Staying home OK with Peterson

By George Schroeder
Staff Writer

NORMAN - Adrian Peterson just smiled. Yes, he planned to watch the Heisman Trophy presentation.

"I've gotta watch it, man," Oklahoma's sophomore tailback said.

He wouldn't have missed it for anything.

Except, of course, that he did miss it.

A year ago, Peterson was in New York, not Norman. He finished as the runner-up to USC quarterback Matt Leinart -- the highest finish ever by a freshman.

And Saturday night? Peterson said Thursday he would watch ESPN's live broadcast at his off-campus apartment, just hanging out with his friends.

"I'll just sit back and relax," Peterson said. "I'll just have some fun and enjoy myself."

Not being in New York this weekend?

"It's cool," he said. "But that just gives me a little bit more motivation. I'll just get back there next year, hopefully."

Before the season, it sure looked like Peterson could have booked his reservations. He entered the season on everybody's Heisman short list. But as Reggie Bush, Vince Young and Leinart gained momentum, Peterson fell off the radar screen when OU lost three of its first five games and (more importantly) when he suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him for all or most of four mid-season games.

And so even though Peterson rebounded to finish strong -- he rushed for 626 yards and eight touchdowns in the last four games and totaled 1,024 yards and 14 TDs -- he stayed home. But Peterson made this declaration: He will be back.

"I don't really feel I have to go out and prove anything," Peterson said. "I feel like people know what the deal is. It's not something I'm worried about, but I wish the injury wouldn't have occurred. Maybe I could have been there (in New York)."

Peterson hopes his fast finish and a big performance against Oregon in the Holiday Bowl will vault him back into the 2006 Heisman picture. It might not take that.

"He will be right back in it," said ABC Sports analyst Terry Bowden, the former Auburn coach. "Absolutely. It will be Adrian and (Notre Dame quarterback) Brady Quinn."

Add Young, if the Texas quarterback returns for his senior season.

"Those will be the frontrunners," Bowden said.

Bowden said Peterson's fall this season actually began with OU's offensive struggles, and the early losses. Even had Peterson remained healthy, Bowden said, he might not have kept up with Bush, Young and Leinart in voters' evaluations.

Bowden noted OU's offensive progress during the season. He said he expects the Sooners to start 2006 in better shape offensively, with a settled, experienced quarterback and receivers. And that should greatly benefit Peterson.

"Assuming everything is OK offensively, (Peterson's) numbers will be there," Bowden said. "And he'll be back in (the Heisman race). ... He might be No. 1."

Looking back, Peterson said it's still hard to comprehend what he accomplished as a freshman. He rushed for 1,925 yards and 15 touchdowns and was named an All-American. But his proudest moment might have been making the trip to New York as a Heisman finalist.

There, he soaked in the moments, hanging out with his teammate, 2003 Heisman winner Jason White, and with Bush and Leinart.

"I had a great time. I had always talked about doing it," Peterson said. "It's something I wanted to accomplish. But to sit back and feel like I actually did it was kind of amazing."

Peterson and almost everyone else expected a repeat performance in 2005. That it didn't happen, for whatever reason, was disappointing to the Sooners, of course. But OU offensive coordinator Chuck Long said he expects Peterson to be "hungry" in 2006.

"That's what you want," Long said. "Those (honors) are things you can't take for granted. It doesn't happen to everybody, and it doesn't happen overnight. When you go through a tough year, the positive you get out of it is, 'Hey, I'll come back hungry next year and go get after it.' "

And so Peterson planned to watch the Heisman presentation Saturday night -- with an eye on next year.

"I've gotta watch it," he said. "Because I want to win it."

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