It’s safe to say that most college football fans didn’t expect to see Stanford and Oklahoma face each other in a bowl game this season. The Sooners (7-5, 5-3 Big-12) started the season ranked No. 3, led by 2008-09 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford at quarterback. Stanford (8-4, 6-3 Pac-10), on the other hand, started the season unranked and picked to finish in the bottom half of the Pac-10 Conference.
Their seasons may have had different trajectories, but both teams find themselves in the same spot New Year’s Eve when they face off at the Brut Sun Bowl in El Paso, Tx.
“We’re ready to go,” Coach Harbaugh told GoStanford.com. “There’s only one thing left to do and that’s play the game. We are looking forward to this challenge.”
Both teams may be without their starting quarterbacks, which will likely affect the Cardinal more than the Sooners, seeing as the Sooners lost Bradford for the season after he sprained his right shoulder in the opening weekend against BYU. Freshman Landry Jones has done a serviceable job stepping in for Bradford since his injury with nearly 3000 yards, 23 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions to show for, but it’s clear that the Sooners are just not the same team without their star.
Stanford may have more to worry about in regards to its quarterback situation, however. Redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck, a huge key to the Cardinal’s success this season, is still recovering from surgery on his right index finger, which he broke in a 45-38 win over Notre Dame on Nov. 28. The Cardinal coaching staff named senior quarterback Tavita Pritchard as the tentative starter for Thursday’s game weeks ago, but Stanford just might get lucky, as Coach Harbaugh said during Wednesday’s press conference that the freshman still had a viable chance of seeing the field against the Sooners. Either way, it will be a game-time decision.
At this point, though, Pritchard is still the likely starter. Bringing home a win against Oklahoma would be a great bookend to the senior’s career, as his first career start resulted in the stunning and historic 24-23 win over then-No. 2 USC in 2007. That said, Pritchard seems to be less confident in the pocket than his freshman counterpart, whose passing skills have made defenses pay when they tried to hone in on senior running back and Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart.
Oklahoma comes into Thursday’s game as a ten-point favorite, largely due to the uncertainty of the Cardinal’s quarterback situation. That number still seems a bit hefty when you compare the two team’s records and whom they have beat this season, but with the nation’s perception of the Pac-10 going down by the second (No. 20 Arizona was taken to the woodshed Wednesday to the tune of 33-0 by another Big-12 team, No. 22 Nebraska), the difference may not seem as outrageous.
In any case, if the past is any indication, Coach Harbaugh will have his team ready to play in the program’s first bowl game since 2001. Whether it’s Pritchard or Luck leading the Cardinal, Stanford should be ready to solidify its place in the Sun.