Oklahoma football: All eyes will be on Jackson Arnold in his first start in Alamo Bowl


True freshman Jackson Arnold will be behind center, making his first Oklahoma football start when the Sooners meet Arizona in the Alamo Bowl game in San Antonio on Thursday night.

Arnold played sparingly this season behind starter and unanimous All-Big 12 First Team quarterback Dillon Gabriel, but did see action in six games, completing 75 percent of his pass attempts (18 of 24) for 202 yards and two touchdowns. He came to Oklahoma as a consensus five-star prospect and the No. 13 overall recruit in the 2023 class. He was the 2022 Gatorade National Player of the Year, the No. 1 prospect in the state of Texas and 2022 Elite 11 Finals MVP.

In other words, Arnold is an elite prospect who was brought in as Gabriel's backup in 2023 and as the Sooners' designated quarterback of the future. He can play, and now he is getting the chance to show it in a nationally televised bowl game that Arnold and the Sooners can use as a springboard to the 2024 season when Oklahoma moves over to the SEC.

OU wide receiver Jalil Farooq and his teammates have watched Arnold's growth and development this season.

""I'm excited to see him play in the bowl game. I can't wait until he (Jackson Arnold) showcases his talent. He's a great dude, a great leader. He can sling it.""

OU wide receiver Jalil Farooq

Fans got a glimpse of what the freshman quarterback can do in Oklahoma's win at BYU this season. Arnold played the entire second half after Gabriel was injured in the opening half.

With Oklahoma leading 31-24 in the fourth quarter and trying to hold onto the lead, Arnold directed a possession that bled 5:08 off the clock. His eight-yard completion to Farooq on a third-and-eight late in the contest effectively closed out the game and the win for the Sooners.

On Thursday against a very good Arizona team in the Alamo Bowl Arnold will get the opportunity to lead Oklahoma for a full 60 minutes as a lead-in to what he will be asked to do over a full season in 2024.

Head coach Brent Venables says the No. 1 thing that impresses him in watching Arnold this season is the young quarterback's consistency.

""He's (Arnold) never too high, never too low. He's just always the same guy every day. Likes to compete, makes the most of his opportunity, values his opportunity. He's got great work ethic. And he understands as much as anything you get what you earn.""

OU head coach Brent Venables

Arnold will be working with a new offensive coordinator in the Alamo Bowl game. Jeff Lebby left the OC role at the end of the regular season to take the head-coaching job at Mississippi State. OU promoted offensive analyst and former Sooner player Seth Littrell to that role along with TE coach Joe Jon Finley. This will be the first game in the new role for both.

Arnold says he has had a close relationship with Littrell ever since he joined Venables' staff this season and that Littrell has helped him develop as a player even while he was in his previous role on the staff.

Arnold said he had expected Gabriel to be here and play in the bowl game. When Gabriel entered the transfer portal and committed to play at Oregon next season, at first "it was maybe a little bit of a shock," Arnold said. "But I'm super excited for it."

Now Sooner fans won't have to wait until next fall to see the beginning of the Jackson Arnold era at Oklahoma, which has been home to a number of All-American quarterbacks, including four Heisman winners and a pair of Heisman runners-up and all since 2000. Could Arnold become the next one?