Oklahoma football: Heismans and NCAA titles tied at seven

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Kyler Murray and head coach Lincoln Riley of the Oklahoma Sooners poses for a photo after winning the 2018 Heisman Trophy on December 8, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Kyler Murray and head coach Lincoln Riley of the Oklahoma Sooners poses for a photo after winning the 2018 Heisman Trophy on December 8, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

The Oklahoma football family and faithful like the saying “Count my rings,” referring to the Sooners’ seven national championship, in touting the school’s enormous success and rich football tradition.

While schools like Kentucky, Kansas and Duke are almost universally thought of as basketball schools, Oklahoma is immensely proud to be recognized as a football school first and always and one of college blue bloods in the sport.

You don’t need any more proof of that than the famous quote by former University of Oklahoma president George L Cross. A year or two after OU had won its first national championship. while Dr. Cross was defending a budget request before the appropriations committee of the state legislature, a member of the committee asked him what kind of a football team the Sooners were going to have that year.

Frustrated by the process and surprised by the question, Dr. Cross thought about it a minute before responding:

"“We want to build a university our football team can be proud of.”"

That quote, although almost 70 years old, speaks volumes about how Sooner fans and the university feel about their football team.

Oklahoma has added six more national championship trophies since then, and the Sooners are in the hunt for another this season as one of the four teams vying for No. 1 honors in the 2019 College Football Playoff.

Oklahoma has not won a national championship since 2000, although it has had it chances, playing in three other BCS national championship games and making its fourth appearance, and third in a row, in the College Football Playoff.

The Sooners have not lacked for national accolades, though, since ringing in the new century with national championship hardware. Since the 2000 national championship season, four different Oklahoma quarterbacks have been awarded the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most prestigious individual prize.

In fact, Oklahoma players have won the last two Heisman: Baker Mayfield in 2017 and Kyler Murray last season. And another Oklahoma quarterback, Jalen Hurts,  is in New York City again this year as one of the four finalists invited to the 2019 Heisman Trophy presentation ceremony on Saturday night.

Fourteen years before Mayfield won the Heisman, OU quarterback Jason White won it, in 2003, and five years later, Sam Bradford (2008) won the award.

Added to the three Oklahoma Heisman winners during the second half of the last century, the Sooners boast seven Heisman recipients in their history, which ties OU with Ohio State and Notre Dame for the most Heisman winners all-time.

Hurts, who has played just one season for the Sooners, coming to Oklahoma as a graduate transfer following the 2018 season after three seasons at Alabama, will not win this year’s Heisman, breaking OU’s two-year hold on the college game’s top individual award.

Joe Burrow, quarterback for LSU, Oklahoma’s opponent in the College Football Playoff semifinals on Dec. 28, is heavily favored to take home this year’s Heisman.

Nevertheless, Hurts is the fifth Oklahoma Sooner to be invited to New York as a Heisman finalist in the last four years, which puts OU in rarified air as far as Heisman Trophy is concerned. Mayfield and Dede Westbrook were finalist in 2016, Mayfield again in 2017 and Murray in 2018.

USC matched that number between 2002 and 2005 with Carson Palmer (2002), Matt Leinart (2004 and 2005) and Reggie Bush (2004 and 2005) being named finalists. All three won the Heisman, although Bush later relinquished his as a result of NCAA violations.

Oklahoma had a similar run in the early 2000s, with four Heisman finalist in five years: Josh Heupel (2000), Jason White (2003 and 2004) and Adrian Peterson (2004).

The first Heisman ceremony in New York that included more than just the winner was held in 1982, according to an article by Jason Kersey, who covers Oklahoma sports for The Athletic. Since that time, Oklahoma has had 11 Heisman finalists, Kersey writes, the most of any school. Miami (Florida) University is next with nine and Alabama has had eight. Both Miami and Alabama have had two Heisman winners.

Interestingly, none of OU’s Heisman seasons (1952, 1969, 1978, 2003, 2008, 2017 and 2018) coincides with a national championship year (1950, 1955, 1956, 1974, 1975, 1985, 2000).

The Sooners have perfect symmetry — 7 national championship trophies matched by 7 Heisman Trophy winners (and soon the same number of life-sized bronze statues) — but they’re certainly not opposed to adding more of either in the future.