Bradford's return improves Sooners' four-peat hopes

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Life has gotten a lot better for Bob Stoops over the last week.

The gloom of another BCS bowl loss for the Oklahoma coach was brightened considerably Wednesday when Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Sam Bradford and three other key Oklahoma players announced they are returning to school after considering declaring for the NFL draft.

Bradford clearly is the biggest catch, although the returns to school of tackle Trent Williams, tight end Jermaine Gresham and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy all should bolster the Sooners' bid to continue their recent dynasty of three-straight Big 12 championships.

In a way, I'm a little surprised that Bradford will be coming back to college. He was projected to be a first-round selection in the NFL draft and among the first two or three quarterbacks selected.

But he made it clear Wednesday that he's having too much fun to give up on his college career yet.

The Oklahoma announcements suddenly will transform the Sooners into a viable contender for the Big 12 South title. Texas still will be the favorite heading into the season, but Oklahoma will be able to contest the Longhorns.

The Red River Rivalry, already bitter after the Sooners jumped the Longhorns for the Big 12 South championship game berth this season, has just gotten even more interesting.

It should be another exciting season in the Big 12 with eight of the conference's starting quarterbacks returning after the most explosive offensive season in the conference's brief history. Only Kansas State's Josh Freeman, Missouri's Chase Daniel, Nebraska's Joe Ganz and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell will depart among the Big 12's starting quarterbacks.

Bradford will be operating behind a retooled offensive line that will feature four new starters. But he said he relishes the challenge of returning to school for another season.

I've also got to think that Bradford realizes the potential of a third-straight matchup with Colt McCoy in the Red River Rivalry game in October might be a reason to come back. He also will attempt to become the first player since Archie Griffin to claim back-to-back Heismans.

And his chances will only improve with the return of Gresham, who played like the nation's best tight end down the stretch.

Gresham was the Sooners' top receiver late in the season, producing two touchdown grabs against Florida in the BCS National Championship Game among his 14 touchdown receptions for the season. That total led all of the nation's tight ends and tied for sixth nationally.

Bradford's return also should heighten anticipation for next season. The top three finishers in the Heisman Trophy balloting from this season -- Bradford, McCoy and Florida's Tim Tebow -- all will return to college next season. It will mark only the second time in history and the first time since 1946 that all top three Heisman finishers will return to college for another season.

In 1945, Army's Doc Blanchard won the trophy with his teammate Glenn Davis finishing second and Oklahoma A&M's Bob Fenimore third.

All came back the following season. Davis won the trophy with Blanchard finishing fourth and Fenimore not placing among the top five because of injuries.