Commentary

Bradford solves Sooners' problems with ease

Originally Published: January 6, 2009
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- When coaches describe what makes Oklahoma sophomore Sam Bradford such a good quarterback, they don't talk about how he has led the nation in passing efficiency in each of his two seasons. They don't bring up the 48 touchdown passes against six interceptions, or the 4,464 passing yards he has accumulated this season.

And they surely don't discuss the Heisman Trophy.

When Bradford is the subject, it doesn't take long for the conversation to steer away from his right arm and move above his shoulders. His mind has been the vehicle that has taken the No. 1 Sooners to the FedEx BCS National Championship Game to play No. 2 Florida.

"It's a very important quality to have a smart kid playing that position," said Oklahoma quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel, who relied on smarts to quarterback the Sooners to the 2000 BCS championship. "… He is a kid who is unique because they are not typically that smart. Understanding our protections, understanding his progressions, understanding reads, understanding defenses: He doesn't have to see things on the film or on the board. He doesn't need a whole lot of time to pick up on it."

When Bradford picks it up, Sooners offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said, he makes the right decision, not just on most plays but snap after snap.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Matt SlocumSam Bradford is as accurate in the classroom as he is on the gridiron.

"His accuracy … could win a bunch of teddy bears at the fair," Wilson said. "As a young player, he wouldn't get greedy. In the golfing world, you can hit [a good drive] and you start swinging harder. He keeps the same swing. For young players, that's unusual."

Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney noticed how Bradford can take a snap, look to his left, keep looking, then turn to his right and hit a receiver between the numbers.

"We don't see a lot of that, frankly," McCarney said. "It always sounds good at clinics, and quarterback coaches and coordinators and head coaches will talk about that. But how much do we really see that stuff consistently at this age, a sophomore in college? He does it. And it goes right to his IQ, his understanding of the game."

Then there is coach Randy Garibay, who said Bradford "epitomizes everything that we stand for." That's U.S. Army Lt. Col. (Ret.) Garibay, the football team's academic adviser.

Bradford puts the student in student-athlete. The piece of information that leaps off the page of his bio in the Oklahoma bowl media guide is not the list of awards he has won this season. It is in two words near the end: "finance major."

America doesn't expect its quarterbacks to major in finance, except for the day when they sign for eight-figure bonuses and report to NFL training camp. America is conditioned to hear its quarterbacks talk about hunting. And themselves.

Asked to identify his favorite classes in his three years in Norman, Bradford mentioned one in finance and two in accounting.

"I just like the numbers and the order it has," Bradford said. "Things have to equal. Things have to be balanced. You know when you mess up."

Bradford talks about accounting as if it's the most natural thing in the world. To him, it is. He is a natural in the Barry Switzer Center, where he watches video, and he is a natural in the Price College of Business.

"I can say without reservation, if all of my students were like Sam, my job would be really easy," said Ron Kirkpatrick, an adjunct lecturer in accounting at Oklahoma.

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Kirkpatrick taught a managerial accounting class that Bradford took in the summer of 2007.

"He was my best student that summer," Kirkpatrick said. "He is outstanding. Brilliant, really."

Kirkpatrick recalled showing the class how to calculate a solution to a problem he had assigned.

"Most students say, 'Oh, OK. That's how he wants us to do it,'" Kirkpatrick said. "After class, Sam comes up and said, 'I did it this way. I think it's the same thing. Would you make sure?'

"It was a different method of coming out with the same solution, but it was one I hadn't even thought of. He's a guy that knows something other than what the teacher tells him. I don't see that a lot in my beginning accounting classes."

Before you begin to think Bradford would be happier reading the federal tax code than a playbook, it should be pointed out that his analytical bent hasn't taken over his life. For instance, Bradford said Monday, he has a lot of superstitions.

There's the lucky pair of socks that he began wearing during two-a-days and has worn in every single practice and game this season.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops/Sam Bradford
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiProblem solving is easier for Bob Stoops and the Sooners with Sam Bradford at quarterback.
"If you saw them, they are really not like socks anymore," Bradford said. "They're just kind of like pieces of thread everywhere."

He also reads the story of David and Goliath before every game. "That's one of my big ones," he said.

Bradford said it's not that he identifies with David, even though there are similarities. Like Bradford, David started as a freshman. And like Bradford, David led the FBS (First Book of Samuel) in passing efficiency -- David completed his only attempt, a game-winner against favored Goliath.

"It's a story I've enjoyed reading since I was young," Bradford said. "It's just something that reading [it] before the game gives me confidence going on the field."

You don't have to be a biblical scholar or a football scholar to know that much of Oklahoma's hopes are riding on Bradford's shoulders Thursday night.

"If they want to blitz, they're leaving less guys in the secondary to cover our receivers," Bradford said. "We'll take one-on-one matchups all day."

You don't need an accounting professor to tell you that Bradford gave the right answer.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com. His new book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, and Traditions," is on sale now. For more information, go to TheMaiselReport.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com