IRVING, Texas (AP)—Sam Bradford found it tough as a teenage Oklahoma fan to watch the Sooners losing national championship games.
As a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, it was an even tougher to to be part of Oklahoma’s latest national title game loss.
“It’s all you think about, it’s all you dream about, and to have the opportunity to play for a national championship and come up short, it’s not a good feeling to have,” Bradford said Tuesday at Big 12 media days.
After passing up a chance to enter the NFL draft after his sophomore season, which ended in January with a 24-14 loss to Florida in the BCS championship game, Bradford is back for another chance to win the trophy he really wants.
“That would mean the world to me,” he said.
The Sooners have won the last three Big 12 titles. But their last national championship was in 2000. They are 0-3 in title games since—twice (2003-04) with Bradford watching and still dreaming of being their quarterback, then last season when he threw for a school-record 4,720 yards and NCAA-best 50 touchdowns.
Coach Bob Stoops knows it will be hard for Bradford to improve on those numbers.
“But hopefully with a better defense, you don’t have to,” Stoops said. “It’s doing what you need to do and manage the game to win, be consistent like he has been. … Remind him you’re not Superman. You don’t need to remind Sam of that. He plays within the system.”
The Sooners return seven defenders who started every game last season, and three more who started at least five games.
Still, the focus is on the offensive changes, including the loss of four offensive linemen and a trio of receivers—Juaquin Iglesias, Manuel Johnson and Quentin Chaney—who combined for half of Bradford’s passing yards and 21 TDs.
“Obviously, we have some young guys that are going to come in, but I feel like they made tremendous steps in the offseason, I feel like they’ll be prepared to play,” Bradford said.
That is a necessity for another title chance, especially in a Big 12 South filled with potent offenses and star quarterbacks such as Texas’ Colt McCoy, another Heisman finalist last season—and Oklahoma State’s Zac Robinson.
“You know you’re going against another high-powered offense and the quarterback has got the ability to answer every time you score,” Bradford said. “It makes my job even more fun than it is.”
Iglesias and Johnson, both in Oklahoma’s career top 10 for receptions, didn’t have the option like Bradford for another season.
“They left. Guys come in and play, and that’s how it is,” tight end Jermaine Gresham said. “Put the pads on and let’s play football. Nothing’s going to change.”
Gresham (66 catches, 950 yards, 14 TDs), the 6-foot-6, 258-pound tight end who can split wide, also could have gone to the NFL as a high draft pick. But he opted to return for his senior season, knowing Bradford was coming back.
“Me and Sam always kept in contact with our decisions,” Gresham said, smiling. “We always knew what we were going to do. I knew I wasn’t going to be without him.”
The Sooners also have 1,000-yard rushers Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray and receiver Ryan Broyles, who caught 46 passes for 687 yards and six TDs as a freshman.
Mossis Madu, a junior running back who has been working at receiver, and Adron Tennell, a senior who could get his first chance as a starter, will get their chances to catch passes.
“We’ve spent a lot of time this year just throwing routes,” Bradford said. “We got back from the national championship game and we just got those guys in there and started running routes. We’ve probably thrown more routes just this year than we have since I’ve been here.”
Throwing to new receivers wasn’t the only adjustment Bradford had to make this offseason.
As a Heisman Trophy winner, the reserved Bradford had to adjust to being recognized everywhere he went.
“I’m really trying to stay the same person, not let it affect my life,” said Bradford, though he wouldn’t say where he keeps his Heisman Trophy.
“It’s a secret,” he said. “When my parents had it, people called and asked if they could come see it and take pictures with it. … But I’ve never really taken it out.”