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Oklahoma Sooners Football: The Growing Legend of Joe Mixon

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In less than two years, Joe Mixon is already among the greats to ever play running back at Oklahoma.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Mixon’s performance last week in Lubbock cannot be overstated. Even though it came against a historically bad Texas Tech defense, there are still very few football players capable of what Mixon pulled off, and at such a spectacular, eye-catching clip. Becoming the first Sooner and just the third FBS player in college football history to record 200+ yards rushing and 100+ yards receiving in one game, Mixon is that “Wow” guy, the type of player who does something, in the spot-on words of Sam Mayes this afternoon on The Franchise, makes you go “HOLY CRAP” on a weekly basis.

There’s nothing average about Joe. Outside of Lamar Jackson and last year’s Christian McCaffrey, Mixon could be the most dazzling all-around talent in the nation. He does everything at an elite level — run like an every-down NFL back, catch passes like a natural wide receiver and is a threat to take any touch the distance with elite open-field speed.

In less than two seasons, Mixon has come to resemble the prototypical all-around back every college offense covets, while being only half of the most feared two-headed backfield duo to come along in many years. Mayes even went so far as to say he might be one of the best three players in the country, not a stretch to believe for Sooner fans. But as the nation takes more notice of just how elite a talent Mixon is, it has me curious as to where I would place Joe Joe in the history of the all-time OU running back greats.

With respect to former greats like Billy Sims, Joe Washington, Steve Owens and Billy Vessels — Sooner running backs in a class of their own — it’s only fair to leave them for an entirely different discussion. Until we all agree on comparing eras, the four of these backs are on the top pantheon of the Oklahoma running back hierarchy.

Marcus Dupree would’ve also been (possibly at the very top) of that hierarchy, but a shortened career leaves #22 as one of, if not the, greatest “How GREAT WOULD he have been” players in all of college football. But fans can’t help but feel with a shortened career (obviously for entirely different reasons than Dupree), Mixon might fall into that same class of elite, once-in-a-generation football talents that never fully reached their potential in college. With a full three-year career on the field in Norman, there’s no telling where Mixon would rank on the all-time list of Running Back U.

With respect to DeMarco Murray, in three full seasons it’s not a stretch to say Mixon could’ve been near the top of the all-time all-purpose yardage mark at OU. Had Murray stayed healthy in those two missed post-seasons (one of which would’ve likely led to the 2008 national title for the Sooners), the NFL’s current third-leading rusher would’ve gone pro and not reached the mammoth numbers he put up in his four seasons in Norman. In 969 plays, Murray gained 6,718 all-purpose yards on an average of 6.93 yards per play, with 3,685 yards rushing, 1,571 receiving and 1,462 on kickoff returns.

In just 293 plays to date, Mixon has amassed a spectacular 2,568 total yards on 8.76 per attempt, with 1,492 yards rushing, 678 receiving and 373 coming on returns. Mixon’s missed freshman year could’ve even led to Josh Heupel keeping his j--, okay enough of that. Mixon could easily add another single-game record or two in the upcoming games against Big 12 mid-majors Kansas and Iowa State. Samaje Perine ran record-wild after a weather-delayed game on a rain-soaked field against the Jayhawks two seasons ago. There’s no reason to believe Joe wouldn’t enjoy his own stellar success in games like the one upcoming in Norman and in Ames the following week. Even in a split backfield, Mixon now ranks second nationally in the FBS at 207.0 all-purpose yards per game.

In the current Big 12 era of weekly astronomical offensive numbers, an uninterrupted career would’ve put Mixon in position to reach or top many running back records at OU. As fans are witnessing he and Perine basically take turns feasting on opposing defenses, three full years of this dynamic Thunder and Lightning combo would’ve led to an all-out assault on the Sooner rushing and all-purpose record books. And as Lincoln Riley’s offense has proven there are plenty of touches to go around, the same could be said of possible records set by these two special players in Norman.

To honor the rich running back tradition at Oklahoma, I’ve ranked the top backs of the Stoops era below. It’s likely these same names would still make this list if it were to be expanded to include the legends of eras past. As always, you can submit your own rankings in the comments below, and feel free to add on any former greats from previous eras to make this a true top 10. (*Be careful though, as I’m pretty sure Billy Sims and Joe Washington read this site on a regular basis.)

5) Quentin Griffin

The 2000 National Championship winner and diminutive but dynamic all-purpose talent amassed 5,275 all-purpose yards on 913 plays, with 3,938 rushing and 1,337 receiving and 51 touchdowns, good for fifth all-time in rushing and fourth all-purpose, in his four outstanding years in the crimson and cream. Griffin also enjoyed the third-best rushing season in OU history with 1,884 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns as a Heisman candidate in 2002. He also holds the Sooners’ all-time record for touchdowns in a single game with six coming against Texas in the famed 2000 Red River blowout.

4) Samaje Perine

The Pflugerville Bruiser can still climb on this list, but battling nagging injuries all season, is likely to fall just short of the all-time OU rushing record. But already with an all-time NCAA record for rushing yards in a game to add to his stat-stuffing resume, Optimus Perine has certainly secured a place among the all-time greats of college football. The Humble Beast had the fifth-best season ever by a Sooner rusher with 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns as a freshman in 2014, and is currently seventh in all-time career rushing yards at OU with 3,537 and 12th in all-purpose, with 3,846 (and counting).

3) Joe Mixon

It would be hard to argue there has been a better running back Bob Stoops has ever recruited to Oklahoma (other than the guy who sits at no. 1 on this list), and that Joe Mixon is the best all-purpose running back in college football since Reggie Bush — only with more size and a skill set better suited to the NFL than the *2005 Heisman winner from So Cal. It’s understandable if some feel this is too much hyperbole for Mixon in less than two years at OU, and the excellence of Samaje Perine cannot be overlooked. But convincingly passing the eye test every week and flashing elite skill in every facet of the college game, a missed freshman year is the only thing that will hold back Joe Mixon from a legendary college career full of records. Sooner fans should enjoy his remaining days in Norman, as a high-round NFL draft pick awaits the phenom in April. If you haven’t already checked it out, here’s Joe’s recent interview with a pool reporter after the Texas Tech game.

2) DeMarco Murray

The Sooners’ record holder in all-purpose yards (6,718) and touchdowns (65), the electrifying Murray likely would’ve added a national title to his already stellar resume had it not been for the injury suffered in the 2008 Big 12 Championship. A title against Florida may have led to him leaving Norman early for the NFL, but he would still rank high on this list even with a year’s less of numbers in his illustrious OU career. Murray finished his career as the Sooners’ sixth all-time rusher with 3,685 yards and 50 rushing touchdowns.

1) Adrian Peterson

No explanations needed here. AD may not have possessed the pass-catching skills of the other backs mentioned above, but it’s hard to argue anyone tops this list over The Unstoppable Force who could run over, around and through everything in his path. If we’re talking shortened careers, then Peterson is Exhibit A, as he would’ve ripped apart and re-written college football’s record books had it not been for the star-crossed seasons of 2005 and 2006 at Oklahoma.