I can finally count on one hand how many days there are until the Oklahoma Sooners kick off the 2019 season! That’s right, we are just five days away from all the football fun, and for today’s Countdown to Kickoff installment, I want to take a look back at the five OU greats who came as close as a player can get to winning the Heisman Trophy without actually taking home the hardware.
Starting in 1954, Nowata, Okla. native Kurt Burris was an absolute beast on the field from his center position. He played under the legendary Bud Wilkinson and helped lead the Sooners to the first undefeated season during the 47-game winning streak. By year’s end, he was named a Consensus All-American, and in 1955 he was a first-round draft pick for the Cleveland Browns. Instead of playing in the NFL, Burris elected to move further north and play in the CFL for five seasons.
For all he accomplished as a player, the one major honor that eluded him was the Heisman Trophy. He finished second behind Wisconsin fullback Alan Ameche. That being said, it’s hard to label this one as a snub because in today’s era of football offensive linemen receive practically zero attention for the Heisman. If anything, this one should be viewed as a win.
Moving right along, anybody with some sense knows Oklahoma is the true RBU in all the land. Greg Pruitt is undoubtedly one of those greats from the past that give merit to such a claim. In 1972, the Houston product finished just behind Nebraska WR Johnny Rodgers in the Heisman voting.
The only reason I won’t say this one wasn’t a snub either is because 1972 was statistically more pedestrian for Pruitt than his run in 1971. That season, he finished third in the Heisman race despite rushing for 1,760 yards and 18 touchdowns. OU as a team wasn’t the problem either, as the Sooners went 11-1 both seasons he was a finalist. If Pruitt was able to match what he did in ‘71 during the ‘72 campaign, he’d have a statue on Jenkins Avenue right now.
This next one is a little more interesting, because he’s the only OU player to finish as the Heisman Trophy runner-up in one season while also winning the prestigious award in another. Of course, I’m talking about Billy Sims. After bringing home the honor in 1978, he went out and completely crushed the competition again in 1979. His production only saw a minimal dip in terms of volume (roughly 250 less yards of total offense), but he also scored two more touchdowns than he did during his Heisman winning campaign.
Despite doing basically the same exact thing as the year before, USC RB Charles White finished ahead of Sims. This was a total snub in my opinion, and I primarily blame Ohio State’s Archie Griffin because some voters didn’t feel like it was good for the game to keep voting for the same guy after the Buckeyes’ tailback ran away with it in ‘74 and ‘75. Sims deserved to win it in ‘79 just like he deserved it in ‘78, and I’ll always believe that.
Opening the 21st century, second-year head coach Bob Stoops and his Oklahoma squad were loaded everywhere you looked. Part of what made that run to the national championship so great was how many stars there were on the team. One of those headliners was QB Josh Heupel.
Although he wasn’t the most prolific passer in the nation, he put up big numbers for his time and most importantly he came up clutch in the biggest moments. The lefty eventually found himself sitting among an incredible group of finalists in New York, but came up short to Florida State’s Chris Weinke. As the story goes, Heupel earned the much more coveted prize a month later, while also getting a little head-to-head payback against the Seminoles’ signal caller.
Was Josh Heupel snubbed? I wouldn't necessarily go that far, especially since he finished ahead of Drew Brees and LaDanian Tomlinson. Still, Weinke as the winner has only seemed stranger as time has passed, and Heupel definitely proved the gap between he and everyone else wasn’t that wide, if there even was one at all.
From left to right: Drew Brees, LaDanian Tomlinson, Josh Heupel and Chris Weinke. Who would have thought the Heisman winner would be the least successful? pic.twitter.com/KZl4dfCU8B— Erika (@emesola) December 5, 2017
Finally, the one I know you’ve been thinking about. It’s the snub that Oklahoma fans recall any time the 2004 season is brought up. Yes, I’m calling it out right away. Adrian Peterson should have won the 2004 Heisman Trophy, not USC’s Matt Leinart. Makes me mad just thinking about it.
One of the increasingly frustrating aspects of Peterson not winning the iconic stiff-arm award that season is that he was simply too ahead of his time. In 2004, a sophomore had never even won the Heisman Trophy, let alone a true freshman. Then Tim Tebow won it as a sophomore in 2007, and since then, four underclassmen have joined the club, including two freshmen.
So just how dominant was AD in ‘04? Let’s see, the man ran for 1,925 yards (third in the nation) and 15 touchdowns. While the fact that he was a freshman certainly didn’t help in the eyes of stodgy voters, Peterson was — in a way — also a victim of his team’s own success. If it wasn’t for Jason White finishing third in the voting, including more first-place votes than the freshman RB, the ballots wouldn’t have been so split, allowing Leinart to skirt on by to the front. And yes, I realize what happened in the national championship game at the end of the season, but this isn’t about that.
Anyway, here are some highlights of Adrian Peterson balling out of control because he’s the absolute best college running back of this century.
Now let’s cover any days we missed since our last countdown post:
6 Days! - Baker Mayfield
If Oklahoma Football ever decided to get into the business of retiring jerseys (won’t happen), the No. 6 jersey would be first on the ballot. Baker Mayfield is widely considered the best quarterback in OU history, and some would even argue he’s the greatest player to ever suit up for the Sooners. What he did in his three seasons as a starter was the stuff of legend. From transferring in as a walk-on to winning the 2017 Heisman Trophy and going first overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, there have never been any like him, and there will never be another. For more on this one of a kind Sooner, check out my write-up from last year’s countdown series.
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