Oklahoma Sooners Football: 10 Best Bowl Game Victories in School History
Long-time Oklahoma Sooner fans aren't hard-pressed to remember satisfying bowl wins; the Crimson and Cream have won 26 bowls in the program's storied history.
Seven national championships and 43 conference crowns mean the bar is set pretty high in Norman, where every year the Sooners are expected to compete for a national title.
The Sooners have won more national championships than almost every other program, but winning it all is a rarity for even the best. When surveying OU history, failing to revisit Oklahoma's impressive bowl victories, even the ones that didn't result in national championships, would leave the football fan with an incomplete picture of Sooner football.
With that in mind, here are the 10 best bowl game victories in the history of Oklahoma football.
10. 1949 Sugar Bowl: OU 14, North Carolina 6
In Bud Wilkinson’s first of many bowl games as OU head coach, the fifth-ranked Sooners upset the undefeated Tar Heels and All-American quarterback Charley “Choo Choo” Justice.
Oklahoma linebacker Myrle Greathouse had arguably the play of the game, picking off a Justice pass at the Sooner 7-yard line and returning it 69 yards to the UNC 14, setting up quarterback Jack Mitchell’s rushing touchdown and setting the tone for the game.
The win was a sign of things to come for OU football under Wilkinson; the legend would lead the Sooners to five more bowl victories, three national championships and a 47-game winning streak that still hasn’t been broken.
9. 1954 Orange Bowl: OU 7, Maryland 0
Defense, one of the finest traditions at Oklahoma, won this game for the Sooners. The Terrapins, who had been declared regular season national champs, were stuffed twice inside the Sooner 10-yard line. OU tailback Larry Grigg had the lone score of the game, a 25-yard jaunt in the second quarter.
Despite the loss, Maryland was still the consensus national champion. For Oklahoma, however, the win marked the ninth consecutive victory of what would become the legendary 47-game winning streak.
Interestingly, the contest was the first postseason bowl game in which players were required to play on both sides of the ball.
8. 2005 Holiday Bowl: OU 17, Oregon 14
After a trying 7-4 regular season, the Sooners were rewarded with a matchup against 10-1 Oregon in San Diego. Going into the fourth quarter of a defensive contest, OU led the Ducks 17-7.
UO quarterback Brady Leaf led a 78-yard scoring drive, and after a quick three-and-out by the Sooners, the Ducks had the chance to march down the field and win the game. After slicing the OU defense and moving the ball to the Sooner 19-yard line, Oregon had Sooner fans holding their collective breath, knowing their team needed a big play to pull out the win.
They got just that when linebacker Clint Ingram made an impressive leaping interception that, if thrown with a little more touch, could have been the game-winner for Oregon. Instead, OU fans were rewarded with a thrilling victory and satisfying finish to a humbling season.
7. 1950 Sugar Bowl: OU 35, LSU 0
The largest margin of victory in Oklahoma bowl history came against an LSU team that had embarrassingly been caught spying on Sooner practices the week before the game.
The 10-0 Sooners, Bud Wilkinson’s first undefeated squad in Norman, was ranked second in the nation heading into the contest, and they would leave no doubt as to which team was superior. OU running back Leon Heath, who would be named the game’s MVP, rushed for 170 yards on 15 carries and scored on runs of 86 and 34 yards.
Unfortunately, the Sooners failed to win the national championship that season, as 9-0 Notre Dame had been declared the champs before the bowl season even started.
6. 1968 Orange Bowl: OU 26, Tennessee 24
After an impressive 10-1 regular season and Big Eight championship in Chuck Fairbanks’ first season at the helm, the third-ranked Sooners were pitted against No. 2 Tennessee in what would turn out to be a very entertaining contest.
Oklahoma running backs Ron Shotts and future Heisman Trophy winner Steve Owens delivered for the Sooners on the ground, combining for 150 yards and two touchdowns, despite the best efforts of the vaunted Volunteer defense, led by linebackers Steve Kiner and Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds.
Despite enjoying a 19-0 lead at halftime, the Sooners were unable to put away UT, which fought back to make it 26-24 with less than five minutes to play.
After stopping Owens on fourth down, the Vols marched down the field and set up for a potential game-winning field goal. Luckily for OU, the kick missed wide right, preserving the win for the Crimson and Cream.
5. 1981 Orange Bowl: OU 18, FSU 17
After stifling the undefeated Seminoles the previous season on the same field, Sooners turned the tables on FSU by setting aside their highly successful wishbone attack and resorting to the pass.
Despite turning the ball over via fumble five teams (with seven fumbles overall), quarterback J.C. Watts’ and Co. were still in it against the top-ranked defense in the nation, trailing 17-10 with 3:19 left to play from their own 22-yard line.
Watts showed he was more than just a running quarterback by throwing for 74 yards and marching the Sooners to the FSU 1-yard line, capping the glorious drive with a touchdown pass to split end Steve Rhodes.
Still trailing 17-16, Watts fooled the Noles once again by tossing one to tight end Forrest Valora, putting OU on top for good at 18-17 in what would be Oklahoma’s third straight Orange Bowl win.
4. 1956 Orange Bowl: OU 20, Maryland 6
The 31st win of a streak that would end at 47 was a special one for Bud Wilkinson and the Sooners, who would capture the program’s second national championship with a 20-6 win in a rematch with Maryland, the team that had started OU’s win streak two years earlier.
In a prelude to the high-tempo Sooner offense of recent times, star quarterback Tommy McDonald led a hurry-up attack that proved to be very effective, leading to two rushing touchdowns and rendering the Terrapins exhausted and confused.
Maryland refused to give up, but two clutch interceptions by Jerry Tubbs and Carl Dodd, with Dodd returning his 82 yards for a touchdown, sealed it for OU and returned the Sooners to the apex of college football.
3. 1986 Orange Bowl: OU 25, Penn State 10
The Miami Hurricanes spoiled OU’s perfect season early in 1985, but the Sooners’ rebounded remarkably from the setback, winning seven straight games decisively, capturing the Big Eight title and earning yet another trip to Miami, this time to face the top-ranked and undefeated Nittany Lions, the sixth squad that Joe Paterno had led to an unblemished regular season record.
Although the Lions scored on their first drive, the Sooners dominated the rest of the contest. Kicker Tim Lashar delivered on four field goals, and fullback Lydell Carr bolted 61 yards for a rushing touchdown to make it 25-10 and put the dagger in Penn State.
The play of the game, though, was without question the 71-yard bomb on 3rd-and-24 in which Sooner quarterback Jamelle Holieway threw one as far as he could and watched superstar tight end Keith Jackson take care of the rest, putting OU up for good in the second quarter.
Defensively, all-world linebacker Brian Bosworth turned in an impressive 13-tackle performance, and the Sooners intercepted PSU four times, paving the way for an OU victory and the program’s sixth national championship.
2. 1976 Orange Bowl: OU 14, Michigan 6
If not for Ohio State, this game wouldn't have been nearly as meaningful. However, the No. 1 Buckeyes, by being upset in the Rose Bowl, gave the opportunity to Barry Switzer's first bowl-bound Sooner team to capture a national championship if they could prevail over Bo Schembechler's fifth-ranked Michigan Wolverines.
OU didn't disappoint. A 39-yard end-around touchdown run by Billy Brooks in the first quarter and a nine-yard scamper by quarterback Steve Davis proved to be enough for the Sooners, who held the Wolverines to 202 total yards and a lone rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter. The win was the second of three national championships under Switzer and Oklahoma's fifth overall.
1. 2001 Orange Bowl: OU 13, Florida State 2
Despite a miraculous regular season in which the Sooners had beaten five ranked teams in a “Red October,” including No. 2 Kansas State and No. 1 Nebraska in back-to-back weeks, the nation’s lone undefeated team and Big 12 champions headed south as an underdog to Heisman winner Chris Weinke and the mighty Florida State Seminoles in what would be the fourth matchup between the tradition-rich programs.
After hearing all about the unstoppable FSU offense leading up to the game, the Oklahoma defense turned in the performance of a lifetime, shutting out the Seminoles’ offense and forcing Mr. Heisman into two interceptions and a game-changing fumble deep in his own territory which led to the lone touchdown of the night, a 10-yard run by Quentin Griffin.
If not for a bad snap that sailed over punter Jeff Ferguson’s head and led to a safety, the Seminoles, who had averaged over 40 points per game in the regular season, would have been shut out, an unprecedented occurrence (to this day) in the BCS title game.
The win put the exclamation point on a 13-0 storybook season for second-year coach Bob Stoops and the Sooners, returning Oklahoma to national prominence, bringing a seventh championship to Norman and starting another golden age for OU football. "Sooner Magic" had returned.