(Editor’s note: There was plenty ridiculous about Oklahoma’s 47-17 win over Kansas last Saturday night, but there was a really big sublime. Rather than the usual weekly breakdown column, we’re going to pay homage to the focus of the game’s big story.)
When he first got to Oklahoma’s campus back in 2007, I figured Ryan Broyles’ time as a Sooner would be short.
Whispers about the local four-star recruit’s conduct in high school gained a full head of steam that fall. Authorities pinched Broyles shoplifting gas at a Norman convenience store, triggering an automatic redshirt freshman season that essentially served as a one-year suspension.
If you follow any major college football program, you know that these stories usually end with the player yet again running afoul of the law or breaking an “unspecified team rule,” getting booted from school and taking his talents to a junior college.
Broyles is writing a different ending to his story.
Last Saturday night in Lawrence, he became the all-time leading receiver in NCAA history after snaring his 317th career grab. Fittingly, Broyles broke the record on a 57-yard touchdown pass from his trusty quarterback, Landry Jones. He ended the night with 13 catches for a career-high 217 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Although the numbers themselves are impressive, Broyles has done far more for the Sooners in the last four years than simply fill out the stat sheet. He has become the key cog in Oklahoma’s dominant offensive machine and possibly the most productive player in school history.
Broyles made a big splash in his first season, 2008, when he caught 46 balls for nearly 700 yards and proved to be the most explosive scoring threat on one of the most explosive offenses of all time. Then, with OU’s season crashing down around him as a sophomore in 2009, Broyles all but carried the Sooner offense on his back for 13 games. (That included a fractured left shoulder in an early-season game at Miami – he didn’t miss a game all season.)
Last season, Broyles led the country in catches and helped OU right the ship. The Sooners ended a two-game losing streak to Texas, won a seventh Big 12 conference crown under Bob Stoops and ended years of frustration with a win in a BCS bowl game.
Now, Broyles and the Sooners are again working on the biggest goal of all: a national championship. Behind performances like No. 85′s career night versus the Jayhawks, OU is undefeated and ranked third in the first BCS standings for 2011. Win the next six games and Broyles will get a third Big 12 ring and another shot at the BCS title.
You’ll also have a tough time finding anyone around the program who will speak a disparaging word about Broyles. I don’t know the guy, but watching him from afar, in no way, shape or form does he resemble the supposed troublemaker who first came to OU back in ’07. The constant jawing and taunting on the field that used to be part and parcel of his game appear to be gone, replaced by scriptures sent out via Twitter to go along with declarations of love for his new fiancée.
Broyles deserves credit for his maturation on and off the field, but what about his place in history?
Skeptics might point out that Broyles has played in a dynamic offensive system with a fondness for passing and running as many plays as possible. Of course he’s going to compile huge numbers when his team throws the ball 50-plus times per game.
The offense undoubtedly juices up Broyles’ stats, but there’s another side to that coin. Without talents like Broyles, OU’s high-octane O would run less like a Ferrari and more like a Ford Focus. And while Broyles’ aptitude for finding holes in a defense certainly works well in the Sooners’ scheme, he has plenty of other skills – quickness, burst, concentration, blocking ability – that would make him a valuable asset in any offense. Bottom line: He’s far from a mere product of the Sooner system.
Either way, stats alone don’t get you a place in the pantheon of great receivers. Few would consider those close to Broyles on the list of career receptions to be among the best pass catchers in college football history – guys like Davone Bess and Taylor Stubblefield and Rashaun Woods. Like those predecessors, Broyles doesn’t have the ability to dominate college defenses to the extent that players like Larry Fitzgerald and Randy Moss did.
Well, maybe I’m just a little biased, but you’ll have a tough time finding a receiver who has been as valuable to a program that has enjoyed the level of success Oklahoma has had during Broyles’ time on campus.
That sounds like greatness to me.