In the days leading up to last year's Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Sooner Nation learned that three players would miss Oklahoma's tilt with LSU due to positive drug tests.
Rhamondre Stevenson, Ronnie Perkins, and Trejan Bridges faced a suspension of at least half a season, per NCAA regulations.
Yet 11 months later, one of these things is not like the others.
After sitting out Oklahoma's first five games of the 2020 campaign, Perkins and Stevenson returned with a vengeance on Halloween night at Texas Tech. The Sooners prevailed 62-28 behind three touchdowns from Stevenson, and Perkins forced Red Raiders quarterback Henry Colombi into an ill-advised throw and interception in the first quarter.
In the two games since, Stevenson has racked up over 350 total yards and two touchdowns, and set a career high with 141 rushing yards in a win over Oklahoma State. Meanwhile, Perkins has been an absolute wrecking ball up front, and his three sacks over those two contests barely begin to paint a full picture of his impact.
But where, pray tell, is Bridges?
Eight games into the season and 343 days since news of his suspension became public, the sophomore wideout hasn't touched the field for Oklahoma.
It's not at all clear why Bridges' situation is so drastically different from Stevenson's or Perkins'. But whatever the case may be, Lincoln Riley is less than thrilled about the way it's all transpired, remarking in his Tuesday press conference that "I better watch my words" about the NCAA's handling of the circumstances.
"I hate to keep making it a story, just because these kids have been drug through enough, in my opinion," said Riley of Bridges. "Yeah, it’s hard for any player when you’re out, whether it’s an injury or something else. These guys love the game so much. The majority of the guys have a strong passion for playing. When it’s taken away from them, it is — it is difficult. Obviously, it would be a lot easier if I could sit here and walk you guys and everybody through ... what this entire process has looked like. I will one day, though."
Bridges, a former 4-star recruit who hails from the fertile recruiting ground of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, hauled in seven passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman in 2019. By all accounts, he was poised for a significantly expanded role this season. Last week, Riley likened Bridges to Tylan Wallace, saying that the two receivers boast "remarkably similar" skill sets. If a comparison to a former Biletnikoff Award finalist isn't a ringing endorsement of Bridges' potential, what is?
For his part, Bridges is fed up. He's made that abundantly evident over the past week on social media, firing off a series of tweets expressing his frustration.
At the end of the day, there's no telling what it will take to get Bridges back on the football field for the Sooners. Granted, the Oklahoma offense has found its groove without him, as Marvin Mims, Drake Stoops, Austin Stogner and Theo Wease have emerged as key contributors in the passing game.
But there's little doubt that Bridges' re-incorporation into the aerial attack would be a boon for Spencer Rattler. Uncertainty has been the only constant in 2020, and if Oklahoma closes out its season with a Big 12 title and bowl victory, Sooner Nation will no doubt speculate for years to come about what could have been. If Bridges, Stevenson and Perkins were available for the Sooners' first five games, would OU have escaped those close losses to Kansas State and Iowa State? Would this team be undefeated and very much in the thick of the race for the College Football Playoff?
Regardless, there's no changing the past. For Bridges and the Sooners, the future is all that's within their control.
"Trejan’s gotta hang in there," said Riley. "He’s going to be a really, really good football player. He’s had some tough breaks not go his way. He’s gotta hang in there. That’s absolutely our job, to bring him along, because the light — we’re getting to kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel. Gotta hang in and get back on track."
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