that reunited him with new Huskies’ coach Kalen DeBoer, who was Penix’s offensive coordinator for one season at Indiana.

North Texas fires Littrell after .500 record over 7 years

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
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DENTON, Texas – Bowl-bound North Texas has fired coach Seth Littrell, who went 44-44 over seven seasons.

University president Neal Smatresk said Sunday night that the decision to make the move came after a thorough assessment of the program.

The Mean Green are 7-6 this season after losing 48-27 to UTSA in the Conference USA championship game Friday night.

Phil Bennett, their defensive coordinator the past two seasons, was named interim head coach. North Texas plays Boise State in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 17.

The 44-year-old Littrell had one year left on his contract in what was his first head coaching job. He was the youngest coach in Conference USA and one of the youngest at the FBS level when he arrived after two seasons as offensive coordinator at North Carolina with UNT coming off a 1-11 season at the time.

While the Mean Green are going to their sixth bowl since Littrell first got there, they haven’t won any of those yet. The bowl in his debut season came after only five wins since there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all of the slots. Consecutive nine-win seasons followed in 2017 and 2018, but they then had three consecutive losing records before this year.

North Texas also has an interim athletic director after Wren Baker was named as West Virginia’s AD last week.

Smatresk said Jared Mosley, the chief operating officer of UNT athletics, will serve as interim AD. The university is working with a search firm to find Baker’s successor.