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There were plenty of reasons for optimism in Norman: Quarterback Rhett Bomar and the 11 other freshmen that Stoops was forced to play in 2005 are sophomores this season. The bum ankle that held star tailback Adrian Peterson to only 1,108 yards last season is healed. Linebacker Rufus Alexander and defensive end Calvin Thibodeaux are back to lead a fast and furious defense. And the fact that Vince Young isn't playing at Texas any more only bolstered the Sooners' title aspirations.
|Rhett Bomar threw for 2,018 yards and 10 TDs as a freshman in 2005.|
Because with a more experienced Bomar and a healthy Peterson, the Sooners were going to be national championship contenders this season, so good on offense and defense that Texas coach Mack Brown would be looking over his shoulder once again.
But after Wednesday's announcement that Bomar and starting offensive lineman J.D. Quinn have been permanently dismissed from the Oklahoma football team for taking wages from a Norman car dealership for work they didn't do, the Sooners are right back to where they were at the beginning of the 2005 season. They've got no quarterback, a thin offensive line and a star tailback who will find fewer holes than a prairie dog burrowing in the dusty Oklahoma hardpan.
This season was supposed to be Oklahoma's mulligan for 2005. The Sooners were supposed to be loaded and hungry. Stoops sacrificed his team's overall record last season when he turned over his offense to a young quarterback. Bomar got better nearly every week as a rookie, leading Oklahoma to victories in six of its last seven games, and would be the quarterback to lead the Sooners the next three seasons. He was supposed to be the quarterback that turned the Sooners into champions again.
Bomar was rated the No. 1 high school quarterback prospect in the country after a stellar career at Grand Prairie (Texas) High, where he was coached by his father, Jerry Bomar. He was supposed to be more physically gifted than former Sooners quarterback Jason White, the 2003 Heisman Trophy winner. Bomar had a stronger arm and ran as well or better than White, who wasn't quite as nimble after twice tearing knee ligaments.
Last week at the Big 12 Media Days in Kansas City, Stoops glowed about his young quarterback's future: "He made significant progress if you look at the first half of the season and compare it to the second half of the season and how he matured and the growth he made. And we expect him really to start the year in a good way and continue to improve. Because he has so much skill and ability."
But White was apparently far superior than Bomar above the shoulders. Bomar was twice cited for underage possession of alcohol while enrolled at Oklahoma, and in another incident was cited for hosting a nuisance party near campus.
And then there was his part-time job at Big Red Sports/Imports -- what did you expect, Cowboy Orange? -- where he earned $18,000 for little or no work. Jobs like that in Norman haven't come to light since star linebacker Brian Bosworth was paid to watch oil rigs run. At least Bomar was honorable enough to report his wages to the IRS. Better than reporting them directly to the NCAA.
By losing its quarterback of the future, Oklahoma just leveled the playing field in the Big 12 South. The Sooners had seemingly gained an edge over Texas, the defending national champions, who will start one of two unproven quarterbacks this season because Young bolted for the NFL. Texas Tech, which finished ahead of the Sooners in the division last season, is looking for a new quarterback, too. But don't think Mike Leach was worried about plugging a new trigger man into his pass-happy system. Not after Cody Hodges threw for more than 4,000 yards in his only season as the starter. Colorado and Nebraska only figure to get better. At least Dennis Franchione is still coaching at Texas A&M.
Oklahoma's options at quarterback seem limited. Signing the No. 1 quarterback in the country usually diminishes the chances of signing blue-chip passers in subsequent years. The Sooners went after Matthew Stafford of Highland Park, Texas this past February, but he signed with Georgia and might end up starting for the Bulldogs. Signing quarterbacks as highly touted as Bomar also makes it tougher to keep the players you already have. Tommy Grady, who backed up White in 2004, transferred to Utah after losing the starting job and is eligible to play for the Utes this season. He seems like a better option than what the Sooners currently have.
Sophomore Joey Halzle, a junior college transfer from Golden West Community College in Huntington Beach, Calif., takes Bomar's spot at the top of the depth chart heading into preseason camp. He threw for 2,077 yards and 13 touchdowns in his only season of juco football last season and has three years of eligibility left. Halzle's only other scholarship offer reportedly came from Wyoming. Paul Thompson, who started at quarterback in the loss to TCU and then lost his job to Bomar and moved to wide receiver last season, is another option. Freshman Sam Bradford from Oklahoma City was highly recruited, but is Stoops prepared to go through the growing pains of a young quarterback again?
Whoever starts at quarterback, the Sooners must find some semblance of a passing game. Last season, when Bomar struggled early, opponents stacked the line and dared Oklahoma to throw. Only one starter is back on the offensive line. Regardless of what happens between now and the Sept. 2 opener against Alabama-Birmingham, don't expect the Sooners to implode again. After playing the Blazers in Norman, the Sooners host rebuilding Washington and then go to Oregon. The Ducks will be a stiff test, but Oklahoma gets Middle Tennessee a week later.
By booting his quarterback, Stoops might have jeopardized another season. At least he didn't sacrifice his integrity, which is something Barry Switzer might have done.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.