Oklahoma football: Twenty-one years ago was Sooner perfection

3 Jan 2001: Quarterback Josh Heupel
3 Jan 2001: Quarterback Josh Heupel /

Count’em: Three weeks from today — 21 days — until the opening kickoff of the 2021 Oklahoma football season.

What’s significant about the number 21? Well. it could stand for three touchdowns and halfway to Oklahoma’s average points total in recent seasons , or it could be a winning hand of blackjack, or, according to the Bible, the number of perfection by excellence, 3 x 7.

As for perfection, that is a level of excellence that every college football team strives for, but rarely achieve.

According to the NCAA Division I Football Record Book, only four Power Five teams have recorded more undefeated seasons in their history than Oklahoma — Michigan (23), Notre Dame (22), USC (16) and Penn State (14). The Sooners have 13.

Only two of schools, however, (Michigan with 15 and Notre Dame with 13) have recorded more perfect seasons (no losses, no ties) than Oklahoma’s 11.

One of those perfect Oklahoma football seasons occurred 21 years ago, and it followed a season in which the Sooners finished a middling 7-5, including a loss to Ole Miss in the 1999 Independence Bowl.

In just its second season under new head coach Bob Stoops, the Sooners began the 2000 season ranked 20th in the Associated Press Preseason Top 25, and no one envisioned them going undefeated through 11 regular-season games.

Oklahoma ran the table in the 2000 regular season, running off 11 consecutive victories, including a shocking 63-14 annihilation of its chief rival, No. 11 Texas, and subsequent wins over No. 2 Kansas State, No. 1 Nebraska and No. 23 Texas A&M. Stoops and Co. survived a couple of close calls — a three-point win over Texas A&M and a five-point victory over in-state rival Oklahoma State in Bedlam. But for the most part, it was smooth sailing for this rejuvenated Sooner team.

The Sooners defeated Big 12 North Division champion Kansas State for a second time that season in the conference championship game to earn the No. 1 seed in the BCS National Championship against Florida State, the reigning national champions.

There was controversy over Florida State earning the spot opposite the Sooners in the national championship game that season because No. 3 Miami had beaten Florida State in the regular season. Nevertheless, the final BCS standings awarded the No. 2 spot to the Seminoles.

Florida State, with that year’s Heisman winner, quarterback Chris Weinke, entered the BCS championship game in the Orange Bowl in Miami as a 10-point favorite, despite OU’s No. 1 standing.

Very few college football experts believed that the Oklahoma defense could get enough stops on the high-powered Florida State offense to win the game.

Everyone doubted the Sooners chances in the game except the Sooners themselves. And OU quarterback Josh Heupel had some extra motivation, having finished as the Heisman runner-up to FSU’s Weinke.

On Oklahoma’s third possession of the game, Heupel led a drive that stalled at the Florida State nine-yard line. Tim Duncan kicked a 27-yard field goal, and the Sooners led 3-0.

The two defenses took charge after that and there was no further scoring in the opening half, although both teams squandered scoring opportunities.

The Sooners opened the second half with a 36-yard kickoff return by Antoine Savage. OU advanced the ball as far as the FSU 16. Unfortunately, Duncan misfired on a  fourth-down, 37-yard field goal attempt. Duncan redeemed himself on the Sooners next possession with a successful  47-yard field-goal boot ending the third quarter.

Florida State threated early in the final quarter, driving down to the Oklahoma 35 with just two minutes gone in the period. Faced with a fourth-and-10 play, a pass by Weinke was broken up at the five-yard line by OU defensive back Derrick Strait and the ball went over to the Sooners.

On Florida State’s next possession, Weinke was hit by Sooner linebacker Rocky Calmus after a seven-yard scramble deep in FSU territory. The ball popped loose and Roy Williams recovered for Oklahoma at the FSU 15. OU running back Quentin Griffin scored two plays later on a TD run to increase the Oklahoma lead to 13-0.

Florida State’s only score in the game came courtesy of the Oklahoma offense. A bad snap sailed over the head of OU punter Jeff Ferguson and ended up in the end zone for a safety.

The Seminoles had one last chance to add points, but a pass by Weinke was intercepted in the end zone by the Sooners.

Florida State finished with 301 total yards, almost 250 below its season average. Moreover, the Oklahoma defense held the potent FSU offense to just one of 15 third-down conversions. That was the story of the game. The Sooners totaled just 270 yards of offense but held a 13-minute advantage in time of possession.

The Orange Bowl national championship win was by far Oklahoma’s best season of the last two decades.

Since the Sooners won the first of their seven national championships in 1950, they have never gone this long (21 years) between championships. Previously, 18 years was the longest (1956 to 1974).

Could this be the year that Oklahoma snaps that national championship draught? A number of experts believe it is a realistic possibility.