Originally Published: Dec 24, 2009 6:8 PM CDT
There is scant local talk of OU vs. Stanford in the upcoming Sun Bowl. National title game or bust mentality. Sooner fans best hope the team is taking the game more seriously than most loyalists.
However nationally, many pundits rate the sold-out Sun Bowl as one of the most intriguing of the non-BCS games. I expect Sooner RB DeMarco Murray to be a major force.
Remember the old’ Play for Pay scandals in college football? The Eric Dickerson/Craig James Dog and Pony Death Penalty show at SMU? Or most recently, the Reggie Bush Family Lodge Project at USC=that will bring serious trouble for Pete Carroll in Trojan Land.
Next week, that Play for Pay scenario will be in front of Murray in a different kind of way. Murray will be running and catching and blocking against Stanford for NFL riches. He enjoys the atmosphere in Norman but prefers something called cold hard cash over NCAA meal money.
Check the record. College kids who have a chance to leave school early for pro ball prepare for games-in this case a season-ending bowl game—more diligently and play snap-to-whistle with all their might. Nothing like NFL incentive.
Play well and you return for another year of Play for No Pay college ball. Play lights out and Murray might bounce up Mel Kiper’s omnipotent Big Board to a draft slot that would satisfy the Vegas scat back enough to flee for greenbacks.
Murray is an underrated college back who combines smarts, versatility, power, make-the-first-guy-miss-you big play ability to rank with the upper crust of Sooner backs of yesteryear. Not a Little Joe, a Big Billy, a speedy Hello-Goodbye Pruitt or and All-Day Adrian.
He’s not Heisman caliber, but is a valuable back who, when healthy, churns out vital production in an offense that doesn’t provide gaping holes and doesn’t feature running backs.
He’s also one of the good guys—legit student, humble, well-spoken guy with the chiseled body and looks of a guy who doesn’t have problems finding female companionship.
But the NFL will be evaluating more things than that. They’ll microscopically zero in a lot more on Murray’s good-but-not-great breakaway speed and also his history of relatively minor injuries a little more closely than the Kappa and Theta coeds will.
I love the guy’s production but am the first to admit he is the kind of guy who will break from the pack from seventy yards out and make 65 yards. Bust out from midfield and go down at the seven. And history states he struggles with hamstrings, knees and toes too much to make him a must-take draft pick.
Barring a bust-out Brut Bowl performance on the 31st, those two questions marks will supersede all of Murray’s attributes.
Murray is not a first-round draft pick. Seriously doubt he would go in the second. So the question becomes how high will he have to go before he decides to leave a season early.
Normally it would be a no-brainer. You’d never leave being taken that low. But with him stating he’s not made up his mind about next year. Clearly there are two things he’s pondering: The Sam Bradford/Jermaine Gresham season-ending injury nightmares; and will the 2010 OU offense give him enough opportunities to excel. Your classic case of risk vs. reward.
So as Sooner fans root for Murray to outshine Stanford’s Heisman runner-up RB Toby Gerhart in beautiful and safe El Paso, there will be some who will not want him to dominate so much that he takes a big leap on Mel’s Big Board.
Call that line of thinking selfish if you want. But OU fans I’ve talked with are looking at the Sleet Bowl from that vantage point. They know Murray and slot back/return man Ryan Broyles will need to produce as the go-to players of the 2010 Sooner offense.
Murray will need at least 200 all-purpose yards for the scouts to take serious notice. And he’ll need at least that many yards for OU to beat a Stanford club that is looking at this game as their Super Bowl.