Jan. 15, 2009

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - With Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford deciding to come back for another season, Oklahoma's chances at getting back to the national championship game just got a lot better.

Bradford could have skipped out on the Sooners after only two seasons as their starting quarterback - and two-record setting seasons at that. But instead of bringing on the Landry Jones era when Oklahoma opens the 2009 season against BYU on Sept. 5, Bradford will be back at the reins and have perhaps more weapons at his disposal than he might have thought.

Jermaine Gresham, who has caught more touchdown passes than any tight end in school history, and offensive tackle Trent Williams joined Bradford in declaring that they'd return for another season at Oklahoma, bolstering Bob Stoops' squad in what could have been a lean year.

The Sooners already will lose four linemen and three receivers from an offense that led the nation with a 51-point average. Take Bradford, Gresham and Williams out of the mix, too, and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson would essentially be starting from scratch.

"Having these guys back and the opportunities, when you look at what the prospects are for next year, are really exciting," Stoops said. "With all the guys back on defense and now all these guys back on offense, we have a chance to have another really special year next year because of the quality, depth and experience."

Bradford will once again be joined in the backfield by tailbacks Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray, and redshirt freshman Ryan Broyles - who led the team with 16 TD catches - will become the most proven wide receiver. Gresham, who trails only Mark Clayton in career receiving touchdowns, provides another huge building block for the Sooners as they try to rebuild the receiving corps.

"I'm very confident in the people that we have returning," said Bradford, who has thrown for 7,841 yards and 86 touchdowns in two seasons. "Obviously with Trent and Jermaine coming back ... I feel like we're going to be very solid on offense again, and I think that's one of the strong points of this program is we're able to replace players. Every year we lose guys.

"Last year, we lost Malcolm Kelly and everyone wondered if we'd be able to fill in the wide receiver position, and we did."

Williams, who started the opener at left tackle but spent the rest of the season on the right side, figures to be the focal point of the front line. While the rest of the starters will be gone, the backups got plenty of experience as the Sooners racked up big leads in most games and let their reserves play the fourth quarter.

Stoops said he didn't think Bradford was risking his status as a high first-round NFL draft pick by coming back with uncertainty on the offensive line that's supposed to protect him.

"You don't think those guys watching tape know when you're driving a Cadillac and know when you're driving a BMW? They know what you're driving," Stoops said, referring to NFL scouts and general managers.

"If he isn't protected quite as well next year, they're going to know that. But in the same way, I feel we've got a really good offensive line coming back."

It will be difficult to protect Bradford better than this year's line, which yielded only 13 sacks in 14 games to give him time to lead the nation in passing efficiency and throw a school-record 50 touchdown passes.

"We have a pretty good track record of protecting our quarterback. ... That's always a priority for us and of course it will be this year," Stoops said. "We're not a team that's asking Sam to run around a bunch and take a bunch of risks, and we're smart about how we'll use our guy."

Oklahoma's defense will remain relatively intact except at safety, where Lendy Holmes and Nic Harris were the only senior starters. Cory Bennett and Alan Davis, who played as reserves on the line, have also finished their careers. However, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was also among those that skipped a chance to enter the NFL draft in the wake of the Sooners' 24-14 loss to top-ranked Florida in Miami last week.

"Of course you're disappointed ... but we move on. We're already on to next year in our focus and what we're looking at," Stoops said. "I look back on the year and look at all the good fortune and all the positives of a great year and working with a fun team to work with everyday."

And what about 2010?

"We'll cross that bridge when it comes," Bradford said.