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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Sam Bradford's injury shakes up race for BCS title game

Oklahoma's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback will miss time with a shoulder separation. Just how long he's out will impact the Sooners and also possibly the BCS hopes of Texas and Oklahoma State.

September 10, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE

Call it six degrees of Sam Bradford's third-degree shoulder separation.

Last Saturday's injury to Oklahoma's starting quarterback, who threw 50 touchdown passes last year on his way to the Heisman Trophy, did more than damage the Sooners' chances of winning this year's national title.

The tenuous connection of Bradford's AC joint is also hooked to the hopes and dreams of other championship contenders.

How long Bradford will be out, when he returns, and what kind of season-salvaging comeback he can mount could dictate who plays for this year's Bowl Championship Series title.

Put a pitchfork in Norman?

"If you have to lose, lose in Week 1," Oklahoma senior receiver Carter Whitson said after Saturday's season-opening loss to Brigham Young. "That's OK. Nobody has won the national championship undefeated in the last four years."

However, Bradford's injury coupled with the loss of star tight end Jermaine Gresham, who underwent season-ending knee surgery this week, devastates Oklahoma's already shaky offense.

The Sooners dropped from No. 3 to No. 13 in the Associated Press poll after the 14-13 loss to BYU.

If Oklahoma crawls out of this hole to win the school's eighth national title, the taint of five straight BCS bowl losses will be washed out by the halo glow over Coach Bob Stoops' head.

Bradford is expected to be out two to four weeks. He could return -- or not -- for the Sooners' game at suddenly relevant Miami on Oct. 3.

He could be his old gunslinger self -- or not -- when Oklahoma plays Texas in Dallas on Oct. 17.

The hip bone is connected to the thigh bone, and the shoulder bone may be connected to . . . Pasadena, where the BCS title game will be played Jan. 7.

Along with defending champion Florida, these contenders took a step forward in Week 1:

Brigham Young

If Bradford doesn't get injured and Oklahoma somehow pulls out the win, nobody is making noise back in Provo.

"We had 2,000 fans greet us at the airport. . . .," BYU Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "The students were running around campus. They were at the stadium. They were closing down intersections."

BYU moved up 11 spots, to No. 9, in this week's AP poll. Instead of being out of the BCS mix, the Cougars are now positioned to make a possible run to the championship game.

There's also a larger fight going on here: BYU and the Mountain West for equal access in a BCS system they say is unfair.

Could Bradford's injury lead to BYU making the BCS title game and ending the argument?

"I do think the game and how we played it helped our conference and helped our team," Mendenhall said. "And helped the exposure in the fight we're all kind of engaged in as our league is trying to gain credibility."

USC, Alabama

The Trojans started the season at No. 4, one spot behind Oklahoma. And now they're one spot closer to No. 2, which gets you into the BCS championship game. Alabama also closed the gap by moving from No. 5 to No. 4.

Miami

The Hurricanes last won a national title in 2001 and started this season unranked. But Monday night's thrilling victory against Florida State makes "The U" interesting again. The Hurricanes, who cracked the AP at No. 20 this week, have a lot of ground to make up, but no team in the nation has a better schedule out of the gate.

Miami plays host to No. 15 Georgia Tech on Sept. 17, plays at No. 14 Virginia Tech on Sept. 26 and then plays host to Oklahoma on Oct. 3. If Bradford isn't back and Miami wins to get to 4-0 . . . guess which swagger school is back in the chase?

For what it's worth: Two years ago at Norman, Bradford threw five touchdown passes in Oklahoma's 55-13 win over Miami.

Texas

The Longhorns' road to the BCS title game, for years, continued or ended with the annual Red River Rivalry game in Dallas against Oklahoma.

Oklahoma tormented Texas five straight years, starting in 2000, before Mack Brown's team broke through with a 2005 victory that propelled a run to the national title.

With Gresham out and Bradford on the mend, Texas has the clear advantage in the State Fair game.

Oklahoma State

Booster T. Boone Pickens has about a $200-million bet this is going to be the year for his Cowboys, who opened impressively with a win over Georgia in Stillwater.

To get to the national title game, though, Oklahoma State has to get through the Big 12 South -- and the Cowboys are 2-21 all-time against Texas, and 17-79-7 against Oklahoma.

Bradford impact: What if he isn't back for Texas but is fully recovered by Nov. 28 when Oklahoma State travels to Norman, gulp, with a title bid on the line?

It's going to be exciting, T. Boone: Hold onto your money clip.

Blitz package

* Several schools have been hit hard by flu, although cases of the swine, or H1N1, have been limited. Mississippi Coach Houston Nutt said Wednesday nine of his starters have been stricken. Luckily, the Rebels have an open date this week. "Hopefully we'll get everybody back, at least by Sunday," Nutt said. He added the flu cycle seems to last about 48 hours.

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