Oklahoma's amazingly accurate and quick-thinking quarterback won the Heisman on Saturday night after guiding the highest-scoring team in major college football history to the national championship game.
A year after Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman, Bradford became the second and kept the Florida quarterback from joining Archie Griffin as the only two-time winners.
Bradford, who leads the nation in touchdown passes with 48, received 1,726 points. Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was second with 1,604 and Tebow-who received the most first-place votes-was third with 1,575 points.
Bradford got 300 first-place votes, McCoy 266 and Tebow 309.
"I was definitely surprised and I think it's everything I imagined," said Bradford, who raised the 25-pound bronze statue with his left hand still in a cast from a recent surgery. "I think it will take a couple weeks to set in."
It was the closest vote between the top two since Nebraska's Eric Crouch edged Florida's Rex Grossman by 62 points in 2001. The only other time the margin between first and third was smaller was also '01, when Miami's Ken Dorsey was 142 points behind Crouch.
Bradford and the No. 2 Sooners (12-1) will face Tebow and the No. 1 Gators (12-1) on Jan. 8 in Miami, marking the second time Heisman winners will play against each other. The first was in the 2005 Orange Bowl, when '04 winner Matt Leinart and Southern California beat '03 winner Jason White and Oklahoma for the national title.
The Big 12 South was the epicenter of college football this season, with both the national championship race and Heisman chase turning weekly on games played by its three powerhouse teams.
McCoy was the early Heisman front-runner after leading the Longhorns to the No. 1 ranking with a victory against Oklahoma in October. Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, who finished a distant fourth in Heisman voting, then moved to the forefront after he tossed a last-second, game-winning touchdown pass to beat Texas a month later.
But Bradford closed strongest, leading his team to a string of blowout victories, including one against Texas Tech, and a spot-even if it was somewhat controversial-in the BCS title game. Bradford leads the nation in passer rating (186.3) and has thrown for 4,464 yards, directing the Sooners' fast-paced, no-huddle offense.
Oklahoma has already racked up 702 points to blow past the record of 656 set by Hawaii in 2006, and last week the Sooners became the first major college team in 89 years to score at least 60 in five straight games.
"This is an individual award but I feel like I'm receiving it on behalf of my teammates," Bradford said. "I feel like our whole offense bails me out every game," Bradford said. "They make me look good."
Bradford is the fifth Oklahoma player to win the award, and second during coach Bob Stoops' 10 seasons with the Sooners.
Bradford matched White by taking home college football's most famous bronze statue. Next he'd like to join Josh Heupel, his position coach and a Heisman runner-up, who quarterbacked OU to the 2000 national title.
"You were one of my heroes growing up," Bradford told Heupel.
Bradford wasn't projected to be the Sooners' next star quarterback coming out of high school in Oklahoma City. He arrived in Norman with little fanfare and not enough weight on his 6-foot-4 frame.
Rhett Bomar was the much-hyped, five-star recruit two years earlier, but he was kicked off the team because of NCAA violations. Turns out, losing Bomar wasn't that big a loss.
After redshirting in his freshman season, Bradford won the starting job last year and it took him little time to show that he had no plans of giving it up.
Bradford went on the set an NCAA record for TD passes by a freshman with 36. He completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,121 yards and led Oklahoma to an 11-3 season. And he was only warming up.
While no match for Tebow and McCoy as a runner, Bradford's Heisman moment came on a scramble against Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale. He sprinted away from pressure, turned up the sideline and about 5 yards from the end zone tried to vault headfirst to the goal line. Bradford got hit and flipped, arms and legs whipping around, and landed hard out of bounds, but popped right up. On the next play, he sneaked into the end zone from a yard out.
The face of the Sooners' latest national championship contender has also become a hero to a nation.
Bradford is 1-16th Cherokee, through his great-great grandmother Susie Walkingstick. Bradford admittedly knew little about his Native-American roots growing up, but he's developed an enormous following among Oklahoma's large Native-American population. Then again, these days it'd be hard to find anyone more popular throughout Oklahoma than Bradford.