2005 RECORD: 8-4 (6-2 in Big 12 South) RETURNING STARTERS: 12
DE C.J. Ah You (Sr.)
Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year in '05
LB Rufus Alexander (Sr.)
Do-it-all force led the team in tackles (102)
WR Malcolm Kelly (Soph.)
Team's top receiver (33 catches, 471 yards)
Big Man on Campus
A breathless blend of power and breakaway speed, junior running back Adrian Peterson enters the season as a Heisman front-runner again. A nagging ankle sprain cost him a shot at the trophy as a sophomore, but he still rushed for 1,108 yards. "I haven't seen anything like him," coach Bob Stoops says of the 6'2" 218-pounder.
The pieces were in place for a BCS run, until a crisis at quarterback left the Sooners scrambling
Long before the public learned of the $18,000 little-or-no-work-required jobs for Oklahoma players at a car dealership in Norman, Marc Thompson had some advice for his son Paul, a quarterback turned receiver. Figuring that Paul would most likely move back under center in the event of an emergency, Marc had told him, "You better get out there and throw [a football] at a tree, a house or something."
Thompson didn't heed his dad's advice -- since the Holiday Bowl last December he had thrown only casually to warm up before summer workouts -- but, boy, does he wish he had listened now. In the wake of sophomore Rhett Bomar's dismissal for violating the NCAA's extra-benefit rule by taking one of those dealership "jobs," Thompson, a fifth-year senior, is back at the position he was in at this time last year: starting quarterback. (Right guard J.D. Quinn was kicked off the team for the same violation.)
The athletic 6'4", 210-pound Thompson didn't make it through the 2005 season-opening loss to TCU, giving way to Bomar, who started the rest of the season. Thompson shifted to wideout and caught 10 passes for 106 yards. Just two weeks ago, on the day Bomar was kicked off the team, coach Bob Stoops called Thompson into his office and asked if he would return to quarterback. "It was a tough decision," Thompson says. "In the end I wanted to have the ball in my hands and do what was best for me and this team."
Could he get yanked again after one poor performance? "Paul's our guy, no matter what his performance is," says offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson.
Boasting arguably the nation's best defense and inarguably the nation's best running back in Adrian Peterson, the Sooners were viewed as national title contenders with Bomar, who set an Oklahoma freshman record for passing yards and had developed into a steady quarterback by year's end. Now, with the inexperienced Thompson (73 career passes at OU) and a line that was a major concern even before Quinn's dismissal, Oklahoma's getting to the BCS title game will be much tougher.
Wilson had planned to step up the passing game, adding more play-action, throws downfield and opportunities for Peterson (only 14 catches in two seasons). While the absence of Bomar and his big arm will force some tweaking, Wilson has faith that Thompson will make the Sooners' offense work. "I don't think it's a stretch when we say we're very confident he'll play really well," Wilson says. "He has a tremendous supporting cast around him." -- Gene Menez