Oklahoma football: ‘Quarterback U’? What about ‘Heisman U’?

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

Over the years, individual and collective accolades for Oklahoma football have been a horn of plenty.

Earlier this year, both ESPN and Sports Illustrated designated Oklahoma as the new ‘Quarterback U’ of college football.

That represents an interesting juxtaposition from the Oklahoma teams of the 1970s and ’80s, when Barry Switzer’s Sooners lined up and ran the ball down the throats of their opponents, operating out of a power-running offensive design known as the Wishbone.

The Sooners rarely put the ball in the air in the Wishbone years, Switzer being an advocate of the philosophy that three things can happen when you pass the football, and two of them are bad. Oklahoma quarterbacks in that era were recruited for their speed and running ability and not so much for their ability to throw the forward pass.

That all changed when Bob Stoops came to Oklahoma as head coach and brought with him an offensive coordinator named Mike Leach, who had spent time as an assistant under the head coach known as the father of an unorthodox, pass-oriented the Air Raid offensive attack known as the Air Raid. Hal Mumme was the teacher, and Leach became his star pupil.

Stoops recruited Josh Heupel out of a community college in Utah, and Heupel quarterbacked the Sooners to a perfect 13-0 record and a national championship in 2000. The Sooners embraced the forward pass with the southpaw Heupel at quarterback, going 20-5 in the two seasons he was at OU as a player.

Heupel finished second to Chris Weinke of Florida State in the 2000 Heisman voting, but the Sooner QB got the last word, defeating Weinke and Florida State 13-2 in the Orange Bowl to complete an undefeated season and win the BCS national championship.

What Heupel started 20 years ago, a foursome of Oklahoma quarterbacks who followed him were able to finish, bringing home college football’s most prestigious individual prize, the Heisman Trophy, to Oklahoma.

Oklahoma football as the new “Quarterback U”? How about Heisman U”?

QB Jason White was the fourth Oklahoma Heisman winner, in 2003, and five years after that the prestigious award was bestowed on another Sooner signal-caller, Sam Bradford.

Lincoln Riley arrived in Norman in 2015 as offensive coordinator, replacing Heupel. That fortuitously also happened to be the first season for Baker Mayfield as the Oklahoma starting quarterback. We all know how positively that relationship worked out. Mayfield was invited to New York as a Heisman finalist in 2016, and in 2017 he beat out Bryce Love, a running back from Stanford, and another quarterback, Lamar Jackson of Louisville, the previous year’s winner, to win the award.

Mayfield’s backup in 2017, Kyler Murray, took the Oklahoma quarterback reins for the 2018 season, and under Riley’s tutelage became the second consecutive Sooner quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy, beating out Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama, who had been the Heisman frontrunner for much of the season.

Two seasons as OU head coach and Riley had produced two Heisman winners at the quarterback position. Riley’s third season as head coach marked the third straight year Oklahoma would have someone new as the starting quarterback. That someone in 2019 was Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts, who had built his reputation at Alabama as someone who was better utilizing his legs than his arm.

In Riley’s offensive system at Oklahoma, Hurts’ size and strength allowed him to pick up plenty of yards on the ground (he led the Sooners with 1,298 rushing yards, the highest single-season total for an Oklahoma quarterback), but he also surprised the experts with his passing efficiency and accuracy.

Hurts led the nation last season in yards per pass attempt (11.3) and was second in passing efficiency rating (191.2), yards per completion (16.3) and points responsible for per game (22.9) and total touchdowns accounted for (53). That was good enough to earn him the second most votes in the 2019 Heisman balloting.

With four quarterback Heisman winners and two QBs who finished as Heisman runners-up in the past 20 years, it’s pretty easy to understand why Oklahoma has a legitimate claim to the national branding as “Quarterback U.”

And the cycle may not be over. The reputation Oklahoma quarterbacks have earned in Lincoln Riley’s offensive system has now been passed to former No. 1 quarterback prospect Spencer Rattler. Before last weekend, Rattler had thrown just 11 collegiate passes, but the Las Vegas oddsmakers have given him the second best odds, behind Trevor Lawrence of Clemson, to win this year’s Heisman.

And oh, by the way, the Sooners have a commitment from the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2021 class, Caleb Williams

In addition to the four Heisman winners, the Sooners also have three runners-up and eight Heisman finalists since the turn of the century, the most of any school. Only one of the eight was not a quarterback.

Oklahoma’s seven Heisman winners is tied with Ohio State and Notre Dame for the most all-time.

If you narrow the Heisman snapshot to the first two decades of the new millennium, however, there shouldn’t be any question which school is “Heisman U.”