Throughout most of its distinguished history, quarterback at the University of Oklahoma has been filled by a similar mold.
Whether it’s Jimmy Harris leading the Sooners to 31 wins and no losses in Bud Wilkinson’s “Split T” or Jamelle Holieway, JC Watts, or even the Godfather himself, Jack Mildren. leading the Sooners to three national championships in Barry Switzer’s vaunted “Wishbone” onslaught, a majority of Oklahoma’s great quarterbacks are known for their legs rather than their arms.
As of the last 15 years this trend has changed with the likes of Cale Gundy, Heisman runner up Josh Heupel, and Heisman winner Jason White leading the Sooners to victory by picking apart defenses with their deft passes, rather than spectacular runs.
Exemplifying this trend is the current crop of quarterbacks that Coach Stoops has recruited to Norman.
The Starter: Sam Bradford
Any discussion about quarterback at Oklahoma has to start and end with Sam Bradford. Coming out of relative obscurity, he led the Sooners to a fifth Big 12 Championship and rewrote the freshman record book for quarterback.
At the beginning of the season, Oklahoma fans were merely hoping Bradford would be an effective game manager, not throwing interceptions, making the timely pass, taking some pressure off of the running game, and most importantly not putting the Sooners defense into difficult situations.
Bradford showed glimpses of his future brilliance by leading the Sooners to a 79-10 victory over North Texas going 21-for-23 (91.3 completion percentage) with 363 yards, three touchdowns and a 262.92 quarterback rating.
The next week against Miami, Bradford picked apart the Hurricanes for five touchdowns and a 210.88 quarterback rating, further raising the expectations of the Sooners faithful.
Bradford and Oklahoma cruised through two matchups against Utah State and Tulsa, continuing to put up gaudy numbers, before rolling into Boulder, Colo.
Bradford appeared inconsistent throughout the game, throwing for only 112 yards and a single touchdown while flinging multiple interceptions for the first time in his young college career, as No. 3 Oklahoma gave away a 24-10 fourth quarter lead.
The freshman led the Sooners into a must-win game in Dallas against the rival Longhorns and did not disappoint, keeping Oklahoma’s Big 12 and national championship hopes alive.
He threw for three touchdowns, 244 yards, and no interceptions, doubling his quarterback rating from the previous week.
The next week in Norman, with Lee Corso, Chris Fowler, and Kirk Herbstreit watching, Bradford outdueled Chase Daniel and led Oklahoma to a dramatic 41-31 win over Missouri, again not putting the Oklahoma defense into bad field position.
The following week was a continuation of both Oklahoma and Bradford’s road struggles, as Oklahoma avoided an embarrassing loss 17-7, but Bradford closed the game out completing a critical third-down, 14-yard strike to Jermaine Gresham. That set the Sooners up for a game clinching field goal, something he had difficulty with at Colorado.
Oklahoma got back into national title contention in the next two games as Bradford (637 yards and eight touchdowns over the two games) and the talented Oklahoma offense dismantled Texas A&M and Baylor.
Oklahoma rose back to No. 4 in the BCS standings before an Oregon loss at Arizona put them back into the BCS Championship picture. Standing in their way of a No. 2 ranking were the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Early in the first quarter, Oklahoma tailback Allen Patrick lost the football, Bradford awkwardly tackled Marlon Williams, and after the next series was out for the rest of the game with an apparent concussion. Without the national leader in pass efficiency the juggernaut Sooner offense was brought to a halt.
Apparently out the national title picture, Oklahoma with a rejuvenated Bradford beat their in-state rival Oklahoma State, throwing four touchdowns. This set up a rematch with the No. 1 Missouri Tigers in San Antonio for the Big 12 Championship.
Bradford, along with a dominating defense, silenced the Tigers and sent Oklahoma back to Fiesta Bowl.
Away from Oklahoma Memorial Field, Bradford and the Sooners once again struggled and ran into a West Virginia team discounted by most observers.
The Mountaineers humbled the Sooners, who despite a somewhat solid effort from their young quarterback (18-for-26, 242 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) failed to stop Pat White and West Virginia’s potent offense.
The main conclusion from Bradford’s record breaking freshman year, as is the case with most players, especially freshmen, he appeared most comfortable at home.
Including a non-conference game at Tulsa as a home game, OU played eight games at home and Bradford threw for an average of 265 yards, 3.5 touchdowns, an overall quarterback rating of 210.99 and throwing only four picks total.
On the road (excluding the fateful matchup with Texas Tech that should have ended Oklahoma’s chances at a national championship) Bradford was an entirely different player. He threw for an average of 198 yards, 1.6 touchdowns, five total interceptions, with an average passer rating of 109.97.
While it can be argued that Bradford had his most memorable game away from home, ending a two-year losing streak to Texas, the trend plainly shows that Bradford struggles away from the friendly confines of Norman. This will be the make-or-break for Oklahoma’s 2008 Championship run, and the improvement that Bradford has to make for a potential run at the Heisman.
Besides, it will be interesting to see if Bradford can avoid a sophomore slump, similar to Colt McCoy, and how Bradford adapts to the new wrinkles of the Sooner offense. Texas fans will of course point to the struggles of McCoy after his record-breaking freshman year, but the depth and talent of Oklahoma make this unlikely.
While the Sooners lost three significant playmakers in tailback Allen Patrick, tight end Joe John Finley and standout wide receiver Malcom Kelly, Oklahoma returns all five starters on their massive offensive line.
The left side alone is made of two potential All-Americans, Duke Robinson and Phil Loadholt, and seems to offer Bradford the protection from pass rushers that last year’s Texas offensive line failed to provide for McCoy.
Oklahoma returns a stable of running backs including the dynamic DeMarco Murray and newcomer Jermaine Calhoun.
Despite the loss of Kelly, the Sooners also return potentially the best tight end in the country, Jermaine Gresham, wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias, who had a better statistical year than Kelly (granted to the attention garnered by Kelly from defenses) and 6-foot-4 Quentin Chaney, the lone bright spot in the Fiesta Bowl with 129 yards and a touchdown.
Also of note regarding Bradford’s 2008 campaign is the new no-huddle component of Kevin Wilson’s offense. The thinking goes that because of Oklahoma’s talent on offense, the more snaps and possessions that they can get, the more successful Bradford, the offense, and the entire team will be.
Despite the hype surrounding this new element of the Sooner offense, the no-huddle was not showcased in the spring game, either to due to struggles mastering it or secrecy regarding the entire scheme. Wait and read fall practice reports to understand Bradford’s no-huddle progress.
After his freshman year, Bradford has established himself as one of the elite quarterbacks in the game, something that Stoops hasn’t possessed since Jason White in 2004.
With improvements on the road, mastery of new offensive concepts, and the reloading of Oklahoma’s receiving corps, Oklahoma’s talent and schedule seem to make him a Heisman frontrunner if he can lead the Sooners to an undefeated season and a berth in the national championship.
The Backup: Joey Halzle
While Bradford is the established starter, Halzle still needs to develop into a reliable backup for the Sooners to succeed. Stoops was criticized last season for not playing Halzle enough in blowouts in order to get him game ready and it showed in a critical game at Texas Tech.
While Halzle improved throughout the course of the game after relieving Bradford in the first quarter, it was too little, too late, as Oklahoma title dreams died in his inexperienced hands.
Halzle led an admirable comeback in the final minutes, as he scrambled and willed the struggling Sooners to a one-touchdown deficit, as the team lost 34-27.
He finished with 291 yards and two touchdowns, both in the final minutes, but he got a majority of the snaps after the Sooner coaching staff abandoned the running game.
At times he has demonstrated the ability to lead the offense in Bradford’s absence, even beating out heralded former Oklahoma quarterback Keith Nichol for the backup position last season.
With early home games against Chattanooga, Cincinnati and TCU, Oklahoma looks to have some ability to work Halzle into games to gain experience.
The Future: Landry Jones
It may seem an eternity for Sooner fans, but eventually Bradford will move on from the program. In the wings is Landry Jones, highly touted recruit out of Artesia, N.M.
Recently in the headlines due to a fake news report about an arrest on cocaine possession, published by a disgruntled Nebraska fan, Jones had a successful senior campaign, throwing for 3,850 yards with a 4:1 touchdown to interception ratio.
Jones will most likely redshirt pending a horrific injury to either Bradford or Halzle, giving him a year to learn the Oklahoma system. He also enrolled early at OU, giving him extra time to learn the playbook and more reps.
Since the graduation of Jason White, Oklahoma has lacked an experienced returning starter, with the job passing through the Rhett Bomar disaster, the persevering Paul Thompson and the inexperienced Sam Bradford.
Bradford's sophomore year gives Oklahoma a great shot at a fifth Heisman and an eighth national championship.