Oklahoma football: January 1st has seen best, worst of times for Sooner football

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 29: A general view of Hard Rock Stadium prior to the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Oklahoma Sooners on December 29, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 29: A general view of Hard Rock Stadium prior to the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Oklahoma Sooners on December 29, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Some of the greatest moments in Oklahoma football history have taken place on the first day of the new year.

The Sooners aren’t playing on New Year’s Day this season, having finished up their business for the 2021 season with an impressive 47-32 win over the Oregon Ducks in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29.

Oklahoma has made 55 postseason bowl appearances in 127 seasons playing organized college football. Twenty-five of those bowl games have occurred on Jan. 1.

It’s probably difficult for Sooner Nation to see two Big 12 teams playing ob New Year’s Day this year, but the Crimson and Cream have certainly had more than their fair share of days in the sun, and even under the stars, on the first day of the year.

Oklahoma first played on New Year’s Day on Jan. 1, 1947. The Sooners generated 270 yards of total offense (a far cry of the high-powered offenses of today) in a 34-13 win over North Carolina State before 10,000 fans in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. Bud Wilkinson was an assistant coach on that Sooner team and would be named head coach for the following season when Kim Tatum accepted the same position at the University of Maryland.

Wilkinson’s Oklahoma teams played six times on New Year’s Day, winning four times and losing twice. In the 1950 season, Oklahoma finished 10-0 in the regular season and was awarded the first of its seven national championships (at that time, the Associated Press writers’ poll and the United Press coaches’ poll recognized national champions at the end of the regular season). Wilkinson’s Sooners met No. 7 Kentucky in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1951. OU turned the ball over six times in the game (five lost fumbles and an interception), leading to a 13-7 Kentucky win and a heartbreaking end to a sensational season.

Oklahoma’s New Year’s Day record stands at 16-9 all-time. The Sooners also have played eight times on Jan. 2. They are a pedestrian 4-4 when playing the day after New Year’s.

Among the more memorable Oklahoma games played on New Year’s Day was in 1968, when No. 3 OU faced No. 2 Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. The Sooners rode a 19-0 halftime advantage to a 26-24 victory to cap off a 10-1 year in Chuck Fairbanks’ first season as head coach.

On Jan. 1, 1976, in the Orange Bowl, No. 3 Oklahoma was matched up with No. 5 Michigan. The Sooners prevailed 14-6. It not only was legendary head coach Barry Switzer’s first bowl win as the Sooners’ head coach, but with top-ranked Ohio State losing in the Rose Bowl that same day, it resulted in a second-straight national championship for Oklahoma.

The Orange Bowl was also the setting on Jan. 1, 1986, for a top-three matchup between No. 1 Penn State and No. 3 Oklahoma. Lydell Carr rushed for 148 yards and a swarming Sooner defense held the Nittany Lions to just 267 yards of offense and picked off four Penn State passes on the way to a 25-10 victory. The win gave Oklahoma its third national championship under Switzer.

Switzer’s New Year’s bowl record was 6-3.

While Oklahoma has finished off a number of outstanding seasons with a New Year’s bowl win, the first day of the new year has also been a day of deep despair, if not downright embarrassment, for Sooner football.

Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma teams played six times on New Year’s Day. Although Stoops won three times on Jan. 1, two of his three losses were among the most disappointing bowl losses in OU history.

No Sooner fan will ever forget the “Statue of Liberty” Fiesta Bowl game against Bosie State on Jan. 1, 2007. Boise State sent shock waves through the Sooner Nation, jumping out to a 21-10 halftme lead and stretching it to 28-10 early in the third quarter. But the Sooners came roaring back, scoring 25 unanswered points between the third and fourth quarters to tie the game at 28 and actually take the lead, 35-28, with just 62 seconds remaining in the game.

Boise State was not done, however. Faced with a fourth-and-18 at midfield and 18 seconds left in the game, the Broncos perfectly executed an old-fashioned hook-and-ladder play for a 50-yard, game-tying touchdown to send the contest into overtime. The Sooners drew first blood in the overtime on a 25-yard touchdown run by Adrian Peterson to go up seven, at 42-35.

Boise State countered the Oklahoma overtime touchdown, connecting on a fourth-down touchdown pass. Instead of settling for the extra point, however, to send the game into a second overtime, the Broncos elected to go for a two-point conversion to win the game.

We all know what happened next: Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky took the center snap, eyed three receivers to his right, then, with a perfect Statue of Liberty move, handed the ball behind his back to running back Ian Johnson, who scampered around to the left and into the end zone untouched for the gut-wrenching winning score and a 43-42 Boise State victory.

It wasn’t that Boise State was a rummy team. The Broncos were 13-0 and ranked ninth in the country coming into the Fiesta Bowl. But they were a Group of Five team and not supposed to be able to stand up to a Power Five team like Oklahoma, despite sporting a better season record.

The very next year, disaster struck the Sooners again. On Jan. 1, 2008, Big 12 champion and No. 3-ranked Oklahoma faced 11th-ranked West Virginia in a return trip for the Sooners to the Fiesta Bowl. OU managed just two field goals in the opening half and trailed 20-6 at the half. At halftime, Oklahoma had as many penalties (6) as first downs.

The Sooners closed to within 20-15 in the third quarter, but West Virginia responded with back-to-back touchdown drives and added two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter to put the game away and hand Bob Stoops a second consecutive devasting Fiesta Bowl defeat.

OK, Jan. 1 has had its ups and downs for Oklahoma Sooner football. All things considered, though, I’d rather be playing on New Year’s Day than not. Unless, of course, it was the College Football Playoff.