The running back position at the University of Oklahoma has always been a position of strength. No matter what kind of offense the Sooners have installed, Oklahoma has a long history of great running backs. All top 10 lists are subject to interpretation based on the era and who was able to see these players in action. However, over the last 50 years, it’s difficult to trim the list to only 10 players. Conference and national championships, statistics, games won versus lost, and what these players meant to their collective teams were all part of the consideration. Now, let’s look at the top 10 running backs in Oklahoma football history.
10. Quentin Griffin
The diminutive one ranks number six in career rushing yards at Oklahoma. Griffin was a kid that consistently improved over his career. Additionally, he seemed to put it all together in rushing for 1,800 yards as a senior in 2002. He was part of a pass-first offense in 1999 and 2000. However, as the Sooners became more balanced his value began to intensify. Griffin had 50 career touchdowns as well as 20 triple-figure rushing games in his career.
9. Mike Gaddis
Gaddis was a player that Oklahoma fans may have wondered what could have been. He is 13th in the career rushing mark with 2,726 yards. However, injuries derailed his career into something that could have been a top-five back. Gaddis was electrifying with the ball in his hands and was always a threat to take it the distance. This is evident by his 30 rushing touchdowns in only 443 carries in his career.
8. Greg Pruitt
Many believe Pruitt could be just a byproduct of just how great Oklahoma football was in 1971 and 1972. However, a guy that ranks in the top 10 in career rushing and has the best yards per carry season in program history belongs on this list. The magical 1971 season will go down as one of the best single seasons for a running back in college football history. Pruitt rushed for 1,760 yards, 18 touchdowns, and an incredible 9.0 yards per rush.
7. Demarco Murray
Much like Gaddis, injuries were part of Murray’s past at Oklahoma. The current Sooner running back coach also dealt with sharing the workload in the backfield. However, Murray might be one of the most complete backs in program history. He had 157 receptions for 1,571 yards and 13 touchdowns in his career. Additionally, he ran for 50 touchdowns as well making him the leading scoring in the history of the program that is not a kicker.
6. Billy Vessels
You’re not going to find him near the top of the career rushing marks, but his worth is immense. A National Champion and a Heisman winner need to apologize to nobody. Vessels ran for just over 2,000 yards in his Sooner career in only two seasons. He ran for 30 touchdowns in those two years. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1974 and was the number one pick in the 1953 NFL draft.
As we enter into the top five of the top 10 running backs in Oklahoma football history we land on the leading rusher in program history. Perine leads all Sooners with 4,122 yards at the running back position. Even being the yardage leader, Perine lands at number five in our rankings. Perine was a very consistent back for Oklahoma in Norman and is still the single-game total yards rushing leader in the NCAA. Consider it a testament of just how great the running backs have been at Oklahoma that he’s not higher on the list.
4. Steve Owens
We made it inside the top five in our list of the top 10 running backs in Oklahoma football history. Owens is ranked fifth all-time with 4,041 rushing yards in his career. Owens became just the second Sooner to win the Heisman Trophy in 1969. He holds the record (23) for the most 100-yard games in his career. Additionally, he ranks first with touchdowns with 57 at Oklahoma. In 2006, Owens had a statue built in Heisman Park commemorating his career and Heisman.
3. Joe Washington
“Little Joe” was undoubtedly the flashiest running back of all time. Washington is third-ranked with rushing yards at 4,071 in his illustrious career. He was a two-time, first-team All-American in 1974 and 1975. Additionally, he finished third and fifth in the Heisman in those years as well. Washington went on to become the fourth pick in the 1976 NFL Draft. He went on to become a pro-bowler, Super Bowl champion and has over 4,000 yards in his NFL career.
When you factor in both his collegiate and professional career, you’ll find few players more decorated than Peterson was. Peterson ran for 1,925 yards in his freshman season and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting. His Sophomore and Junior seasons were riddled with injuries that saw Peterson miss time in eight Sooner games. For his career, he finished 75 yards behind Perine in total yards. His game transitioned to the NFL quite nicely as he is one of the most productive running backs in NFL history with 14,820 yards rushing for his career.
1. Billy Sims
The argument can be made for Sims or Peterson at number one. Ultimately, the Heisman Trophy award as well as the rushing yardage leader was what gave Sims the nod. 73 yards was all that separated these two men. Sims was and is one of the more polarizing players in the history of the program. He was the winner of the Heisman in 1978 and finished second in 1979. Many believe he should have been a two-time winner with Charles White winning. Be that as it may, his career took him to be the top pick in the 1980 NFL draft where he rushed for over 5,000 yards.
In Case You Missed It
Each week, we’ll look at another position and break down the top 10 in the history of the program in the Oklahoma greats’ off-season series. Here you can see each position: