Dreams of a national championship ended early this season for Oklahoma when Sam Bradford was injured in a season-opening loss to BYU. And the Sooners’ dreams of claiming an unprecedented fourth consecutive Big 12 title were effectively quashed when the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner was reinjured early in the Texas game.
At 7-5, Oklahoma already has lost more games in the regular season than in any previous season during coach Bob Stoops’ tenure. But the Sun Bowl game against Stanford still is important as the Sooners try to put a positive ending to a nightmarish season.
WHO TO WATCH: Ryan Broyles, WR/KR, Oklahoma
Whether it’s catching passes, running reverses or running back punts, Broyles is the Sooners' top playmaker. He led the team with 76 receptions for 964 yards and 12 touchdown grabs and has averaged 16.5 yards per punt return. And he has a nose for the end zone with 14 touchdowns that led the conference. His 1,565 all-purpose yards rank fourth in the Bob Stoops era and he twice produced 11 catches in a game. And Broyles is in line to become the first wide receiver to lead Oklahoma in scoring in the 72 seasons that the program has been tracking football statistics. When Broyles is making big plays, the Sooners have their best shot to win and quarterback Landry Jones’ confidence is at its peak. A big game from Broyles will be vitally important if this game turns out to be a shootout as so many bowl games seem to do.
WHAT TO WATCH: Oklahoma’s rush defense against Toby Gerhart
The Sooners’ rush defense is their strength on that side of the ball, ranking seventh nationally. With Gerald McCoy and Adrian Taylor at tackle and Jeremy Beal and Frank Alexander at end, the Sooners have one of the most productive defensive fronts in the country. But the Sooners still will be challenged by Gerhart, who ranked second in Heisman balloting on the strength of a late surge that saw him rush for 1,736 yards this season -- including an average of 185.5 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns in his last four games. With Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck doubtful because of a broken right index finger, backup quarterback Tavita Pritchard likely will lean on Gerhart more than usual. And considering he averaged 29 carries in his final four games of the season, the interior of the Sooners’ defense might brace for a big test in the game.
WHY WATCH: Can the Sooners turn around their recent bowl slump?
Oklahoma’s struggles in recent bowls have made the Sooners a national punchline with five straight losses in BCS games and three consecutive losses in national championship games. While the Sun Bowl might not have the national luster of some of their recent bowl games, just winning the final game of the season would be huge for the Sooners’ psyche -- especially after all of this season’s early disappointments. A triumph over the Cardinal would enable the Sooners to produce some positive momentum heading into 2010.
PREDICTION: There might be some concern about how motivated the Sooners will be in El Paso after playing in BCS games in seven of their last nine seasons. But the struggles in those recent games should have this group excited just to try to win a bowl game for a change. With Luck likely out, the Sooners will be catching a break. Look for the Sooners to try to control Gerhart and force Pritchard to beat them passing. The Sooners also look to have too many offensive weapons against a pedestrian Stanford defense that likely will have trouble matching them athletically. Oklahoma 38, Stanford 24.