It seems the euphoria the Sooners enjoyed in making that 21-point comeback at the Cotton Bowl faded as they made the drive back up I-35 North to Norman. Once home, they settled into the reality that they now have a franchise QB who's not really a franchise QB, and the only people unwilling to admit it are the franchise QB and the head coach.
Remember a couple weeks ago when the big story out of Norman was how the student section booed Spencer Rattler and demanded Caleb Williams? Now it appears that vocal minority, so righteously denounced everywhere from the head coach's chair to the set of College GameDay was, uh, right all along.
Riley himself admitted as much when he inserted his true freshman into the game for a 4th-and-1 inside his own 35-yard line down 28-7, then rode him for the duration of the 55-48 comeback.
Now he's living with the consequences: a QB, anointed pre-season as a Heisman favorite and future No. 1 pick, a darling of the NIL era, who may still very well be a good college quarterback but is not the best quarterback on his roster. Rather than admit it to the world, Riley is shutting it out as long as he can.
Come 6:30 p.m. local time on Saturday, Riley must make a choice.
He can either play Rattler, but doing so would be insulting the intelligence of the entire football-viewing public. We all saw what we saw at the Cotton Bowl; there's no putting the toothpaste back in that tube. If the OU students were willing to boo Rattler before they bore witness to Williams' coming out party, how are they going to react if and when a Rattler-led drive ends in a punt against TCU on Saturday night? More importantly, Riley's own players know they don't win that game without Williams' 300 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns. How can he look his locker room in the eye and honestly say Rattler gives them the best shot at victory?
Or, Riley can play Williams and let the chips fall where they may. College football is a meritocracy, is it not?
"We'll see how it goes Saturday," Riley said in his only public comments on who will start this Saturday.
Sit Riley down with a bottle of truth serum and I'd bet he'd tell you he's surprised at how well Williams played on Saturday and doubtful he can repeat that performance once Big 12 coordinators have a chance to study him. A lot of that success was the talent of a kid who's every bit the No. 1 QB in the country that Riley knew he had when he signed him, but a lot of it was also a kid running on adrenaline simply playing out of his mind that day. We can all admit that, right? I mean, Oklahoma doesn't win the game if Williams doesn't pinpoint this pass, on the move from 50-plus yards away, and it's not exactly something you can count on week to week, is it not?
The quarterback controversy became the post-game story the moment Kennedy Brooks trotted into the end zone with the game-winning touchdown. Riley did not make Williams available to speak to the media after the game, meaning Oklahoma's head coach somehow lives in the headspace where he trusts Williams with the ball, down by 21 points in the most important game of the year, but doesn't trust him enough to answer questions about it afterward.
Riley thought Rattler was still Oklahoma's best quarterback heading into Red River, otherwise he wouldn't have started him.
There will come a time when he needs Rattler again, and he needs Rattler to see that. Because without him, Oklahoma's QB room is a collection of walk-ons and transfers who have never thrown a meaningful pass at the college level. (For what it's worth, Mike Rattler, Spencer's father, spoke to the OU Daily and gave no indication Spencer would leave the team mid-season.)
And the same could be said for OU's new QB1 until around noon Central time on Saturday, too.
No one can stop Riley from putting his program under a blanket on a Wednesday, but by Saturday night he'll have to choose between Rattler and Williams and tell the whole world where his QB room stands.
But the truth Riley must confront is that there really isn't a choice here. Uncomfortable as it may be, those ugly chanters from the West Virginia game were right, and Riley can only delay the inevitable for so long.