Oklahoma's Bradford to make Red River Rivalry debut

NORMAN, Okla. -- On a Red River Rivalry Saturday, the Cotton Bowl is a rowdy mix of friends and foes.

Fans pound on the team bus as it winds through the state fairgrounds, then show their allegiances by wearing Oklahoma crimson and Texas burnt orange in a stadium split down the middle.

Some quarterbacks have used the rivalry game, always played in early October, as their first chance to be a hero. Jason White, destined for a Heisman Trophy two years later, came on in relief to guide Oklahoma to a 14-3 win in 2001. Colt McCoy, a redshirt freshman, threw for two second-half scores last year to notch his first big win for the Longhorns.

Other debuts haven't gone so well. Rhett Bomar had only 94 yards passing in 2005. A year earlier, Vince Young had only 86 yards passing in a shutout loss.

Next up is Oklahoma redshirt freshman Sam Bradford.

The nation's top-rated passer, Bradford was nearly flawless in his first four games. He set the school record with 22 straight completions, then came within one of tying his own mark a week later. He threw 10 touchdown passes before his first interception, won his first career start, beat Miami and came out on top in his first road game.

Then he lost his first Big 12 Conference game.

"I guess come Saturday we'll find out how he's ready," Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. "He's a great competitor. He played a lot of sports. He typically came to play in great situations, but this is a different one. Until you play in it, you don't know."

The atmosphere in Dallas was enough to make former Oklahoma fullback J.D. Runnels throw up. It was intriguing enough that linebacker Lewis Baker put on 10 pounds, eating constantly throughout the week, so coaches would let him play in the game two years ago.

Quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel, who went 1-1 in the rivalry, is trying to get Bradford prepared for what he'll be feeling.

"I think you can't allow it to get the best of you. Certainly, it's an electric atmosphere. It's a big football game. It's a championship-type atmosphere," Heupel said. "Is there a lot of emotion that goes into that? Yeah. Do you have to find a way to settle yourself down once that ball's kicked off that tee? Yeah, you do."

It's hard to tell what Bradford, who threw two interceptions in last week's 27-24 loss at Colorado, is thinking as the game approaches. He's the only starting quarterback for a top 15 team that is never allowed to talk to reporters outside of game day, including two other freshmen in that fraternity.

"I think if he was talking to you today, he wouldn't be very happy about his performance on Saturday, and he'd be worried about playing a lot better on (this) Saturday," Heupel said.

McCoy, who also was a redshirt freshman for his debut last year, said the hardest part for him was getting through the week leading up to the game.

"I think the most important thing is handling the emotion of a big game, a big rivalry like that," McCoy said. "I can remember how tough it was just to go in there and play."

Heupel, who lost his 1999 rivalry debut 38-28 after his two first-quarter TD passes put the Sooners up 17-0, added: "Everyone on campus talks about it. You've got to let that go out the window."

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who called Bradford the least of the Sooners' problems at Colorado, believes his young quarterback is ready.

"He just has a very good, strong demeanor about him -- just being calm, being together, not getting rattled," Stoops said. "He just continues to compete. He acts very mature that way."

Whether that's enough will be determined Saturday afternoon.

"There's been freshmen quarterbacks rattled in this game before -- two years ago comes to mind," said Texas defensive tackle Derek Lokey, referring to Bomar's performance. "But to predict whether or not it's going to happen to him? Colt was a freshman last year and came out and played great. You never know what's going to happen."