Two Oklahoma teams among ESPN's 30 most influential college football teams ever

OU football head coach Barry Switzer talks to his team on the first day of spring practice on April 3, 1979, at Owen Field in Norman.
OU football head coach Barry Switzer talks to his team on the first day of spring practice on April 3, 1979, at Owen Field in Norman. / DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY

Conventionally, we think of the best teams as the ones with the best record, whether it be one season or over many seasons. If it's total wins or historical win percentage, it's a pretty good bet that Oklahoma Sooners football would, and really should, be part of the conversation.

But wins and losses are not the only way to measure greatness. The college football staff at ESPN recently published a ranking of what they termed the 30 most influential college football teams of all-time.

"The greatest teams don't always make the greatest impact on the sport," writes ESPN staffer Bill Connelly. "For more than a century, college football's evolution has been driven by teams both big and small and by coaches both massively and moderately successful."

The objective of the article ( posted on subscriber-based ESPN+) is to recognize and celebrate the greatest influencers and by extension the 30 most influential teams in college football history.

Two great Oklahoma teams made the list -- Bud Wilkinson's 1956 Sooner national championship team (OU's third national championship team in seven seasons) and Barry Switzer's 1974 national championship team (the first of back-to-back national titles and the Sooners first since the 1956 OU team).

The 1956 Oklahoma team was ranked No. 25, while the 1974 Sooner football team came in at No. 13. My first impression after reviewing the 30 college teams that made the list was why only two Oklahoma teams? As I dug a little deeper in my analysis, however, I discovered that the most any one team appeared in the ranking was three times by Alabama and only once each under Bear Bryant and Nick Saban, arguably the two greatest coaches in Crimson Tide, if not college football, history.

The Sooners are one of four schools that had two teams included in the ranking of the 30 most influential teams of all-time. Notre Dame (11. 1947 and 2. 1924), LSU (21. 1958 and 7. 2019) and TCU (29. 2010 and 14. 1935) were the others.

So in terms of coaching eras, I can't really argue that the 1956 Oklahoma team was the best of the OU teams under a highly impactful Wilkinson coaching era and the same for Switzer's 1974 team. From Switzer's first game as head coach in 1973 though eight games in the 1975 season, Oklahoma went 33-0-1 under Swtizer.

Oklahoma was a prominent catalyst in one other team's rise to notoriety and inclusion among the top 30 teams in this ranking. The 2006 Boise State team, which dramatically defeated OU in overtime in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, is ranked No. 22, curiously four spots higher than the '56 Oklahoma team.

According to the ESPN rankings, the most influential college football team ever was Darrell Royal's 1968 Texas Longhorns, the team credited with introducing the "Wishbone" offense into the college football lexicon. Texas (and more accurately then assistant coach Emory Bellard) may have been the school that brought the triple-option wishbone offense to college football, but Oklahoma under Switzer is clearly the team that perfected it.

Here is the rest of the top 10 of ESPN's "most influential college football teams ever" with the head coaches in parentheses:

2. 1924 Notre Dame (Knute Rockne)

3. 1925 Alabama (Wallace Wade)

4. 1986 Miami (Jimmy Johnson)

5. 2008 Texas Tech (Mike Leach)

6. 1991 Iowa Wesleyan (Hall Mumme)

7. 2019 LSU (Ed Orgeron)

8. 1967 Grambling (Eddie Robinson)

9. 1993 Florida (Steve Spurrier)

10. 1912 Carlisle (Pop Warner)