Oklahoma football: Eight Sooners among college football’s 150 greatest players

SAN DIEGO - DECEMBER 29: Running back Adrian Peterson #28 of the Oklahoma Sooners runs against the Oregon Ducks during the first half of the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl on December 29, 2005 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO - DECEMBER 29: Running back Adrian Peterson #28 of the Oklahoma Sooners runs against the Oregon Ducks during the first half of the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl on December 29, 2005 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images) /

As part of its year-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of college football, ESPN has produced a ranking of the 150 greatest college players. The illustrious list includes eight former Oklahoma football players.

No school placed more than nine players on the College Football 150 list. Notre Dame and USC both placed nine on the distinguished list. The eight from Oklahoma was the second most from any school. Seven former Ohio State and Alabama players made the list.

Jim Brown, who played college ball for Syracuse from 1954-56 — during arguably the greatest three year period in the 125-year history of Oklahoma football — was voted the greatest college player of all-time. The top five includes No. 2 Herschel Walker (1980-82), the great Georgia running back, followed by Bo Jackson of Auburn (1982-85), two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin of Ohio State (1972-75) and the great Jim Thorpe, who played for Carlisle in the early years of the 1900s (1907-12).

Billy Sims is the highest-ranked Sooner on the 150 Greatest list, at No. 20, which ironically was the jersey number worn by Sims in his four seasons at Oklahoma from 1975-79. As the story goes, Barry Switzer called Sims at a Hooks, Texas, gas station where he worked to continue recruiting him. Only, the call was made at halftime during one of the Sooners’ games.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

Sims rushed for 3,813 yards and 50 touchdowns as a Sooner and won the Heisman in 1978 as a junior. He finished second in the Heisman voting in 1979, losing out to Charles Davis of USC.

The eight Sooners that made the list of the 150 greatest college players span six different decades, two centuries and include three Heisman winners. The list includes five running backs, a tight end, a quarterback and a defensive lineman and represents four different coaching eras.

Lee Roy Selmon, a defensive lineman at Oklahoma between 1972 and 1975, was the second-highest Sooner, coming in at No. 34 on the list. One of three Selmon brothers to play at Oklahoma, Lee Roy won the Lombardi and Outland awards his final season at OU and was the No. 1 overall pick (by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) in the 1976 NFL Draft. The Sooners were 32-1-1 while Selmon was there.

After Selmon died of a stroke in 2012, Barry Switzer said, “No Sooner player cast a longer shadow over (Oklahoma’s) rich tradition than Lee Roy.”

Adrian Peterson is No. 45. Peterson is one of a long list of running backs from Texas who elected to cross the Red River to play college football at Oklahoma. The runner-up in the 2004 Heisman Trophy balloting (to Matt Leinart of USC), Peterson, the player they nicknamed “AD” (for “All Day”), rushed for 4,045 yards and 41 touchdowns in three injury-plagued seasons at OU. In his freshman season, Peterson broke several NCAA freshman rushing records.

Running back Steve Owens is No. 95. He rushed for 3,867 yards and 56 touchdowns playing for Oklahoma from 1967-69. He set what at the time was an NCAA record with 17 consecutive games of at least 100 yards rushing. He carried the ball 358 times for 1,523 yards and scored 23 touchdowns his senior season. He won the Heisman Trophy, the third Sooner to do so, his senior year, despite playing on a 6-4 Oklahoma team.

No. 107 on the list is tight end Keith Jackson, perhaps the greatest tight end to play at Oklahoma. Jackson caught 62 passes for 1,740 yards, and averaged nearly 24 yards per catch, in an OU wishbone offense that rarely put the ball in the air.

Greg Pruitt is No. 128. The two-time All-American played for head coach Chuck Fairbanks and offensive coordinator Barry Switzer at Oklahoma from 1970 to 1972. The 5-foot, 9-inch, 177-pound running back was lightning quick and a perfect fit for OU’s introduction of the wishbone offense. The ESPN writers wrote of Pruitt: “(He) proved you can’t tackle what you can’t touch.”

During his time at Oklahoma, Pruitt rushed for 2,844 yards, 35 touchdowns and 3,990 all-purpose yards.

A list of the greatest Oklahoma Sooners wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of at least one player who played for the legendary Bud Wilkinson. Enter No. 142, Tommy McDonald, who played at OU during the Sooners’ NCAA-record 47-game winning streak. He accounted for 2,254 yards of total offense and 35 touchdowns while at Oklahoma and never lost a game. The Sooners were 31-0 the three seasons he was there.

In his senior season, in 1956, McDonald scored 17 touchdowns, passed for three more and won the Maxwell Award as the best all-around player in college football that season. He finished third in the 1956 Heisman voting.

Baker Mayfield walked on at two college programs, including at Oklahoma, which didn’t even recruit him. He left OU in 2017, after three seasons as starting quarterback, as the most accomplished quarterback in the illustrious history of Sooner football, which is enough to earn him the 150th and final spot on the College Football 150 list.

Mayfield passed for 14,607 yards in his college career (one at Texas Tech and three at Oklahoma). His 131 touchdown passes is tied for fourth in Football Bowl Subdivision history. He was a Heisman finalist for three consecutive years and won the award in 2017.

While Mayfield was the OU starting QB, the Sooners won three straight Big 12 championships and appeared in two College Football Playoffs.