Big 12: Bennie Owen

Oklahoma's Mount Rushmore

February, 12, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma's three legendary coaches made for an easy trio of anchors on my personal Sooner Mount Rushmore, leaving room for the greatest football player in school history as my fourth selection.

And you think it's easy to do that?

Here are my selections:

  • Bud Wilkinson -- The father of modern Oklahoma football and a pretty good football analyst during my youth. He set the school record with 145 victories, including an NCAA FBS record 47-game winning streak from 1953 through 1957.
  • Barry Switzer -- The lovable rogue who perfected the wishbone offense with scores of great Texas expatriates. It helped him finish with 157 career triumphs, three national championships and a share of every Big Eight title from 1973 to 1980.
  • Bob Stoops -- The most successful coach in Big 12 history has claimed six Big 12 titles, including an unprecedented current streak of three straight championships. Recent BCS title games haven't been kind to him, but he still claimed the 2000 national championship in only his second season as the Sooners' head coach.
  • Billy Sims -- He still makes Heisman Trophy presentations a lively affair, particularly when an Oklahoma player wins the award. He won the Heisman in 1978 and finished second the following season, leading the nation in rushing and scoring in both seasons.

I had many potential nominees for the Oklahoma football Rushmore. A case could be made for Bennie Owen, Billy Vessels, Tommy McDonald, Jerry Tubbs, Bob Kalsu, the Selmon Brothers, Brian Bosworth, Tony Casillas, Prentice Gautt, Granville Liggins, Keith Jackson, Roy Williams, Tommie Harris, Rocky Calmus, Josh Heupel, Adrian Peterson and Jason White.

I could go on and on.

And if he has another Heisman-winning season, it might be especially hard to argue with that Sam Bradford fellow, too.

Anybody I've forgotten, or grossly underrated or overrated?  

Sooners' prestige restored by Castiglione, Stoops

January, 23, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

It wasn't a surprise that Oklahoma was ranked as the No. 1 team in the ESPN Prestige Rankings. The Sooners have been a consistent, dominant program since the end of World War II.

Oklahoma's football history has been dotted by success crafted by larger-than-life characters and memorable teams. Hall of Famers like Bud Wilkinson, Bennie Owen and Barry Switzer roamed the sidelines en route to the College Football Hall of Fame. Legendary players like Tommy McDonald, Jerry Tubbs, Lee Roy Selmon, Billy Sims and Steve Owens all have been key Sooners over the years.

But the recent return of Sooner mystique has only come since Bob Stoops took over the program in 1999, which came about after the hiring of Joe Castiglione as athletic director a few months earlier.

Sure, the Oklahoma program has endured a run of big-game struggles in recent seasons. But it has gotten to the big game with more consistency than any other Big 12 program with an unprecedented current streak of three-straight conference championships. Oklahoma has won 39 conference championships -- seven more than any other program in the country.

That recent run is a startling transformation since the start of the Big 12 era, which marks the starting point of my own close inspection of the Oklahoma program. I had followed it from a distance, marveling at their blowout victories and cocksure attitude under the charmingly roguish Switzer.

And to say the least, I was shocked at where Oklahoma was in the mid-1990s. Owen Stadium wasn't nearly the palace I imagined. The Sooners were a conference laughing stock under the direction of a less-than-stellar array of coaches like Gary Gibbs, Howard Schnellenberger and John Blake who all had struggled to match Switzer's "Sooner Magic."

I remember when Schnellenberger bragged that they would write books and make movies about his time at the school. After a 5-5-1 record during his 1995 season, I'm still waiting.

And Blake, a popular former Oklahoma player and assistant coach, also struggled mightily during his  run from 1996-98.

Blake's 12-22 record during his coaching tenure featured three-straight losing seasons in the Sooner program for the first time since 1922-24. Blake changed his offenses three times in 1998, his final season, as the Sooners limped to a 5-6 season.

Castiglione had been hired as the school's athletic director only a few months before. He made the difficult but necessary decision to jettison Blake in favor of a transformation after only one season.

Stoops was his first major hire and the rest has been history. Stoops has claimed six Big 12 titles over the last nine seasons, a period where no other conference rival has won more than one.

To see the Oklahoma program at its current level compared to where it was only 10 years ago, it has been a remarkable transformation.

It's been one where leaders of a prestigious program have seen change coming and been willing to embrace it, keeping the Sooners ensconced at the rarefied levels of the past.

And it's the biggest reason why the Sooners program has maintained its prestige over such a long period of time.

Stoops humble about Sooners' historic three-peat

December, 7, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Bob Stoops hates the mere mention of the "D" word.

A historic three-peat of Big 12 titles convincingly provided the Oklahoma coach with his record sixth Big 12 championship after the Sooners' decisive 62-21 victory over Missouri.

 Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
 Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops won his sixth Big 12 Championship, 62-21, over Missouri Saturday night.

And the slight hint about whether the Sooners have staked a dynasty during their recent run was enough to make Stoops blanch.

"I don't go into any of those words," Stoops said. "That isn't me. You won't get me into saying that."

Maybe Stoops won't. But quarterback Sam Bradford understands how special the Sooners' recent run of success in the Big 12 has been.

"For us to win three straight Big 12 championships, it just shows what type of team we have around here and the chemistry we have," said Bradford, who became the only quarterback in Big 12 history to win more than one championship. "Everyone wants the same thing around here. And that's to win."

Stoops and the Sooners' have continued the success that helped carry the Oklahoma program to seven national championships. And it can be argued that the recent sustained run through the Big 12 has been more impressive than the earlier work of Barry Switzer, Bud Wilkinson or Bennie Owen because the Big 12 has been harder than any of the Sooners' previous conference affiliations.

"I've been around the Big 12 since the inception and realize the parity and how hard it is to get these," Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "The guys who have been around here have set a precedent and we expect to be in this position. And to win it three years in a row is very special."

The Sooners have now won six Big 12 titles in the league's 13-season history. Nebraska and Texas are next with two conference championships. And no other coach in league history has won more than one.

Still, Stoops said nothing was to be expected with this team -- particularly with its recent controversy qualifying for the championship game by nosing out Texas despite losing to the Longhorns in an earlier game this season.

"I never count on the fact that just because you've been good before that you're going to be now," Stoops said. "I guess I say you have to earn it every time. And this team has persevered through a lot."

While some might have doubted whether Oklahoma deserved to be in Kansas City as the Big 12's South Division representative before the game, their performance Saturday answered many critics.

The Sooners rang up 60 points for an NCAA record fifth-straight game. They rolled up 627 yards of total offense and notched their fifth victory over a ranked team this season.

Their roll started from the beginning of the game, scoring on the opening possession for the 11th time in 13 games. And they proceeded to blow the game open with a 28-point blitz in the second quarter.

Oklahoma was forced to punt only once in the game, converting 12 of 16 third-down plays against the beleaguered Missouri defense. They had no turnovers, no sacks and scored all nine times they got the ball inside the red zone.

Winning like they did proved that the Sooners belong in the BCS title game -- even if some might have doubted whether they really belonged in Kansas City.

"There was a lot of talk this week about how we didn't deserve to be in this game," Bradford said. "We didn't get a lot of credit for what we had done this year. There was a lot of motivation for us to come out and play well and prove to everyone in the country that we belonged in the game."

Tailback Chris Brown understands that some weren't ready to accept that the Sooners deserved to play in the championship game. He didn't care, as long as his team made the most of its opportunity.

After three Big 12 titles in his first three seasons at Oklahoma, Brown wants more in the future.

"You know, we're still building around here," Brown said. "It's a big accomplishment to get three championships. But next week we'll start talking about getting four."

Surging Sooners on pace to set scoring records

December, 4, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Big scoring numbers have always been a bragging point around the Oklahoma program.

Barry Switzer was the first coach who brought "hanging half-a-hundred" on an opponent into the common vernacular during the 1970s. And before that, coaches like Bud Wilkinson and Bennie Owen also had their own offensive binges that helped make the Sooners the scourge of defenses everywhere back in the day.

Highest Scoring Teams in
College Football History
Source: College Football Data Warehouse, research

But all of those great teams in Sooners history might pale compared to the current Oklahoma team, which is riding a sizzling offensive wave into Saturday's Big 12 Championship Game against Missouri.

The Sooners have scored at least 61 points in each of their last four games and have scored at least 45 points in all but two games.

Quarterback Sam Bradford leads a group of seven Sooners who were chosen to the coaches' All-Big 12 offensive team. And the group collectively might be the most balanced attack in the history of the conference.

"Our quarterback is good with the ball and we don't make a lot of bad decisions," Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. "Our running game has made some plays. We've got some nice receivers. Our line is productive. I'd like to say it's fancy planning, but it's not. It's just the kids executing and a great quarterback managing the whole thing."

The Sooners enter Saturday's game with 640 points for the season, a total that has been eclipsed by only five teams in the last 106 seasons of college football history.

If the Sooners can maintain their 53.3 point per game clip in the Saturday's championship game and a bowl game, it will make them one of three teams in college football history to score more than 700 points in a season. And a huge finish might provide them with an outside shot to break the college football single-season scoring record of 765 points, set by Harvard in 1886.

Of course, scoring rules are much different today than for those 19th-century teams. But it's an indicator that there may have never been a more balanced team in modern football than the current Sooner squad.

(Read full post)

Big 12 links: Stoops turns 48 with hopes of ending road woes

September, 11, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Bob Stoops turned 48 earlier this week. And while the Oklahoma coach is revered in the Sooner State, it wasn't a holiday or anything.

At least not that we know of.  

Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel put his spin on Stoops' birthday in a unique way. He compared the career stages for other notable Oklahoma football coaches when they turned 48.

Barry Switzer's wishbone was struggling a little when he turned 48 in 1985 with Troy Aikman as his starting quarterback. Bud Wilkinson was in the middle of his run for the U.S. Senate in 1964. Chuck Fairbanks was trying to rebuild a struggling program at Colorado, well after his salad days at OU. Bennie Owen was getting ready for his 19th season as the Sooners' head coach. And Howard Schnellenberger was preparing for his fourth season as Miami's head coach, only 23 victories into his college head-coaching career.

With Stoops apparently excited about continued coaching at Oklahoma, it will be interesting to see what happens for him in the years after his 48th birthday.

Of a more immediate interest for him will be his team's trip to Washington to attack some nasty road karma. Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle writes that Stoops currently has a nation-best 20-game home winning streak at Owen Field. During that same time, the Sooners are a more pedestrian 12-9 on the road.

Those recent road woes have raised the stakes for Saturday's game at Husky Stadium.

"For me, this is the game of the year because this sets the tone for our future road games and sets the tone for our team," redshirt freshman LB Travis Lewis told the Chronicle. "It's easy playing in front of 85,000 who love you, but what about the 80,000 who hate you?"

It will make Saturday's game the biggest test for the Sooners so far this season. If Stoops can win, he would become the fourth OU coach to have won 100 games during their careers at the school, joining Wilkinson, Switzer and Owen.

Pretty select company, indeed.

Kind of like being included with these morning links: