- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
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It was an impersonation that came rather naturally for the redshirting freshman.
The same way Manziel would do in the game, Knight carved up Oklahoma’s starting defense daily in practice, offering a glimpse into his vast potential.
A year ago, Manziel jump-started a Texas A&M program that had been growing stale. This season, the Sooners are banking Knight can do the same for them.
In what would have been deemed a stunning move just a month ago, coach Bob Stoops tabbed Knight as his starting quarterback Thursday. Knight beat out establishment candidate Blake Bell, who was the overwhelming favorite to win the job going into the preseason.
Perhaps this shouldn’t have been so stunning.
Dating back to that December bowl prep, Knight’s teammates kept raving about how dazzling this scout-team quarterback was.
On multiple occasions, Knight made the first-team defense look so bad during practice that defensive coordinator Mike Stoops would slam his paper script to the ground in disgust.
“Trevor has a chance to bring some noise,” cornerback Aaron Colvin told ESPN.com then. “When we go against him in the scout team, he makes some throws that are kind of unreal.
“I’m very curious to see what he does, because I think he has a bright future.”
For Knight, the future is a lot sooner than anyone would have imagined.
Out of Oklahoma’s short-yardage “Belldozer” package, Bell had become a fan favorite and a devastating weapon, piling up 24 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Bell also beat out Drew Allen for the No. 2 job last fall to put himself in prime position to succeed four-year starter Landry Jones.
Even during the spring, Bell’s trajectory remained on track. He got the start in Oklahoma’s spring game, and outplayed Knight and Kendal Thompson, who bowed out of the competition on the first day of preseason practice when he fractured his foot.
Yet, even as Bell appeared to be the most comfortable quarterback in the spring game, there were signs Knight was beginning to find his stride. After scuffling early with turnovers and missed reads, he finally began to settle in, engineering two touchdown drives late in the scrimmage.
“I felt more comfortable throughout the day, and that's obvious,” Knight said after the spring game. “The more reps, the more comfortable you feel."
From then, Knight has only continued to surge.
And aiding his cause along the way has been Oklahoma’s new-look offense, which is expected to feature plenty of zone-read and designed quarterback run plays.
While it’s been a bit awkward for the lumbering Bell, the offense has been a perfect fit for Knight and his skill set, which includes a 4.5-second 40-yard dash time. At his San Antonio high school, Knight operated a similar attack, throwing for more than 2,000 yards and 27 touchdowns while rushing for another 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns.
"He's very gifted," Knight's high school offensive coordinator, Jason Thomasson, told ESPN.com over the summer. "He has a big arm, he can make every throw, but people don't realize how fast he is. I don't know if he's as fast as Manziel, but he's incredibly athletic -- so athletic that he can make you look silly sometimes.”
Last fall, Manziel made defense after defense look silly -- including the Sooners’ -- while making the Aggies relevant in college football again for the first time in years.
Oklahoma hasn’t exactly tumbled out of relevancy. Still, a tinge of staleness has enveloped the program, as the Sooners have failed to seriously challenge for a national championship over the past five years, despite recurring high preseason expectations.
Manziel proved what one game-changing quarterback can do for a team and a school. This time last year, it was him besting a presumed heir-apparent to win his offense’s starting job.
Now, Knight has done the same. And the impersonation carries on.
5dJake Trotter, Brandon Chatmon and Max Olson