NORMAN, Okla. - Sam Bradford was the kind of kid nobody noticed.

Oklahoma already had its quarterback of the future in Rhett Bomar, and Bradford just didn't have the credentials.

Bomar was considered the nation's best coming out of high school and a surefire NFL prospect to boot.

A three-star recruit, a middle-of-the-pack guy - that was Bradford. A Heisman Trophy candidate? No way.

But come Saturday night, there he'll be, on a stage in New York with some of college football's other top players as the sport's top individual honor is handed out. He's likely to be joined by conference rivals Colt McCoy of Texas and Graham Harrell of Texas Tech, along with Florida's Tim Tebow - last year's winner.

No longer underrated, Bradford earned his spot by shattering every school passing record and leading the most prolific offense college football has ever seen. In winning an unprecedented third straight Big Twelve championship and earning a shot at the national title against top-ranked Florida, Bradford's Sooners broke the NCAA season scoring record and topped 60 points for the fifth straight game.

In the process, he has made Bomar an afterthought. Not bad for a kid who never truly devoted himself to football until he got to college.

"Back then, I was just happy that I had the opportunity to come here and play," said Bradford, whose father, Kent, lettered for the Sooners in 1977 and 1978. "And now that I have this opportunity, I'm just trying to make the most of it."

Bradford leads the nation with 48 touchdown passes and a 186.3 quarterback rating, throwing for 4,464 yards with only six interceptions in 442 attempts.

Coach Bob Stoops called him the best of his quarterbacks - a lot that includes 2003 Heisman winner Jason White and 2000 runner-up Josh Heupel.

"What this guy has done for two straight years now, I don't know how to explain it. The guy is just uncanny, how accurate he is, how consistent he is," Stoops said.

Heupel, who won the Sooners' last national title in that 2000 season and is now the team's quarterbacks coach, calls Bradford "the total package." At least some NFL draft gurus agree: He's been projected as next year's No. 1 overall pick, if he decides to leave college after his redshirt sophomore season.

Heupel remembers when Bradford showed up that first summer with an undeveloped 6-foot-4 frame and plenty to learn.

In his first year, Bradford redshirted behind Paul Thompson - who had to move from receiver to quarterback after Bomar got dismissed for breaking NCAA rules by getting overpaid for work he did at a Norman car dealership.

Last year, Bradford emerged from a three-man competition to win the starting job. In his second game, he threw for 295 yards and tied the school record with five touchdown passes in a 51-13 rout of Miami. He has continued to get better from there.