Oklahoma football is a program steeped in history and tradition. The Sooners have seven national championships, 45 conference titles, five Heisman Trophy winners and their 861 wins makes them the seventh winningest program in Division I college football. In this article we’ll take a look at the top four most important figures in Oklahoma football history, otherwise known as the “Mount Rushmore” of Sooner football. There are so many players and coaches that won’t make this, as would happen with any program as rich in tradition as Oklahoma, but that certainly doesn’t mean they didn’t matter to the program.
Oklahoma Football Mount Rushmore
Bud Wilkinson was the head coach at Oklahoma from 1947-1963, where he enjoyed much success. In his first year, Wilkinson led Oklahoma to a 7-2-1 record, sharing the conference title with the Kansas Jayhawks. Then in 1949, they went undefeated and ended the year with a bang by defeating LSU 35-0 in the Sugar Bowl. The Sooners were not awarded a national championship that season, but they won the championship the next year. The 1950 championship was the first in Oklahoma history and, in 1952, halfback Billy Vessels became the Sooners first Heisman Trophy winner.
The following season Wilkinson and Oklahoma enjoyed the start of a major winning streak. After losing to Notre Dame and tying Pittsburgh to start the 1953 season, the Sooners didn’t lose or tie another game until 1957 when they lost to Notre Dame. Before that loss to the Irish, Wilkinson helped lead the Sooners to a streak of 47 straight wins, a record in college football that still to do this day has never been seriously matched. During that time Oklahoma won the 1955 and 1956 national championships. It should also be noted, the Sooners won the conference 14 times from 1946-1959. Oklahoma was also undefeated in conference play during that time, the only blemishes were two ties. While Oklahoma was a good program before Bud Wilkinson got there, the talented coach took the program to another level and he certainly deserves to make this list.
Barry Switzer took over at Oklahoma in 1973 and he is the second head coach to make this list. Oklahoma was on probation for two years, from 1972-1973 and they couldn’t play in a bowl game those seasons. But that didn’t stop the Sooners from finishing undefeated in 1973 with a 10-0-1 record, tying number one USC on the season. In 1974, Oklahoma finished 11-0 and were awarded the national championship. That was the first time since 1956 that the Sooners were national champions. Switzer’s teams in the 1970’s had a record of 73-7-2 in 7 years. The early 1980’s saw Oklahoma start to slip a little, losing four games in 1981, 1982 and 1983, but the Sooners rebounded in 1985 by winning another national championship under Switzer. With Switzer at the helm the Sooners also won 12 Big 12 conference championships.
Running back Billy Sims played for the Sooners from 1975-1979. While injuries plagued Sims in his first couple of seasons, he really broke out in 1978. That season the talented back rushed for 1,762 yards on 231 carries, while averaging 7.6 yards a carry, en route to winning the Heisman Trophy. Sims was also impressive the next season and was the runner up in the Heisman voting in 79. In the 1979 game against Nebraska, Sims rushed for 247 yards against the number one rushing defense in the country at the time. The former Heisman winner led the nation in rushing with 1,896 yards that season and had 22 touchdowns. Sims became the first running back in big 8 history (now big 12) to rush for 200 yards in three consecutive games and he ended his OU career with 3,813 career yards, most of those yards being in his final two seasons.
Adrian Peterson was a running back for the Sooners from 2004-2006. In his freshman campaign, Peterson broke several NCAA freshman rushing records, including rushing for 1,925 yards and leading the nation in carries with 339. In each of his first nine games, the now Minnesota Viking, rushed for 100-plus yards, a freshman record. Peterson finished his freshman season as the runner up in the Heisman trophy race.
In 2005, Peterson had a broken foot, so his playing time was limited. Despite losing playing time in four games, the talented back rushed for 1,208 yards and 14 touchdowns on 220 carries, and finished second in the Big 12 rushing yards. Peterson finished his career at OU with 4,245 rushing yards in his three seasons, finishing behind Billy Sims by just 73 yards. If Peterson didn’t have some injuries to deal with, he probably would have surpassed Billy Sims record.