Arguments will fly fast and furious in the next 12-16 hours, or however long it will actually take for computers, coaches and Harris Poll voters to decide who will win the Big 12's fifth divisional tiebreaker in a three-way logjam that couldn't be decided in a more sensible or objective manner. In-division point differential could have and should have put the Big 12 South to rest, but instead, the system that is only supposed to match the top two teams in the national title tilt has stuck its nose in a backyard dispute. Someone's going to be very unhappy in either Austin or Norman, with Texas Tech—at 11-1—already assured of receiving a bowl bid far below its pay grade.
Why was Oklahoma able to create this king-sized controversy? For one thing, Texas Tech had to come from behind and erase a two-touchdown deficit to beat Baylor. Had the Red Raiders faltered earlier in the afternoon, the Sooners would have lost a shot at the division crown before they even stepped on the gridiron. But when given a reprieve, OU broke through in Stillwater to hold off the confident Cowboys, who kept charging hard until the final minutes, but simply weren't able to overcome Bob Stoops' bunch.
The biggest reason for Oklahoma's victory was the poised performance of Sooner quarterback Sam Bradford. Yes, it has to be noted that he once again received fabulous protection from his offensive front, but the Heisman Trophy contender made some above-average plays when his team needed it most. The quarterback position receives a ton of scrutiny, and it's often the case that the man who occupies football's most glamorous spotlight is overly credited in victory, and excessively criticized in defeat. In 2008, however, Bradford has truly been a difference-maker for his club. (Whether he's done more than Texas signal caller Colt McCoy is another question for another day.) Saturday night against Mike Gundy's guys, he showed exactly why this is the case.
In a game with 102 total points—61 of them from his own team—Bradford clearly made stacks of studly statements in T. Boone Pickens Stadium. One could choose many snapshots of Bradford's excellence, so it's worth reducing his highlight reel to a handful of particularly important plays. At the top of the list would be his ice-veins touchdown toss to backup tight end Brody Eldridge on a fourth-and-goal at the OSU 1 with 10:46 left in the fourth quarter. The play gave OU a critical two-possession cushion (44-34) on a night when the Cowboys piled up their own fair share of points, but as meaningful as it was on the scoreboard, it was far more impressive as a revelation of Bradford's steadiness under fire.
On the play, Bradford stood in one spot, patiently surveying the entirety of the field with his fiercely focused eyes. Waiting and waiting for something to develop, yet not panicking in the face of an oncoming Cowboy pass rusher, Bradford—in total command of his domain—released the ball at the last possible second to find Eldridge standing all alone in the middle of the end zone. The sequence displayed everything that has made Bradford so good as a collegiate quarterback: the poise, the precision, the quick release, the incredible pocket presence, the clock in the back of the head, the feel for the unfolding of a play, and the peripheral vision needed to scan, strike, and ultimately score.
Bradford's amazing night was only enhanced by two more plays that just happened to come back-to-back at the end of the third quarter. On a third-and-goal from the OSU 9, Bradford sacrificed his body—a sign of the extent to which the cool customer also possesses a raging competitive fire—to get the ball to the Cowboy 1. Had Bradford only gained four or five yards, the Sooners—around the OSU 5—would have had to settle for a field goal in a game they led by only four points (30-26) at the time. But because Bradford got to the 1, OU could try for a touchdown on fourth down. On that play, Bradford fumbled the snap, but—unlike many other quarterbacks who would have panicked, usually by covering up the ball instead of realizing that fourth down left no margin for error—calmly executed his own scoop-and-score to give the Sooners a vital touchdown and a 37-26 edge. Fearless on one play and unflappable on the next, Bradford showed America the full measure of his football bona fides. The unbeatable combination of mental toughness and a complete on-field toolbox of skills enabled OU to roll up huge numbers, even on a night when standout running back DeMarco Murray was (amazingly) limited to 73 yards on the ground.
To put Oklahoma's awesome offensive performance into perspective, consider that Oklahoma State's own tremendous trio of prime-time performers—quarterback Zac Robinson, running back Kendall Hunter, and receiver Dez Bryant—were all sensational on this Saturday night. Robinson provided a particularly praiseworthy performance, running rings around OU's very athletic defensive front to make a seemingly unending stream of huge plays when nothing seemed to be attainable for the Cowboys. Yet, for all his sensational swashbuckling, Robinson could only watch from the sidelines as Bradford, his opposite number, beat him in this top-notch track meet.
Oklahoma or Texas? The debates will reach a fever pitch in the next few hours. Sunday afternoon, when the BCS standings are released, the emotions in two football-mad states will tell you if tonight's win was enough to give the Sooners the nod in the crazy, cluttered and controversial race for the Big 12 South Division championship.