CONFERENCE: BIG12

THE PIECES WEREIN PLACE FOR A BCS RUN, UNTIL A CRISIS AT QUARTERBACK LEFT THE SOONERSSCRAMBLING

2005 RECORD 8-4(6-2 in Big 12 South)

RETURNINGSTARTERS 12

KEY RETURNEES DEC.J. Ah You (Sr.) Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year in '05 LB RufusAlexander (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 CAMPUSA breathless blend of power and breakaway speed, junior running back AdrianPeterson enters the season as a Heisman front-runner again. A nagging anklesprain cost him a shot at the trophy as a sophomore, but he still rushed for1,108 yards. "I haven't seen anything like him," coach Bob Stoops saysof the 6'2" 218-pounder.

Long before thepublic learned of the $18,000 little-or-no-work-required jobs for Oklahomaplayers at a car dealership in Norman, Marc Thompson had some advice for hisson Paul, a quarterback turned receiver. Figuring that Paul would most likelymove 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 orsomething."

Thompson didn'theed his dad's advice--since the Holiday Bowl last December he had thrown onlycasually to warm up before summer workouts--but, boy, does he wish he hadlistened now. In the wake of sophomore Rhett Bomar's dismissal for violatingthe 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 timelast year: starting quarterback. (Right guard J.D. Quinn was kicked off theteam for the same violation.)

The athletic6'4", 210-pound Thompson didn't make it through the 2005 season-openingloss to TCU, giving way to Bomar, who started the rest of the season. Thompsonshifted to wideout and caught 10 passes for 106 yards. Just two weeks ago, onthe day Bomar was kicked off the team, coach Bob Stoops called Thompson intohis office and asked if he would return to quarterback. "It was a toughdecision," Thompson says. "In the end I wanted to have the ball in myhands and do what was best for me and this team."

Could he getyanked again after one poor performance? "Paul's our guy, no matter whathis performance is," says offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson.

Boasting arguablythe nation's best defense and inarguably the nation's best running back inAdrian Peterson, the Sooners were viewed as national title contenders withBomar, who set an Oklahoma freshman record for passing yards and had developedinto 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 beforeQuinn's dismissal, Oklahoma's getting to the BCS title game will be muchtougher.

Wilson hadplanned to step up the passing game, adding more play-action, throws downfieldand opportunities for Peterson (only 14 catches in two seasons). While theabsence of Bomar and his big arm will force some tweaking, Wilson has faiththat Thompson will make the Sooners' offense work. "I don't think it's astretch when we say we're very confident he'll play really well," Wilsonsays. "He has a tremendous supporting cast around him."

PHOTOBILLY HEFTON/ICON SMI (THOMPSON) OKLAHOMA
PAUL THOMPSON
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)