Oklahoma Football: The Top 50 Players in Sooners History

Eric PennellCorrespondent IIOctober 14, 2011

Oklahoma Football: The Top 50 Players in Sooners History

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    Michigan might have the most wins and Notre Dame might be the most popular, but in the modern era (inceptions of AP Poll in 1936) no team has been better than the Oklahoma Sooners.

    In that 75-year span, no team has more wins (567), a higher winning percentage (.763), more weeks ranked at No. 1 (100), more points scored (31,436) or more unanimous All-American selections (31). Oklahoma teams own the record for most points scored in a season (702 in '08) and most rushing yards in a season (5,635 in '71).

    The four B's, head coaches Buddie Owen, Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer and Bob Stoops, have each totaled more than 100 wins, a feat no other school can account for.

    Just for fun, OU is also part of the most lopsided in-state rivalry in the country, owning little brothers Oklahoma State with a lifetime record of 82-16. Oklahoma has more shutouts (28) than OSU has wins.

    What am I getting at with all this? A program that has been this good for this long must have a history of incredible athletes. USC is known as "Tailback U" and Penn State is "Linebacker U" but Oklahoma's history at both positions is every bit as deep and talented. OU's run of both offensive and defensive linemen is hard to top as well.

    So, without further adieu, here is my take on the 50 greatest football players in Oklahoma Sooners history.

    Note: I left out current players. There are slides referring to them at the end. Enjoy!

50: JT Thatcher, DB/KR

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    In 2000, JT Thatcher won All-American honors as both a defensive back and a kick returner while also being awarded the Mosi Tatupu Special Teams Player of the Year award. That year he lead the Big 12 in interceptions with eight and left Norman with a handful of kickoff and punt return records. He made several memorable plays during the Sooners' 2000 season in which they won the program's seventh national championship.

49: Mark Hutson, OG/T

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    Mark was a two-time All American ('86, '87) and was described by Merv Johnson, then an assistant coach, as “one of the most fundamentally solid and sound linemen I have ever worked with.” His versatility was key as he played both offensive tackle and guard.

48: Rufus Alexander, LB

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    Rufus was one of the toughest, most durable players in the Bob Stoops era. He had 36 starts over his four-year career including every game in the 2005 and 2006 season. His career culminated in his impressive senior campaign in 2006 in which he led the team in tackles for the second year in a row (118) while winning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and being named an All-American.

47: Jimbo Elrod, DE

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    Jimbo was known for his reckless, all-out play. The 1975 All-American left OU with a school-record 44 tackles for loss along with countless forced fumbles, blocked kicks and big plays. He forced a fumble against Texas great Earl Campbell, setting up OU’s game-winning drive in a classic OU/Texas battle.

46: Trent Williams, OT

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    Trent was one of the best examples of a new breed of hyper-athletic offensive lineman at Oklahoma. He was quick, agile and smart…not just an immovable object. The coaching staff regularly touted Trent as one of the finest athletes they had ever seen. The rest of the country agreed as he won All-American honors in 2009 and was drafted No. 4 overall in the NFL draft after posting an impressive 4.81 second 40-yard dash.

45: Reggie Kinlaw, NG

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    In 1978, Reggie finished second on the team with 120 tackles, an impressive feat for a defensive lineman. That, combined with his dominating 15-tackle performance against Texas earned him his second consecutive All-American nod.

44: Darrell Royal, QB/DB/P/KR

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    Darrell earned a spot on the 1949 All-American squad due to his impressive all-around abilities on the field. He lead his team in passing, had a career-long punt of 81 yards, returned a kickoff 95 yards and is still the all-time career interception leader at OU with 18 picks. Unfortunately for Sooner fans, Darrell later became the top coach in Texas Longhorns history, winning three national championships during his tenure from 1957-1976.  

43: Antonio Perkins , DB/KR

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    Antonio lit up the college football world in 2003 with his incredible return skills. In one game against UCLA, he set records for punt return touchdowns (three) and yards (277) in a performance that will likely never be repeated. He had one more return against Missouri that year to set the NCAA record for punt return touchdowns in a season. He also recorded two interceptions while starting every game that year at cornerback.

    Personal Note

    I was at that UCLA game and probably caused permanent damage to my vocal cords from yelling so much. Incredible performance.

42: Ralph Neely, OL/DL

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    In an interview, Ralph said his favorite thing about playing football was going up against a tough opponent. The big lineman walked the walk in his time at OU, earning All-American honors in both 1963 and 1964 based on his dominant, hard-nosed play on both the offensive and defensive lines.

41: Jackie Shipp, LB

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    Jackie was one of the all-time tackling machines to ever roam the middle of the field at the University of Oklahoma. He holds OU records for tackles in a game (22) and in a season, when he finished the 1981 campaign with 189 tackles. His 489 career takedowns ranks second in school history. After coaching stints in the NFL, Jackie returned to Norman in 1999 as the defensive line coach and has been there ever since.

40: Paul Buddy Burris, OL/DL

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    Buddy was the first in a line of four Burris brothers that would follow in his footsteps at Oklahoma. While not the highest-ranked of his brothers on this list, he did manage to rack up three All-American honors from 1946-1948 while helping spark the ensuing football dynasty in Norman through the '50s.

39: Lucious Selmon , NG

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    Lucious was the eldest in the most famous line of brothers ever to come through Norman. In 1973, he finished second in the Outland Trophy voting for the top lineman in the country, won Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year as well as a berth on the All-American team. 

38: Mike Vaughan, OT

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    Vaughan was a key component on the offensive line in the Sooners’ consecutive national championships in 1974 and 1975. His massive size earned him the nickname “USS Vaughan” was well as All-American mentions in 1975 and 1976.

37: Anthony Phillips, OL

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    Anthony is only one of three Sooners to be named all-conference in all four of his seasons wearing the crimson and cream. The versatile talent was used at guard and tackle while racking up two All-American honors in 1986 and 1987. He was quick and intelligent and was considered one of the best offensive linemen in the country during his years in Norman.

36: Mark Clayton, WR

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    The two-time All-American (2003, 2004) was one of the most dynamic talents to ever grace Owen Field. Mark torched opposing defenses as well as the OU record books, setting seven separate receiving records. He was known as a shifty, slippery athlete that never, ever gave up on a play. He would start, stop, change direction, reverse field…whatever it took for that extra yard.

35: Carl McAdams, C/LB

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    The speedy, versatile bruiser had trouble picking his position upon arrival in Norman, having played literally all of them in high school. Carl (No. 51 in picture) settled in at offensive center and linebacker and earned conference Lineman of the Year along with two All-American honors in 1964 and 1965.

    Head coach Gomer Jones was quite fond of Carl, saying, “He's so quick that he can take two steps the wrong way backing the line, and still recover in time to make the play.”

34: Gerald McCoy, DT

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    Gerald was as reliable as he was productive during his OU career. He owns the school record for most consecutive starts by a defensive lineman with 39. In 2009, Gerald saw nothing but double-teams but still managed to rack up 14.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, 10 QB hurries, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. The eventual third overall pick in the NFL draft was awarded All-American honors in 2008 and 2009.

33: Jim Weatherall, OT

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    Jim was leader on one of the top offenses in the country in 1951, earning his second All-American honor along with the Outland Trophy. In 1992, he was inducted into the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame.

32: Ricky Bryan, DT

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    Ricky, a menacing figure on the defensive line, had an impressive career at OU. He was named to three all-conference squads, earned two All-American spots and won the 1982 Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year award. Despite being the all-time leader for tackles by a defensive lineman at OU (365), his impressive career is sandwiched in between some of the greatest to ever grace the D-line at Oklahoma and tends to be overlooked.

31: George Cumby, LB

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    George’s unmatched combination of size and speed made him an absolute terror for opposing offenses. The two-time All-American (1977, 1979) exploded onto the scene in Norman and never looked back. He was the NCAA Defensive Newcomer of the Year and followed up that performance with two Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year awards.

30: Josh Heupel, QB

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    Our next Sooner great is held responsible for bringing the storied OU program out of the “Dark Ages” of the 1990s. Josh ushered in the new culture of winning and eye-popping offense that is running rampant over college football today.

    In 2000, Josh rewrote the Oklahoma record books while leading his team through an unforgettable journey up the rankings, culminating in a perfect 13-0 record and the school’s seventh national championship. He finished second in the Heisman voting that year by 76 votes, one of the closest margins in history.

29: Teddy Lehman, LB

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    Teddy was the leader on the top-ranked 2003 Sooner defense that is considered today as one of the best units in the school’s rich history. That year he led the team with 117 tackles, 19 for loss, and was awarded the Butkus Award for the nation’s top linebacker after being a finalist for the award the previous year. The high school sprinter had the speed to cover the entire field and was an All-American in both 2002 and 2003.

28: Demarco Murray, RB

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    Demarco finished his prolific career at Oklahoma with his name dotted all over the record books. He is the all-time leader in all-purpose yards (6,718) and scoring (390) while making several other top 10 lists. He was the focus of the offense all four years he was in Norman and, between rushes, receptions and kick returns, touched the ball 969 times.

27: Daryl Hunt, LB

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    To put it simply, Daryl is the most prolific tackler in a long, rich history of linebackers at Oklahoma. His 177 tackles during his sophomore year in 1976 are second all-time in OU history, but the hard-nosed ‘backer wasn’t done there. He finished his career with two All-American nods (1977, 1978) and a whopping 530 career tackles, ranking him No. 1 by a long shot.

26: Greg Pruitt, RB

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    Greg was the featured back in 1971 when Oklahoma’s wishbone offense lead the nation in almost every category. It was a magical year for Greg, as he set school records for rushing yards (294) and all-purpose yards (374) in a game against Kansas State while rushing for an NCAA record 9.41 yards per carry.

    He finished top three in Heisman voting in 1971 and 1972 while earning All-American honors the same years. He became infamous among opposing teams for wearing thin materials for his jersey that easily ripped when grabbed, allowing him to escape tackles.

25: Dewey Selmon, NG

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    The middle of the heralded Selmon brothers, Dewey would have been the best player on a defense that won two consecutive national championships had it not been for his younger brother, Lee Roy, who we will get to later in the list. He and his brother were the most feared defensive duo in the land. Dewey earned All-American honors in the championship years, 1974 and 1975, while compiling 100-plus tackles in both seasons.

24: Greg Roberts, OG

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    Greg won the 1978 Outland Trophy and was a dominant force on an offensive line that helped the Sooners lead the nation in scoring and rushing yards behind Billy Sims. The majority of the plays were run over his position at right guard during his two All-American seasons, 1977 and 1978.

23: Tommie Harris, DT

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    After finishing as runner-up for the 2002 Lombardi Award for the top lineman in the country, Tommie famously vowed to return his junior year and claim the coveted award. To make a long story short, he did just as he said.

    The beast was double-teamed all season, yet still managed to produce a dominant junior year and claim the prize for himself. Tommie became well known when he was featured alone on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline “So Good It’s Scary.”

22: Granville Liggins, NG

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    Granville is regarded as one of the best defensive linemen in OU history not named Selmon. He was a giant at the time but had quickness to go along with it that made him impossible to block.

    "He moves so fast that he looks like he's offsides," said then-Texas head coach and former OU player Darrell Royal. "Many times he'll hit the center before the center can get the ball to the quarterback."

    Liggins was an All-American in 1966 and 1967 while also winning several national Lineman of the Year awards.

21: Zac Henderson, DB

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    This four-year starter, three-time all-conference and two-time All-American defensive back was considered one of the top coverage men in the country his entire career. He capped off his legendary run as a Sooner by intercepting seven passes his senior year and tying the then-record. His career 15 picks ranks fourth all-time as a Sooner.

20: Derrick Strait, DB

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    Derrick made an instant impact as a redshirt freshman, earning Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year in the Sooners’ 2000 national championship season. He went on to start a Sooners-record 53 games while becoming the career leader in interception return yards (397) and passes broken up (53).

    In 2003 Derrick piled up the hardware: All-American, Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Nagurski Award for best defensive player and Thorpe Award for best defensive back. He helped lead the team to a 65-13 win over Texas with 11 tackles, an interception, a 30-yard return, two fumble recoveries and three pass deflections.

19: Jack Mildren, QB

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    If you think today’s offenses are dominant, they were nothing compared to the wishbone offenses Oklahoma became famous for in the 1970s. Jack Mildren was by far the greatest wishbone quarterback for the Sooners and worked his way into an All-American spot in 1971. That year, the Sooners led the nation in rushing yards, total offense and scoring.

    Jack was lightning-quick (4.6 in the 40), extremely accurate throwing the ball (207 passer rating) and was the unquestioned leader on one of the most productive offenses in college football history.

18: Rocky Calmus, LB

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    Rocky defined the linebacker position during his illustrious OU career. The blue-collar ‘backer played through several injuries on his way to becoming one of the most decorated defensive players in Sooner history. He was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a Butkus Award finalist in 2000 while leading his team to a national title. He won the Butkus the next while also being a finalist for the Nagurski and Bednarik Awards.

    He was All-American twice, All-Big 12 three times and led the team in tackles his final three seasons, placing him fourth on OU’s all-time tackle list at 431.

17: Jason White, QB

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    Jason White, or as I like to call him, “The Bionic Man,” battled back from reconstructive surgeries on both his knees to become the first quarterback in OU history to win the coveted Heisman Trophy in 2003. That same year, he plastered his name all over the OU record books, picking up where Josh Heupel left off.

    He was incredibly accurate, leading the nation in passing efficiency and setting an OU record with 16 consecutive completions in a game. You just knew that every time he wound up, the ball was going right where it needed to be.

16: Rod Shoate, LB

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    Rod was so good at tackling running backs because he was probably faster than most of them. His 4.5-second 40-yard dash was unheard of at the time for a linebacker and he had the strength and instinct to go with it. Rod’s freakish talent earned him All-American honors three consecutive years from 1972-1974, only the second Sooner to accomplish that feat, while finishing seventh in the Heisman voting in 1974. His 426 career tackles ranks fifth all-time at OU.

15: Keith Jackson , TE

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    Averaging 28.8 and 27.5 yards per reception your junior and senior years is one thing, but doing it on an offense that ranked near the bottom of the NCAA is another. The all-around talent excelled at receiving, blocking and rushing, making three straight all-conference teams from 1985-1987, the latter two years being All-American years as well.

    Keith was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001 and remains one of the most beloved Sooners in history.

14: Jerry Tubbs, C/LB

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    1956 was a heck of a year for Jerry Tubbs. It began with an Orange Bowl victory for a national championship in a battle of the nation’s top two centers, Tubbs and Maryland’s Bob Pellegrini. He followed that up with a senior campaign earned him the Lineman of the Year award while finishing fourth in the Heisman voting. He was also a top-rated defensive player, picking off three passes against Texas in 1955.

13: Brain Bosworth, LB

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    The Boz might be one of the most memorable Sooners in history. His cocky, flamboyant personality might have gotten under the skin of opposing teams, but it was the fact that he always backed it up that really stuck with them.

    Brain led the team in tackles from 1984-1986 and was all-conference each of those three years. He is the only collegiate player to win the Butkus Award twice and was fourth in Heisman voting in 1986, making him one of the best linebackers to every play college football. His loud mouth led him to be one of the most hated, as well.

12: Adrian Peterson, RB

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    Adrian came into Norman as one of the most hyped recruits in Oklahoma history and, as a freshman, lived up to that hype. “All Day” broke off one of the best freshman seasons for a running back of all time in 2004, setting records for most rushing attempts (314) and 100-yard rushing games (11), including nine straight, while rushing for 1,860 yards and 15 touchdowns. His performance against Texas that year was legendary, showing up Cedric Benson with 225 yards in a 12-0 win for the Sooners.

    He almost became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, but finished second to Matt Leinart in 2004. Injuries hampered what could have been an all-time career for the powerful back, but he still left us with an impressive string of highlights, including my favorite in the video above.

    WARNING: The music is awful. Rob Zombie I think.

11: Kurt Burris, C/LB

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    It is impossible to argue which of the two sets of brothers, Selmon or the Burris, were better for the Sooners. It is much easier to argue, however, that Kurt Burris was one of the meanest, nastiest players in Sooners history.

    His spine-realigning tackles and vicious blocking helped lead the 1954 squad to an undefeated season right in the middle of the 47-game win streak for coach Bud Wilkinson. That year, Kurt was recognized as the Lineman of the Year while finishing a close second in the Heisman voting.

10: Joe Washington, RB

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    “Little Joe” was an electric player for the Sooners, pivotal in their back-to-back championships in 1974 and 1975. Joe was All-American both of those years and made key plays at running back and returning kicks. In 1974, he won several Player of the Year awards, but finished third in the Heisman voting. The speedy, shifty halfback sits second in career rushing yards and all-purpose yards in the OU record books.

9: Jammal Brown, OT

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    It is difficult to compare modern-day offensive linemen with those of the past. Today’s pass-heavy mentality calls for a much different type of athlete and skill set on the O-line than that of the run-first eras. So, to say Jammal Brown is the greatest lineman in a long, rich OU history is hard to back up with any kind of fact; saying he is the best post-wishbone offensive lineman is a much easier statement and one that most are willing to make.

    As a senior in 2004, Jammal became the fifth Sooner to win the Outland trophy while not even allowing a QB hurry, let alone a sack, and paved the way for Adrian Peterson’s record freshman year at running back. He allowed only one sack his junior year and showed his athletic ability by running down a UCLA linebacker on a 72-yard interception return, saving a touchdown.

    Sophomore year? Jamal started every game and had only one penalty all year.

8: Tommy McDonald, QB/HB

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    Tommy McDonald has one of the most interesting and impressive stats I have ever heard. In 1955, he led an undefeated Sooners team in rushing, receiving and passing. All three. He received the Maxwell Award that year for the best player in the country.

    The two-time All-American (1955, 1956) also never played in a game in which he lost, his career spanning coach Bud Wilkinson’s famous 47-game winning streak. The dynamic talent has busts residing in both the College and NFL Hall of Fame.

7: Tony Casillas, NG

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    Tony’s coach, Barry Switzer, labeled him as perhaps the greatest defensive lineman in Oklahoma history. Today, most know him as No. 2, but given OU’s incredible history on the D-line, that is saying quite a bit.

    In 1984, Tony recorded 10 sacks and was named the Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year as well as UPI’s Lineman of the Year. He followed up his impressive junior season by leading Oklahoma to its sixth national championship while becoming the school’s second winner of the Lombardi Award for the nation’s top defensive lineman.

6: Billy Vessels, RB

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    In 1950, Billy lead the team in rushing and receiving on their way to the program’s first national championship. He continued his greatness and, in 1952, won the Heisman Trophy along with every other player and Running Back of the Year honor. He left OU with several records in his pockets, including most rushing yards, all-purpose yards and scoring in a single season (1952).

5: Sam Bradford, QB

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    Slingin’ Sam is one of the best examples of how little recruiting stars mean. A 3-star recruit coming out high school in Oklahoma City, Sam quietly followed in his father’s footsteps and earned a scholarship at OU. Things didn’t stay quiet for long as the redshirt freshman won a six-man quarterback competition (over other higher-rated recruits) before the 2007.

    In his first game, Sam went 21-for-23 for 363 yards in the first half, breaking Josh Heupel’s record. In his next game, he broke Jason White’s consecutive completion record with 22 straight strikes. This was textbook foreshadowing as Sam would go on to rewrite the OU and NCAA record books.

    In 2008, Sam won the Heisman Trophy while leading the highest-scoring offense in NCAA history with 4,720 yards, 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He had everything you could want in a quarterback: pinpoint accuracy, superior arm strength and a bucket of intangibles the size of Memorial Stadium. 

4: Roy Williams, DB

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    Roy Williams will go down as one of the most unique players in college football history, let alone in OU lore. He quickly became known for punishing, brutal tackles and was the most feared player of his time. As only a sophomore, Roy Williams was a starter for the 2000 national championship team and set a school record for tackles for loss by a defensive back with 12.

    His junior campaign saw more of the same bone-crushing display of power, earning him the Nagurski Award for top defensive player in country along with the Thorpe Award for top defensive back. He will always be tied to the most spectacular play in Sooner history, the “Superman” play in the above video. There isn’t a respectable man-room in Oklahoma without a mural of this play hanging on its walls depicting Williams flying through the air toward a helpless Chrissy Simms of Texas.

3: Steve Owens, TB

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    OU has a rich history at several positions including lineman, linebacker and, as of late, quarterback. Given the fact that Steve Owens is the second-best running back in Sooners history, the program is as rich at that position as any other. Billy won the Heisman in 1969 after two consecutive seasons with over 1,500 yards rushing and 20-plus touchdowns. His 4,041 career rushing yards rank fourth all-time at Oklahoma and were a national record at the time.

    Steve tallied 57 rushing touchdowns over his career, which is still No. 1 amongst Sooners, surviving the likes of Adrian Peterson, Demarco Murray, Joe Washington and even our next guest on the list.

2: Billy Sims, RB

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    Not only is Bill Sims the greatest running back in OU history, he is regularly considered one of the greatest of all time, ranked alongside names like Barry Sanders, Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson. In both 1978 and 1979, Billy led the Big 8 in rushing while leading the nation in scoring and setting an all-time NCAA mark at seven yards per carry. He followed up winning the Heisman in 1978 by finishing second in 1979, with many thinking he deserved the award a second time.

    His production and flair on the field helped him run his way to the top spot on the career rushing yards list for Oklahoma and second for career rushing touchdowns.

1: Lee Roy Selmon, DT

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    Luckily, this is the easiest pick to make in the entire list. There is no question in Sooner Nation as to who was the greatest player in Oklahoma history. The Selmon family saved the best for last, as the youngest of the trio, Lee Roy, is considered one of the greatest defensive players to ever step on the field. He won the Lombardi and Outland trophies while being the only defensive player to earn Heisman votes in 1975.

    Lee Roy was big, fast, mean, tough, disruptive, relentless…he embodied every quality you could ever want in a defensive lineman. He later became the first Sooner to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Lee Roy passed away earlier this year, leaving behind a legacy of greatness both on and off the field.

Current Players

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    Ryan Broyles is an absolute shoe-in for the list when he hangs up his college cleats this year. He will end up with every major receiving record at Oklahoma and is on pace to top most of the NCAA career marks well. I imagine he will land in the high teens or low 20s. A Belitnikoff and national championship could move him close to the top 10.

    Landry Jones has the numbers, but needs to bring home some hardware to make this list. A Heisman, a BCS title or a string of Big 12 titles would get him in.

    Travis Lewis has the talent and popularity, but is behind a freakish list of linebackers in OU history. No All-American nods or individual awards hurts his case. Leading the team with 100-plus tackles for the fourth year in a row would help.

    If Tony Jefferson keeps playing at the level he is capable of, he will be the second coming of Derrick Straight. He won Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year as a freshman and is going to move up the all-time interception list quickly, already picking off six passes in his young career.

    Eric Pennell is a Featured Columnist for the Oklahoma Sooners who also covers OKC Thunder basketball (someday...) and EPL soccer. Read more of his articles here. Follow him on  Twitter.