Oklahoma Sooners: Sam Bradford

Ultimate 300: Big 12's top classes 

January, 30, 2014

The Texas-Oklahoma rivalry is bigger than football, but it’s always a fun topic of discussion when the rivalry talk turns to past success. It’s a conversation starter with the release of the Ultimate ESPN 300 class rankings, which ranks every top recruit since 2006. Oklahoma has a dozen players in the Ultimate ESPN 300; Texas has nine.

Here is a look at the top five Big 12 programs that have consistently put together stellar recruiting classes since ESPN began ranking recruits:

1. Oklahoma

The Sooners might start slow some years, but each year they continue to put together top recruiting classes that produce talent that can compete with any team in the country. The 2006 class was one of Bob Stoops’ best, as it produced the No. 1 running back in DeMarco Murray, a future Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Sam Bradford and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. With players such as offensive lineman Trent Williams, wide receiver Ryan Broyles and tight end Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma is one of the most consistent teams in college football. Stoops produces winners.

Ultimate 300: Big 12's top recruits 

January, 29, 2014

It’s always fun to think back to the former stars of college football recruiting. The Big 12 had a few players who made an impact during their respective recruiting processes.

Here are five players from the Big 12 who made the top 50 of the ESPN Ultimate 300.

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Colleague Brandon Chatmon looked at a few guys across the Big 12 who could be "The Next Johnny Manziel" yesterday, but really, those kinds of guys do exist. I will not be encouraging you to curb your collective enthusiasms today. Sometimes, players who haven't played a down of football in the Big 12 end up being some of the best players in the league.

Want a few examples, even from just the past few seasons? I'm glad you asked.

Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech, 2007: A position switch and transcript issues meant a redshirt season in 2006, but Crabtree had one of the greatest debut seasons in Big 12 history. He caught three touchdowns in his first game ever, and finished the season with 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns on 134 catches. No Big 12 receiver has had more yards since, and he took home the Biletnikoff Award after leading the nation in receiving yards by 356 yards. His closest competition caught just 16 touchdowns, too.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Nelson Chenault/US Presswire Sam Bradford had a stellar first season at Oklahoma.
Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma, 2007: Bradford narrowly beat out blue-chip recruit Keith Nichol and junior Joey Halzle to win the job after redshirting in 2006, and by the end of the season, he led the nation in quarterback rating, and no Big 12 quarterback was within 20 points of him. He threw for 3,121 yards, 36 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. He won the Heisman Trophy the following season.

Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor, 2008: Griffin committed to Houston first, but followed Art Briles to Baylor and electrified the crowd with early runs in a loss to Wake Forest. He eventually broke the FBS record for passes without an interception, and didn't throw his first until the ninth game of the season. It was clear he was the future of the program, and he finished the season with almost 3,000 yards of offense, accounting for 28 touchdowns.

Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State, 2009: Thomas joined the long line of junior college stars under Bill Snyder at Kansas State. Thomas arrived in Manhattan as an unknown and led the Big 12 with 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns, showcasing great vision and toughness on the way to an eventual NFL draft selection. He led the Big 12 in rushing again in 2010, too.

Devonte Fields, DE, TCU, 2012: Fields was the Frogs' top recruit in 2012 as the nation's No. 73 overall player and the No. 11 defensive end. By the first week of October, he had 9.5 tackles for loss and cruised to earning the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska, 2010: He's one of the many Blackshirts' greats over the years, and made adjusting to life in the Big 12 from junior college look easy. He led the league with an eye-popping 152 tackles, and anybody who watched the Huskers every week might have sworn it was more. He was everywhere. He added 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, as well as eight pass breakups.

Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor, 2012: Seastrunk didn't get much time on the field for the first two months of the season, but once November arrived, he broke out in a huge way. The Oregon transfer was stuck behind Glasco Martin and Jarred Salubi on the depth chart, but earned the nod as the featured back heading into November, and rushed for 831 yards in Baylor's final six games, including an upset of No. 1 Kansas State in the Bears' 5-1 run to close the season.

Bruce Irvin, DE, West Virginia, 2010: Irvin's road was incredible, using junior college to turn his life around and earn his way to WVU after dropping out of high school. In his first season as a Mountaineer, he finished second nationally with 14 sacks, and forced a pair of fumbles.

Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma, 2008: Lewis redshirted his first season in Norman, but led the Big 12 with 144 tackles as a redshirt freshman, making 12 tackles for loss and intercepting four passes. It was the start of an incredible career. He led the Sooners in tackles for each of the next four seasons.
NORMAN, Okla. -- It didn’t take long in 2007 for Sam Bradford to solidify his starting quarterback status.

In the opener against North Texas, Bradford tied the school record for consecutive completions and broke the record for passing yards in a half. After a five-touchdown performance Week 2 against Miami, the Sooners knew they had their quarterback.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Tim Heitman/US PRESSWIREBlake Bell and the Sooners face a tough early schedule in 2013.
It’s unlikely Blake Bell will have that kind of debut as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback. Still, it shouldn’t take long this time either for OU to determine if Bell is its quarterback of the future. Against the current of a brutal six-game start to the schedule, Bell will either swim and solidify the job -- as Bradford did -- or he will sink and open the way for Kendal Thompson or Trevor Knight to get their shot.

Last week during a caravan stop in Wichita, coach Bob Stoops reiterated he’s in no hurry to name a starting quarterback. Thompson and Knight both have talent. Despite his offseason dustup with police, Thompson remains one of the hardest workers on the team. He also has displayed a great feel for escaping trouble in the pocket and making plays downfield. Knight is an athletic freak who has the potential to be prolific as a dual threat. By several accounts, both Thompson and Knight have been sharp during 7-on-7 workouts so far this summer.

But given his seniority, his relative understanding of the offense, his experience on the field and the way he closed out the spring in the Red-White game, it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Bell isn’t ultimately named the starter for the opener. Whether he’s able to hold the job will be another storyline.

All of the Sooners’ first six opponents are coming off bowl appearances. Yes, OU will be heavy home favorites in the first three games against Louisiana-Monroe, West Virginia and Tulsa. But the second trio of games -- at Notre Dame, TCU and Texas -- figures to be the defining stretch of the season. For Bell, especially.

The Irish lost quarterback Everett Golson during the offseason. But they should have another formidable defense, headlined by perhaps the best defensive line in college football. The game is also in South Bend, Ind., where Notre Dame has won 10 of 11.

After facing one of the top defenses in the country, the Sooners will see what should be the best defense in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs feature two defensive All-American candidates in end Devonte Fields and cornerback Jason Verrett.

And following all of that, the Sooners will still have the Red River Rivalry, which has both vindicated and vanquished many quarterbacks over the years.

By that point, the Sooners will know a lot about Bell. Including whether he’s their guy going forward.
During a simulated scrimmage in Oklahoma's first practice of the spring in full pads, Blake Bell used his BellDozing legs to escape the pocket, but the right-hander was rolling to his left to escape the rush.

Bell, channeling his inner Brett Favre, tried to find a receiver on the right side of the field, throwing across his body to try and make the throw. The toss predictably floated and was intercepted.

"He just shook his head," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said. "A classic example where it has sting a little bit and you’ve got to learn. Hopefully he’s learned a valuable lesson since then, that you can’t be careless with the football."

That's the bad news.

The good news is Stoops has seen plenty of evidence to suggest Bell absolutely learned his lesson from that early throw. The proof was in every throw from that point forward.

"Since that day, you haven’t seen a mistake like that," Stoops said. "Just being smart with the football is such a big deal."

In fact, it's the biggest deal for Stoops. For a yet-undecided quarterback competition, Bell's ability to take care of the ball bodes well for him keeping his status as the likely heir to four-year starter Landry Jones.

"The important part for all of them will be decision-making," Stoops said. "Who can make the right reads and decisions and getting the football where it needs to be."

He outplayed his younger competition, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson, in the Sooners' spring game, completing 14-of-23 passes for 213 yards and a pair of scores, validating a strong spring that left him looking like the Sooners' best option. Most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over, and both Knight and Thompson couldn't say that after the Sooners' spring finale.

Those 213 passing yards are one short of doubling Bell's total passing yards in 2012, but most college football fans know him best as the BellDozer, bulling his way to 24 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons in the Sooners' signature short-yardage package.

"He’s always been able to throw the football well, we’ve just chosen his role to this point has been short yardage and goal line, getting the extra blocker when you’re running your quarterback," Stoops said. "Plus, he’s a big strong guy to fall forward and get a yard when there isn’t one there. He throws a great deep ball."

Oklahoma's rarely employed a mobile quarterback, but that seems likely to change this season as the Sooners' personnel no longer fits the statuesque style of Jones or predecessors like Heisman Trophy winners Sam Bradford and Jason White who helped Oklahoma win eight Big 12 titles since Stoops' arrival.

"All our guys, when we recruit them, it’s all about how they throw, not how they run. We’re just fortunate that this group of guys, along with throwing the football, have the ability to run, too," Stoops said. "We’ll see what that other dimension can do for us."
NORMAN, Okla. -- When recruiting quarterbacks, Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel searches for the same attributes every other college coach probably does.

The strong arm. Quick release. Prototypical size. Steadfast leadership.

Heupel, however, covets something else other coaches might not -- quarterbacks who don’t just play football.

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NORMAN, Okla. -- Those hoping for some grand revelation to come out of the quarterback competition this spring -- or for that matter, Saturday’s Red-White spring game -- might want to sit back.

This could take a while.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesJunior quarterback Blake Bell is still seen as the favorite to start for the Sooners in 2013.
Blake Bell, Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight all entered the spring vying to be Oklahoma’s next starting quarterback. Barring something unforeseen in the next week, they’ll all exit the spring doing the same.

“None of those guys have earned it yet,” said offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel. “It doesn't mean they're not playing well. It's just nobody has earned that spot.”

While evenly splitting up time with the first-team offense, all three quarterbacks have had their moments. Had their mistakes, too.

During Sunday’s two-hour scrimmage Insider, Bell, Thompson and Knight all engineered touchdown drives. All three had nifty dashes out of Heupel’s new-look offense that relies on the legs of the quarterback.

But Knight threw a pick-six to freshman safety Ahmad Thomas. Thompson was also intercepted while trying to make something happen downfield. And Bell took two sacks on his first series, which ended with a three-and-out.

(Read full post)

Coaches' corner: QB Cody Thomas

February, 11, 2013
After recruiting them for several months, Oklahoma's coaching staff was finally able to talk publicly about the players the Sooners added to the program on signing day. Over the next week or so, SoonerNation will review some of the key things coaches had to say about the players signed at each position group during their signing day webcast on Soonersports.com. Quarterback Cody Thomas (Colleyville, Texas/Heritage) will kick off the series.

[+] EnlargeCody Thomas
Bob Przybylo/ESPN.comESPN 300 quarterback Cody Thomas will also play baseball for the Sooners.
“He’s extremely athletic, we love his overall competitiveness as a baseball player. Because he’s a baseball player he hasn’t spent a ton of time developing himself, he doesn’t have a quarterbacks coach. He’s athletic enough to run with the football, accurate with the football to every area of the field. We feel like he has a ton of upside.” - Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel.

The Sooners clearly feel Thomas' best football is ahead of him and consider him terrific athlete at quarterback with plenty of room to grow and improve. It's a sign that being a quality athlete has become a priority as the staff searches for signal-callers.

"As he grows into his body, he’s going to continue to grow his arm strength. I love his makeup. He’s a great football player, great baseball player, likes competitive situations. He’s extremely bright, we believe he’s going to be an asset to our program. You have to be able to process things extremely quickly on the field, you have to be able to translate things from the quarterback room onto the field. He has the right makeup to be a special player down the road.” - Heupel

Heupel stressed some of the intangibles Thomas brings to the table along with his superb athletic ability. Thomas joins Trevor Knight and Blake Bell as quarterbacks who were lauded for their intangibles when they signed.

(Read full post)

Position breakdown: Quarterback 

February, 11, 2013
NORMAN, Okla. -- We know there will be a different starting quarterback at Oklahoma next season.

What we don’t know is who that quarterback will be.

Whatever happens, this figures to be perhaps the most intriguing quarterback derby of the Bob Stoops era.

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Top Oklahoma Sooners sleepers 

January, 22, 2013
The Oklahoma Sooners have a clear history of quality evaluation of high school recruits and turning them into elite college performers and NFL draft picks. Quarterback Sam Bradford sets the standard but he isn’t the lone overlooked prospect on national signing day to become a star in crimson and cream. Here’s a look at several sleepers who became Sooners standouts in recent years.

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IRVING, Texas -- For each of the past two seasons, Landry Jones began the season on the short list for the Heisman Trophy with a team ranked in the top 10, including a nod as the nation's preseason No. 1 team in 2011.

Each season, Jones piled up bushels of yardage but never more than 10 wins -- and, most importantly, no national titles or national championship game appearances.

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallLandry Jones leaves Oklahoma as the latest in a line of great quarterbacks at the school.
"Everybody wants to have that chance to play in that championship game. Everybody wants to be an All-American. Everyone wants to win the Heisman, but there’s only a select few that actually get to do it, and those things were definitely left on the table for me," Jones said. "I wish I’d been able to accomplish them, but sometimes it doesn’t work out like that. I’ve always wanted to be in New York and do all those things, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way."

Thing is, for Oklahoma quarterbacks it very often does work out like that. Jones' offensive coordinator, Josh Heupel, won a national title in 2000. Predecessor Jason White won a Heisman and played in national title games in 2003 and '04. Even the man Jones replaced in 2009, Sam Bradford, has a Heisman statue outside Owen Field and played in the BCS National Championship Game to cap the 2008 season.

Jones didn't do any of those things, but he'll leave Norman as the No. 3 passer in FBS history and will log his 50th start on Friday night at Cowboys Stadium. It's the same place his career began, when Bradford's essentially ended with a shoulder injury in the 2009 season-opening loss to BYU.

"I’m just really thankful. Not too many people get to play 50 games in their college career," Jones said. "I’m just really thankful for what I’ve been able to do and the position God’s put me in to be on this team and play as much as I have."

Jones acknowledged the high standards of Oklahoma fans, which have often led to criticism when he fell short of the sky-high expectations established by the quarterbacks before him under Bob Stoops, and legendary coaches and players before Stoops who won the program's first six national titles.

Jones was very, very good, but made the fatal mistake of not being quite as good as Bradford, the man who left Oklahoma as the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, despite that shoulder injury that provided the opportunity for Jones to play 50 games.

After No. 50 is done, Jones will be gone, handing the torch to the man behind him, likely Blake Bell. This week, Jones certainly sounded like a man who's enjoyed his opportunities and is ready for the next step of his life.

"At this place, you know what Monday’s going to look like, you know what Tuesday’s going to look like, but I don’t know what the next chapter of my life’s going to look like. You could be first round, first pick, or you could go as a free agent," Jones said. "You just never know, and never know what teams are going to do and who they’re going to pick up and what your future’s going to look like. It’s exciting to walk out and see where you end up, and what God has in store for you."

Best Sooners evaluations since 2006 

December, 18, 2012
Oklahoma has done a terrific job of evaluation since 2006. The 2010 NFL Draft proved the Sooners' ability to evaluate, recruit and develop players, as Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy and Trent Williams, three of the top four selections, spent their college careers in crimson and cream. Some recruits are no-brainers, guys who any program would love to have on its roster, while others bring some level of uncertainty. Here are the top five evaluations by the Sooners since ESPN.com began thorough evaluation and ranking of recruits in 2006.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Jerry Laizure/US PresswireOklahoma saw something in 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford early, recruiting him prior to his junior year of high school.
1. Quarterback Sam Bradford, Class of 2006: The former Oklahoma City (Okla.) Putnam City North standout wasn’t highly recruited out of high school. A multi-sport star, Bradford excelled at football, basketball and golf in high school before picking the Sooners over offers from Texas Tech, Iowa State and others.

OU career: Bradford won the 2008 Heisman Trophy during a record-setting season which included 4,720 passing yards and 50 touchdowns. He finished his career with 8.403 passing yards, 88 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft.

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Ranking the top QB performances at OU 

November, 29, 2012
NORMAN, Okla. -- The last two weeks, Landry Jones has delivered two of the best quarterback performance of the Bob Stoops era at Oklahoma, leading the Sooners to a pair of fourth-quarter, come-from-behind victories. Considering the QBs that have passed through Norman since Stoops’ arrival, that’s saying something. Two of them won Heismans. Another won a national title.

SoonerNation ranks the Top 10 quarterback performances of the Stoops era, factoring in the moment, the pressure and the opponent:

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesLandry Jones threw for 500 yards and three touchdowns in his final home game as a Sooner.
1. Landry Jones at West Virginia, 2012 (OU, 50-49)
Stat line: 38-of-51, 554 yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT

Analysis: Not only did Jones set and tie all sorts of records, he became the first Stoops QB to lead the Sooners on a fourth-quarter, come-from-behind, game-winning TD drive. On top of that, Jones audibled to the winning TD pass to Kenny Stills.

2. Sam Bradford vs. No. 5 Texas, 2008 (Texas, 45-35)
Stat line: 28-of-39, 387 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs

Analysis: The Sooners lost, but this was still the best game of Bradford’s career. With the OU defense hemorrhaging in the second half, Bradford kept the Sooners in the game. Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley just made a couple more plays.

3. Landry Jones vs. No. 22 Oklahoma State, 2012 (OU, 51-48)
Stat line: 46-of-71, 500 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT

Analysis: The only Stoops QB with a fourth-quarter, come-from-behind, game-winning TD drive delivered his second last weekend in Bedlam. Blake Bell scored the tying TD, but that drive was all Jones, who completed 10 passes on the 17-play drive that sent the game to overtime, where the Sooners prevailed.

4. Josh Heupel vs. No. 1 Nebraska, 2000 (OU, 31-14)
Stat line: 24-of-30, 300 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Analysis: This was the win that changed the way the nation viewed OU football. Heupel was as big a reason as any for the victory. His 34-yard loft to Curtis Fagan that sparked the comeback in the second quarter might have been the Sooners’ most crucial completion in over a decade.

5. Sam Bradford at No. 11 Oklahoma State, 2008 (OU, 61-41)
Stat line: 30-of-44, 370 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, 1 rushing TD (OU, 61-41)

Analysis: Because of how loaded the Big 12 South was, people forget how dangerous the Cowboys were in ’08. But playing with an injured hand that forced him to take every snap out of the shotgun, Bradford quarterbacked -- and cartwheeled -- the Sooners to the shootout victory that sent them to the Big 12 title, and ultimately BCS title game and Bradford to the Heisman.

6. Landry Jones at No. 10 Oklahoma State, 2010 (OU 47-41)
Stat line: 37-of-62, 468 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs

Analysis: This was the best game of Jones’ career until this month. Yes, Jones was picked off three times. But with the Big 12 South Division on the line, he delivered in the fourth quarter when it counted, tossing touchdown passes to Cam Kenney and James Hanna 29 seconds apart to stave off the Cowboys.

7. Jason White at No. 22 Texas A&M, 2004 (OU, 42-35)
Stat line: 19-of-35, 292, 5 TDs, 0 INTs

Analysis: The week before, OU rode Adrian Peterson to a narrow victory in Stillwater. In College Station, with the Aggies focused on swarming Peterson, the Sooners rode White’s arm. The 2003 Heisman winner threw three TDs in the second half, including the decisive 39-yarder to Mark Bradley with 6:43 left in the game.

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Top 10 Bedlam moments of Stoops era 

November, 20, 2012
Despite last season’s loss, the Bob Stoops era has featured many memorable games and moments against Oklahoma State. SoonerNation ranks the Top 10 Bedlam moments in the Stoops era for the Sooners:

1. Mike asks Les if he wants more

The week of Bedlam in 2003, OSU coach Les Miles said the game would feature “maybe the best team in college football” and “a darn good football team” and “we’re going to figure out which one is which.” The Stoops brothers didn’t care for the comment. In the fourth quarter, with the Sooners on their way to a convincing 52-9 victory, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops stepped from the sideline and stared across the field, raising his arms, then his palms, as if he were asking Miles, “You want some more?”

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Monday, Merv Johnson discussed his time as an assistant at Notre Dame. In the final half of his Q&A, OU’s director of football operations and color analyst for the Sooner Radio Network spoke with SoonerNation about his role in getting Troy Aikman to Norman, the best player he ever coached and his thoughts on the upcoming season:

Jake Trotter: You were the first one at OU to realize how special Troy Aikman was. How did that come about?

Merv Johnson: He was a kid from a small town over in Henryetta that really was a fine-looking specimen, all-around athlete, all sports and everything. Found out, we got him to agree to come to camp. I told Barry [Switzer], you need to look at him. Barry watched him throw, and that was it. There was no arm twisting. He watched him throw the football, and he was 100 percent sold.

Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Merv Johnson was the first OU coach to see Troy Aikman throw the football.

Trotter: How did you hear about Aikman?

Johnson: He was kind of a local phenom over there, we get those things all the time. But once you go and eyeball him and see what a physical specimen he is, his personality, then you really get excited.

Trotter: Aikman is one of many Oklahoma kids who went on to great college careers. OU obviously has taken a more national approach to recruiting in recent years. But how important is it to still recruit the Oklahoma kids?

Johnson: It’s critically important. It’s hard. You want to recruit the best player available. When you break down the number of scholarships you have, it’s not very many. And then you count the positions on a team, it’s 22 positions and two kickers, basically. And you may be able to recruit only one linebacker, or two, as an example. And you want the best you can find. The best athlete, best player, the guy that you think can project the furthest. That guy might be off somewhere else, and there might be a pretty good one in Oklahoma. But you can only take one of them. It’s hard, it’s hard – the superstar that you’ve seen really makes you feel like you’ve got a shot. You hate to say, well, we can’t take you because we want to recruit this Oklahoma guy. By the same token, after a very short time, the way recruiting is so accelerated, the youngster in Oklahoma may say, well, they’re not interested in me, I’ going to go somewhere else. And so, it comes down to evaluation, and you can’t do a lot of that, because there’s only so many times you can go to their campus or their games. You have to do a lot of it by video. But you’ve got to collectively as a staff study that player, and make sure you’re OK if you can’t take the Oklahoma kid. You need those kind of guys that always love the program. But if their talent level is not the same, you have to get the best talent you can.

Trotter: So if the Oklahoma kid is even with the national kid, you suggest going for the Oklahoma kid?

Johnson: I think you’d go on it. It didn’t take them long to go on [Sam] Bradford, and guys like that. And I think they had an opportunity with camp here and him being nearby to see Bradford, the coaches recognized what a great future he had. That’s what you have to do. You can’t just let it slip by you that easily.

Trotter: Which OU team you’ve been around was the best?

(Read full post)


Big 12 2015 Recruiting Overview
National recruiting analysts Tom Luginbill and Craig Haubert discuss the top 2015 recruiting classes in the Big 12.