It doesn't seem like all that long ago that Bob Stoops and the Sooners were on top of the world, hoisting the national championship trophy.
But it's been long enough - 20 years, in fact - that three members of Oklahoma's most recent title team are up for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Stoops, the 2000 AP Coach of the Year at OU, headlines a trio of Sooners that appear on the 2021 ballot. Joining him are quarterback Josh Heupel and safety Roy Williams, two of the key contributors to Oklahoma's undefeated 2000 championship team.
Stoops' nomination comes as no surprise, as he enjoyed as successful a coaching career as any of his contemporaries. Under his guidance, the Sooners claimed ten Big 12 titles and won every individual BCS bowl at least once. They made four total appearances in the BCS national championship game during Stoops' tenure, and boasted two Heisman Trophy winners (Jason White in 2003 and Sam Bradford in 2008).
Stoops stepped down as Oklahoma's head coach in June 2017 after compiling a record of 190-48 over eighteen seasons. His successor, former offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, has led the Sooners to three consecutive College Football Playoff appearances. However, the program's first title since that magical 2000 run remains elusive.
Stoops and Heupel are somewhat joined at the hip in Sooner lore, as both arrived in Norman in 1999 to help revitalize a dormant program. Oklahoma hadn't logged a winning season since 1993 when brand-new athletic director Joe Castiglione brought in Stoops. In turn, the Sooners' new head coach lured Heupel, a little-known junior-college quarterback, to OU.
The southpaw from South Dakota immediately thrived in a revamped, pass-heavy Sooner offense. After beating out Patrick Fletcher and Jason White in preseason camp, Heupel threw for 3,460 yards and 30 touchdowns in 1999, and Oklahoma finished with a respectable 7-5 record. That set the table for one of the greatest seasons in program history.
Oklahoma finished the regular season 12-0 and earned a berth in the Orange Bowl as Heupel rewrote the passing chapter of the Sooners' record book. The senior threw for 3,606 yards, earned All-American honors, and was named AP Player of the Year. He finished second in the Heisman voting to Chris Weinke, but he'd get the last laugh eventually. Heupel's Sooners outdueled Weinke's Seminoles 13-2 in the Orange Bowl, and Oklahoma claimed its first national title since 1985.
In just two seasons with Stoops on the sidelines and Heupel at the helm, the Sooners had gone from inept to immaculate.
As for Williams, he's best remembered for his 'Superman' play against Texas in 2001, in which he leaped over the line of scrimmage to deflect a Chris Simms pass. Teddy Lehman caught the tipped ball and returned it for a 2-yard touchdown, sealing a 14-3 Oklahoma victory.
Williams would go on to win both the Nagurski Award and Thorpe Award that year, and the Dallas Cowboys selected him with the eighth overall pick of the 2002 NFL Draft. In nine professional seasons with the Cowboys and Bengals, Williams made five Pro Bowls.
Should Stoops, Heupel and Williams make the cut for the Hall of Fame, they'll be inducted on Dec. 7, 2021 in New York.
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