Oklahoma football celebrates 70th anniversary of Sooners first national title

The Sooner Schooner takes the field (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
The Sooner Schooner takes the field (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images) /

This coming season marks the 70th anniversary of the first national championship in Oklahoma football history.

They say the first national title is always the hardest one to get. While it took 55 years for the Oklahoma football program to reach the college football summit, they’ve captured six other national championships in the 70 seasons since then.

Only Alabama with 12 and Notre Dame with eight have won more national championships in football in the Associated Press era than Oklahoma.

Bud Wilkinson was in his fourth season as the Oklahoma head coach in 1950. His teams had won the conference championships in each of his first three seasons (1947 as a member of the Big Six Conference, and in 1948 and ’49 after the conference admitted Colorado to expand by one and became the Big Seven) and compiled an overall record of 28-3-1.

The Sooners began the 1950 season ranked No. 6 in the Associated Press Preseason Poll, although they had ended the 1949 season ranked No. 2 behind national champion Notre Dame. That included a 35-0 win over No. 9 LSU in the Sugar Bowl.

Oklahoma won its first three games in 1950, defeating Boston College 28-0 in the home opener before 36,000 fans at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, followed by wins over Texas A&M and a dramatic 14-13 come-from-behind victory late against longtime rival Texas in Dallas.

The Sooners’ win over the No. 4-ranked Longhorns moved them to No. 2 in the AP Poll.

Oklahoma defeated Kansas State, Iowa State, Colorado, and Kansas over the next four weekends by the average score of 35-10.

On the third Saturday in November, top-ranked Ohio State lost to No. 18 Illinois. Meanwhile, Oklahoma was winning handily at home against Missouri, 41-7. The combination of the Ohio State loss and the OU win moved the Sooners to No. 1 in the country for the first time under Wilkinson.

The 2020 season marks the 70th anniversary of OU’s first national title.

The Sooners closed out the 1950 regular season with rivalry wins at home against Nebraska (49-35) and Oklahoma State, which wasn’t yet the eighth member of the conference (41-14).

With a perfect 10-0 record, Oklahoma was the Big Seven representative in the Sugar Bowl, where they would face No. 7 Kentucky, coached by the legendary Paul Bear Bryant. By today’s offensive standards, the game was a defensive game with both teams combining for just 416 yards of total offense.

Kentucky scored single touchdowns in the first and second quarters while holding Oklahoma scoreless to take a 13-0 lead to halftime.

The Oklahoma defense shut down Kentucky in the second half, but the only score the Sooners could muster in the game was a fourth-quarter touchdown that came on a 17-yard pass by halfback Billy Vessels to Merrill Green. An Oklahoma comeback effort was foiled on an intercepted pass by Kentucky in the final minute of play.

Despite the 13-7 loss to Kentucky, Oklahoma was still voted the No. 1 team in the country by the AP and recognized as the NCAA national champion.

Five Sooners were named All-Americans that season: right end Frankie Anderson, halfback Buddy Jones, fullback Leon Heath, quarterback Claude Arnold and left tackle Jim Weatherall. Heath gained 684 rushing yards that season but was overshadowed in that category by the sophomore Vessels, who totaled 870 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.

Two seasons later, in 1952, Vessels rushed for 1,072 yards, averaging 6.4 yards per carry, and became the first of seven Oklahoma players to win the Heisman Trophy.

Wilkinson’s teams would win a couple more national championships in that same decade (in 1955 and 1956) and between 1953 and 1957 set an NCAA record, winning a remarkable 47 consecutive games.

The year 1950 put Sooner football on the national radar to stay and established Oklahoma’s national championship recognition, a reputation that remains ingrained in the Oklahoma brand still today.

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