Hang Half-a-Hundred on 'Em: Looking Back on OU's 50 Conference Titles Part 2

In part two of our five-part series, SI Sooners recaps the end of the Switzer era leading into the rise of Bob Stoops.
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In 2020, the Oklahoma Sooners won their 50th conference title, four more than second place Nebraska. Every Friday this summer in our Hang Half-a-Hundred on ‘Em series, SI Sooners takes a look back at every single conference championship season in OU history.

Part 1: 2007-2020

2006: Curtains for AD

Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson

Capping off the eight-year cycle of Bob Stoops leading the Sooners to a Big 12 Championship every other year, Oklahoma fans got their last look at Adrian Peterson in a season of highs and lows. The preseason began with Rhett Bomar being kicked off the team for NCAA violations, and Paul Thompson reassuming the quarterback job. After rolling past UAB and Washington to start the season, the Sooners headed to the West Coast for a game that would live in infamy. In a rematch of the previous season’s Holiday Bowl, OU faced off with Oregon, but left Eugene with a unforgettable and bitter loss. Erasing an early 10-point deficit, the Sooners stormed back to hold a 33-27 lead over the Ducks with just 1:12 left. On the ensuing onside kick, running back Allen Patrick emerged from the pile with the football, yet the Pac-10 officiating crew conducted an extensive review and inexplicably deemed Oregon had retained possession. Moving the ball down the field on a controversial pass interference call, the Ducks escaped with a 34-33 victory. Two games later, things would get worse as the Sooners lost to Texas 28-10, and then Peterson broke his collarbone flipping into the end zone against Iowa State, a punctuation on a tough first half of the season. Thompson and the Sooners rebounded, and due to a late season slide from the Longhorns, the Sooners earned a berth in the Big 12 Championship Game, where they beat Nebraska 21-7. Though Peterson returned for the Fiesta Bowl, Boise State’s catalogue of trick plays caught OU by surprise, and the Broncos upset Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime.

2004: Finish

Jason White

Jason White

It didn’t take long for Stoops to turn the reigns over to Peterson, as the Sooners added one of the most highly touted recruits in the nation to a core that nearly won the national title a year before. On just 16 carries against Bowling Green, the freshman ran for 105 yards and a touchdown. He opened his career with four 100-yard games, but Peterson's real breakout came against Texas. Rushing for 44 yards on his first touch, Peterson gouged the Longhorns for 225 yards on 35 rushes, leading OU to a 12-0 win in the Cotton Bowl. After beating Oklahoma State 39-35, Oklahoma dominated Colorado 42-3 in Kansas City to capture the Big 12 crown. The National Championship Game would be one to forget, however, as Pete Carroll’s USC Trojans ran the Sooners out of the Orange Bowl 55-19.

2002: Parade of Roses

Quentin Griffin

Quentin Griffin

Though they fell short of their national title aspirations, Oklahoma fans were treated to a program first to close the 2002 season. Beating Alabama 37-27 in the second game of the season, back-to-back performances in October proved Stoops to be more than a one-hit wonder, as his team looked the class of the Big 12 for the third straight year. After topping Texas 35-24, Heisman frontrunner Seneca Wallace brought his No. 9-ranked Iowa State Cyclones to Norman. Entering the contest averaging 39 points per game, Wallace's offense was completely shut down, as the quarterback was held to just 4-of-22 passing and three interceptions in the 49-3 rout. The Sooners were stunned in College Station as Aggies offensive coordinator Kevin Sumlin turned to true freshman quarterback Reggie McNeal, who tossed four touchdowns to upset top-ranked OU 30-26. Later in November, Stoops dropped his second straight contest to Oklahoma State, as the Cowboys rode a 28-6 halftime lead to hang on for the 38-28 upset in Stillwater. Despite the two losses, the Sooners still represented the Big 12 South in the conference championship game, and handled Colorado 29-7 to earn a berth in the program’s first-ever Rose Bowl. Stoops and Co. rang in the New Year with a 34-14 victory over Washington State in college football’s most prestigious bowl game.

2000: The Giant Awakens

Bob Stoops

Bob Stoops

In just his second year in Norman, Stoops put the Sooners back on the map. Starting off 4-0, OU entered the Cotton Bowl seeking its first win over Texas since 1996. Behind Quentin Griffin’s six rushing touchdowns, OU chased the Longhorns out of Dallas with an emphatic 63-14 victory, starting a run which would affectionately become known as “Red October.” A week later, Josh Heupel took the show on the road to No. 2 Kansas State, where OU jumped out to a 17-point halftime lead to upset Bill Synder’s Wildcats 41-31 and set up a massive tilt against Nebraska. Hosting the No. 1-ranked Cornhuskers, the Sooners went down early, allowing Nebraska to score touchdowns on their first two possessions. Nebraska wouldn’t score again. Heupel’s 300 passing yards sparked the offense, and the Sooners won 31-14, sending Oklahoma fans onto Owen Field in droves to celebrate OU’s return to the pinnacle of college football after more than a decade of sorrows. Torrance Marshall’s 41-yard pick six in College Station kept OU’s undefeated season alive against Texas A&M, and Derrick Straight’s fourth-down swat helped OU survive against Oklahoma State, setting up a Big 12 Championship rematch against Kansas State. Dispatching the Wildcats 27-24, Stoops took his 10-point underdog Sooners to the Orange Bowl to meet Heisman Trophy Winner Chris Weinke’s Florida State Seminoles. Flexing their muscles one final time, the Oklahoma defense shut out the Florida State offense, only allowing Bobby Bowden’s team to score on a safety after the ball was snapped well over OU punter Jeff Ferguson’s head and Ferguson smartly ushered the ball out the back of the end zone. Finishing the year 13-0 after winning the National Championship Game 13-2, Stoops secured his place in Oklahoma history, delivering the program’s seventh national title.

1987: Game of the Century II

Barry Switzer and Tom Osbourne

Barry Switzer and Tom Osborne 

Winners of four straight Big Eight titles, the 1987 season represented legendary coach Barry Switzer’s 12th conference crown as a Sooner. Quarterback Jamelle Holieway rushed for 807 yards, leading the Sooners to an undefeated regular season. OU outscored their opponents 462-75 over the first 10 games of the season, setting the table for the No. 2-ranked Sooners to head to Lincoln to face the No. 1 Nebraska Cornhuskers. Reportedly over 900 media credentials were issued for what was billed as the “Game of the Century II,” but Oklahoma would exact its revenge in the sequel, dominating the game 17-7. After Nebraska’s opening touchdown, the OU defense didn't allow another first down until until the 5:40 mark of the third quarter, silencing one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. Meanwhile, Charles Thompson's option pitches to Anthony Stafford and Patrick Collins (the latter 65 yards) resulted in touchdowns that put the Sooners in command. In the Orange Bowl, Oklahoma succumbed to Jimmy Johnson’s Miami Hurricanes for the third straight year, losing 20-14 as the Hurricanes won another national title.

1986: Escape From Lincoln

Brian Bosworth and Jamelle Holieway

Brian Bosworth and Jamelle Holieway

Retiring one of the best defenses in college football, Oklahoma was one game away from securing its second straight national championship. After dominating UCLA and Minnesota, Switzer’s Sooners hit the road, hoping to avenge the previous season’s loss to the Miami Hurricanes. Led by Heisman hopeful Vinny Testaverde, the Hurricanes extended their lead to 14-3 via a touchdown pass to tight end Charles Henry early in the second half. On the ensuing kickoff, Anthony Stafford fumbled the ball and Miami cashed in to go up 21-3, putting the game out of reach. The Sooners staged a late rally, but ultimately came up short, falling 28-16. The OU response was strong, dominating all challengers in Big Eight play until their meeting with Nebraska at the end of the year, including the original 77-0 — an easy victory against the Missouri Tigers in Norman. In Lincoln, OU would again stage a late rally, coming all the way back from a 17-7 deficit to stun the Huskers. Driving 94 yards on 11 plays, Holieway’s 17-yard pass to Keith Jackson leveled the game with just under a minute and a half remaining. After holding the Cornhuskers and forcing them to punt, Holieway would again connect with Jackson, this time for 41 yards, to allow OU to attempt a last-ditch field goal. With just six ticks left on the clock, Tim Lasher knocked the ball through the uprights to complete the comeback, as the Sooners escaped Lincoln with a 20-17 victory and the Big Eight title. The nation’s best defense showed out in the Orange Bowl, as the Sooners contained No. 9 Arkansas in their 42-8 victory.

1985: Holieway’s Emergence

Joe Paterno and Barry Switzer

Joe Paterno and Barry Switzer

Installing a new offense for quarterback Troy Aikman, the Oklahoma Sooners took care of business against Minnesota, Kansas State and Texas to open the season. Hosting the Miami Hurricanes in the fourth game of the season, OU’s fortunes changed. Already without stud nose tackle Tony Casillas, Aikman was injured late in the second quarter as two Hurricane defenders (including Jerome Brown) hit him from both sides, forcing the true freshman Holieway into the game. Unable to overcome the early Miami lead, the Sooners fell 27-14. But then Holieway and the Sooner offense found a new groove, complimenting the dominant defense led by Casillas and Brian Bosworth with a full-blown return to Switzer's beloved wishbone. Reeling off eight straight victories to close the season, OU met No. 1 Penn State in the Orange Bowl with a National Championship on the line. Dominating Joe Paterno’s team, three first-half field goals by Lasher as well as a 71-yard strike from Holieway to Jackson put the Sooners up 16-10 at halftime. Shutting out the Nittany Lions in the second half, Bosworth logged 12 tackles and the OU defense picked off Penn State four times to stroll to a 25-10 victory, sealing the program’s sixth national title.

1984: The Birth of the Boz

Brian Bosworth

Brian Bosworth

Playing five ranked opponents, the Sooners posted a 9-2-1 record in 1984, clinching a share of the Big Eight title and another trip to the Orange Bowl. After enduring a 15-15 tie against the top-ranked Texas Longhorns, Mack Brown’s OU offense would sputter over the next two weeks. Surviving Iowa State 12-10 the game after Texas, Oklahoma would then be upset 28-11 by the unranked Kansas Jayhawks in Lawrence. Led by Casillas (10 sacks) and Bosworth (a freshman), OU's defense came alive. Bosworth led the team in tackles and pushed Oklahoma to a four-game winning streak, including back-to-back wins over No. 1 Nebraska and No. 3 Oklahoma State to capture a share of the conference title and punch their ticket to a matchup with No. 4 Washington in the Orange Bowl. After trading 14-point quarters to head into the locker rooms tied 14-14, the Sooner Schooner of all things took center stage in the fourth quarter. Lasher knocked through a 22-yard field goal, but a jersey infraction meant the kick would have to be re-taken. In the meantime, the Schooner had trotted out onto the field, but gotten stuck on the water logged grass of the Orange Bowl, and the referees assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on OU. Now a 42-yard field goal, the Huskies blocked the re-kick, helping Washington outscore Oklahoma 14-3 over the final 15 minutes to win 28-17.

1980: Big Eighth Straight

Barry Switzer

Barry Switzer

Dropping two of their four non-conference games, OU’s national title aspirations were over before they really got into the meat of the season in 1980. Falling to John Elway and Stanford 31-14 in Norman and then again to the Texas Longhorns 20-13 two weeks later, quarterback J.C. Watts was able to rally his troops and guide Oklahoma to an unbeaten mark in conference play. Watts led the Sooners with 1,037 passing yards, and was buttressed by David Overstreet’s 720 yards on the ground as the Sooners pounded their way through the Big Eight slate. Escaping Lawrence with a 21-19 victory, Oklahoma then beat Nebraska 21-17 and Oklahoma State 63-14 to wrap up the conference title. Heading out to the Orange Bowl to meet Florida State, the Sooners topped the No. 2 team in the country 18-17 with some late-game heroics from Watts. Down by seven late in the game after a punt went wrong for OU, handing Florida State the go-ahead touchdown, Watts drove the Sooners 78 yards and found Steve Rhodes for the 11-yard TD strike with just 1:33 remaining on the clock. With Switzer opting to go for the 2-point conversion instead of the tie, Watts again went to the air, connecting with Forrest Valora to clinch the Sooner victory.

1979: Billy’s Historic Finale

Billy Sims

Billy Sims

Watts was joined by Billy Sims in the Oklahoma backfield, forming one of the most dynamic 1-2 punches in college football. Winning their first four games in style, the Sooners met up with the Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl for a top-five clash. After an early Watts touchdown pass put OU in front 7-3 in the first quarter, Texas went on to score 13 unanswered points to hand Oklahoma its only loss of the season. But the Sooners won their last seven games, including a 24-22 win over Missouri and a 17-14 triumph over No. 3 Nebraska. OU capped off the season with a 24-7 victory over No. 4 Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Sims finished the year with 1,670 yards and 23 touchdowns, leaving him as the all-time leading rusher in Oklahoma history with 4,118 yards, where he would remain until Samaje Perine took over the top spot in 2016.