NORMAN — Adrian Peterson's NFL stock keeps rising. Yes, that's right. Rising. The broken collarbone? A blessing to the pros that covet one of the world's 10 best running backs. At least that was one theory in the Texas Stadium press box Sunday, and sound it is. Some sad-sack NFL franchise, the Texans or the Raiders or the Packers, is tickled today that Peterson has played his last game at Owen Field. That's half a season's worth of hits Peterson will miss out on. A tailback's body can sustain only so many hits; Peterson's future employer prefers as many as possible occur not in Oklahoma crimson. So don't hold out hope that an unfulfilled college career — no Heisman Trophy, no national title, maybe not even the OU career rushing record — will give Peterson pause to return for his senior season. He will be picked first, maybe second, in the NFL draft and no way does he drop below third. Running backs like this don't often come along. Truth is, the broken collarbone accelerates Peterson toward the NFL for a variety of reasons. The disappointing 2006 will not make him hunger for another college rodeo. It will make him realize what a drag it is to not play and not get paid. Peterson's big decision is not whether to turn pro. It's whether to turn pro now, as in this week. And yes, he will be given that opportunity. The underworld of sport, where shady agents and marketers dwell, has been on Peterson's trail for two years, and no doubt has intensified the search now that Peterson has little left to lose in his college career. "Maybe they'll be more aggressive," OU coach Bob Stoops said Monday night. "I believe they have been anyway." Peterson will be tempted. Sign with an agent now, he will be told, and start reaping the riches that come with being this talented. Drop out of school now; why bust your butt in a sociology class when a $50 million contract awaits next spring? Peterson will think about it. Who wouldn't? But he's better off keeping his options open. Better off working to get healthy and leaving open the chance to play in a bowl game, because that's the prudent thing to do. Drop out of school or sign with an agent, and Peterson's college career is over. It might be anyway, if doctors advise against him playing in a late-December bowl game, but better to keep all doors open. Stoops said Peterson is a "strong-willed" person who has done a laudable job keeping unscrupulous influences at bay. "I have a hard time finding AD myself sometimes," Stoops said. "I trust him; he's been awfully good with me, communicating. I know AD to be a pretty strong-willed young guy." Will Peterson want to play in a bowl game? His roommate, fellow tailback Allen Patrick, said, "I have no idea." But OU flanker Malcolm Kelly said: "I'm pretty sure he's focused on getting healthy. But I think he wants to come back, knowing him and his work ethic." I vote with Kelly. Peterson needs 151 yards to break Billy Sims' OU career rushing record of 4,118 yards. Peterson will not equal Sims as a Heisman winner; why not take aim at the record book? Look at it this way. Peterson loves to play. He's played hurt. He's played long. He's never slacked off. The only real criticism I've ever had of Peterson is sometimes he tries too much. Does that sound like a guy who wants to shrug off a bowl game? But for that to happen, he must ward off those who want him to take a shortcut to riches. That money will be there and soon. Peterson is smart enough to know that. I say he's back for the bowl game.
Colorado at Oklahoma
Saturday, 6 p.m. • Where: Norman, Gaylord-Family Memorial Stadium. • TV: FSN (Cox 37) • Radio: KOKC-AM 1520, KRXO-FM 107.7