September 5, 2009

Are Sooners at a loss without Bradford?

Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford was supposed to challenge for a second consecutive Heisman. He was supposed to lead the Sooners to a Big 12 title and a return to the BCS championship game.

But there was Bradford, the defending Heisman winner, standing helplessly on the sideline with his right arm in a sling as he watched BYU stun the No. 3 Sooners 14-13 Saturday night in Arlington, Texas.

Just like that, Oklahoma's national title dreams and Bradford's Heisman hopes took big hits - and maybe fatal blows.

Bradford suffered a sprained shoulder just before the end of the first half after a hit by BYU linebacker Coleby Clawson on an incomplete pass. Reports Monday said that Bradford, who was 10-of-14 for 96 yards and a touchdown before getting hurt, will be out between two to four weeks.

With Bradford injured, redshirt freshman Landry Jones took over for Oklahoma. Jones, a 6-foot-4, 211-pounder from Artesia, N.M., was mediocre, going 6-of-12 for 51 yards and leading the Sooners to only a second-half field goal.

Given Jones' inexperience, expect OU's offense to become more conservative. The attack already was a work in progress, with four new starters on the line. Star tight end Jermaine Gresham missed the BYU game with a knee injury, and when he'll return is uncertain.

The line needs to jell quickly to create running room for OU's two most proven commodities: 1,000-yard running backs DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown. But that duo can count on seeing a lot of seven- and eight-man fronts until Jones settles in as a passer.

Bradford had opted to return to school for his junior season even though some analysts thought he would've been the first pick in the 2009 NFL draft. Bradford thought he could further develop his game and get the Sooners their second national title of the decade. Instead, he gets hurt and OU loses its opener for the second time in the past five seasons. In 2005, TCU - like BYU, a member of the Mountain West - beat the Sooners in Norman. In that loss, Oklahoma star running back Adrian Peterson suffered an ankle injury, though he returned after the injury and was ineffective.

Not all hope is lost for the Sooners. OU reached the national title game last season even with a loss. But there is no margin for error now.

Oklahoma plays host to FCS member Idaho State next Saturday, which should give Jones an opportunity to sharpen his arm against a vastly overmatched defense. On Sept. 19, Tulsa visits Norman in a game that just became a lot more intriguing. Tulsa looks to again have a high-powered offense, but Tulsa's defense remains questionable.

The Sooners are off Sept. 26, and by the time Oklahoma plays at Miami on Oct. 3, Bradford should be back.

But how effective will Bradford be when he returns? Plus, after they travel to Miami, the Sooners still must play Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.

The bottom line: Texas now is the clear favorite in the Big 12, and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy could lap the field as Heisman favorites.

Exorcising demons

Weekly awards
COACHES
Wish I were him: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Glad I'm not him: Al Groh, Virginia
Lucky guy: Jim Tressel, Ohio State
Poor guy: Doug Marrone, Syracuse
Desperately seeking a clue: Al Groh, Virginia
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Art Briles, Baylor
Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Ron Zook, Illinois
Desperately seeking ... anything: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
TEAMS
Thought you'd kick butt, you did: Florida
Thought you'd kick butt, you didn't: Iowa
Thought you'd get your butt kicked, you did: San Jose State
Thought you'd get your butt kicked, you didn't: BYU
Dang, they're good: Boise State
Dang, they're bad: Duke
Did the season start? Illinois
Can the season end? Virginia
Can the season never end? Notre Dame
GAMES
Play this again: Alabama 34, Virginia Tech 24
Never play this again: South Carolina 7, N.C. State 3
What? Minnesota 23, Syracuse 20 (OT)
Huh? Richmond 24, Duke 16
Are you kidding me? William & Mary 26, Virginia 14
Oh ... my ... goodness: BYU 14, Oklahoma 13
Told you so: Missouri 37, Illinois 9
Alabama's 34-24 victory over Virginia Tech stamps the Tide as national championship material. It's just like last season, when Alabama opened in the Georgia Dome with a dominating victory over Clemson that set the stage for a 12-0 start and No. 1 ranking.

The Tide's run to the BCS title game ended with a loss to Florida in the SEC title game; then, they were humbled by Utah in the Sugar Bowl.

This Alabama team may be better than last season's. Why? The offense might actually be better. Quarterback Greg McElroy, making his first college start, passed a big test against a fast and physical Virginia Tech defense that had the Tide offense off-balance in the first half. But in the second half, McElroy and the offense came alive.

The Tide finished with 498 yards, with 278 coming after halftime. Sophomore Mark Ingram gave Alabama a needed ground game (150 yards). And kicker Leigh Tiffin added four field goals.

The Tide limited the Hokies to 155 yards and forced two turnovers.

Despite the loss, Virginia Tech still figures to be the class of the ACC. The defense is blessed with SEC-type speed and athletic ability, and red shirt freshman Ryan Williams looks like a good running back. The key will be the continued development of quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who was just 9-of-20 for 91 yards and was sacked five times. Good news for Taylor is that he's not likely to see a defense as good as Alabama's again this season.

PLENTY TO BASH

Stop me if you've heard this before: The Big Ten stinks.

Sure Michigan (38-7 over Western Michigan), Michigan State (44-3 against Montana State), Penn State (31-7 over Akron), Purdue (52-31 against Toledo) and Northwestern (47-14 over Towson) won going away.

But ...

Minnesota barely avoided a massive embarrassment by winning 23-20 in overtime at Syracuse against an Orange team that was quarterbacked by a guy who hadn't played football in four years.

Iowa needed two blocked field goals in the final seven seconds to hang on for a 17-16 win over Northern Iowa. That's FCS member Northern Iowa.

Ohio State needed to run back a potential game-tying 2-point attempt by Navy in the final minutes to secure a 31-27 victory. That's Navy, which doesn't have one player that Ohio State wanted.

Indiana looked sluggish in a 19-13 home win over Eastern Kentucky on Thursday night. That's FCS EKU, which fumbled late inside IU's 20.

By now, the Big Ten is used to being kicked in the gut. But the conference has another shot to stand tall against an elite school when USC travels to Ohio State next Saturday.

WINNERS

The Big 12: Oklahoma State, Missouri and Baylor scored big non-conference wins. But none was as impressive as the Pokes' triumph over Georgia. Some felt Oklahoma State would be run down by a speedy SEC defense, but the Pokes played surprisingly tough defense and handled Georgia 24-10. This may just be a Texas Tech-like season in Stillwater.

Tennessee's offense: An offense that ranked 11th in the SEC and 115th in the nation last season (268.8 ypg) racked up 657 yards in a 63-7 triumph over Western Kentucky in the first game for new coach Lane Kiffin, who also calls the plays. Tennessee QB Jonathan Crompton hit 21-of-28 passes for 233 yards, with a career-high five TDs.

Notre Dame: Some felt ND would struggle vs. Nevada and its tricky Pistol offense. Instead the Irish offense overwhelmed the Wolf Pack behind QB Jimmy Clausen, who was 15-of-18 for 315 yards with four TDs. Notre Dame travels to Ann Arbor next week.

Greg Paulus. Yes, he and Syracuse lost 23-20 in overtime to Minnesota, but the former Duke point guard was 19-of-31 for 167 yards with a touchdown and an interception, which came in OT. Paulus looks like the real deal, giving a moribund program hope under rookie coach Doug Marrone.

Matt Barkley: USC's true freshman was 15-of-19 for 233 yards and a score with no interceptions in a 56-3 whipping of San Jose State. Barkley may just work out just fine, though next week's game in the Horseshoe will be a much bigger test.

BYU: A 14-13 upset of Oklahoma puts the Cougars squarely in the BCS picture. The defense was much more physical than expected, and a rebuilt offensive line did a nice job against an Oklahoma front four that was considered the best in the nation. But there's a long way to go. BYU plays host to Florida State on Sept. 19 and has tough Mountain West Conference games against Utah, TCU and Air Force.

Michigan: No one needed some good news more than Rich Rodriguez, whose world seemingly had been crumbling amid accusations of NCAA wrongdoing and news he was being sued for $3.9 million in a failed condo deal. But RichRod was able to put all of that behind him for a day, at least, with a 31-7 rout of Western Michigan.

LOSERS

Stan Parrish: Pity the poor first-year Ball State coach. He debuted Thursday night with a 20-10 home loss to North Texas, which pushed his losing streak as a head coach to 28 games. Parrish lost the other 27 as coach of Kansas State from 1986-88. His last win as a head coach was a 29-12 victory over Kansas in 1986.

LeGarrette Blount: Was the Oregon running back in the wrong for taking a pot shot at Boise State's Byron Hout ? Yes. But did Blount's punishment (banned from games the rest of the season) fit the crime? Blount should have been benched for three to five games, giving him a break for being in an emotional spot after being provoked by Hout.

West Virginia: A rebuilt offense struggled to get a consistent push against FCS Liberty and the Mountaineers needed four field goals to hold off the Flames 33-20. Is this really one of the better teams in the Big East?

Georgia: The Bulldogs' offense looked average at best against an Oklahoma State defense that was supposed to be weak. Georgia managed just 257 yards and had three turnovers.

HOT SEAT

Ron Zook, Illinois. Coming off a disappointing 5-7 season, Illinois was looking to open the season with a bang against a Missouri team that is in rebuilding mode. But the Illini got thumped, losing their fifth consecutive game to Missouri.

NEXT WEEK STORY LINES

The "Must-Win Bowl": Michigan's Rich Rodriguez or Notre Dame's Charlie Weis ? A Michigan win would further glue what looked to be a fractured roster and push Michigan to a likely 4-0 start before a big game at Michigan State on Oct. 3. Meanwhile, an Irish victory would pour more water on Weis' hot seat and could push the Irish to a 5-0 start before USC heads to South Bend on Oct. 17.

Big Ten pride: Not only is Ohio State trying to show that it is an elite team, a triumph would help restore the tattered reputation of the Big Ten. Last year, USC thumped the Buckeyes 35-3 in Los Angeles.

Oregon rebound? How will the Ducks respond to the disheartening 19-8 defeat to Boise State and the loss of Blount? A trip from a rebuilding Purdue team may be soothing.

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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