1956 National Champions

OU History & Tradition | National Championships

1956 National Champions

Some say it was legendary coach Bud Wilkinson's best team and maybe even the best ever in the program's storied history.

OU was in the midst of its record-setting 47-game winning streak, and while conference rules prohibited teams from making bowl appearances in consecutive years, it made no difference to the Sooners.

Oklahoma's powerful offense was led by running backs Tommy McDonald and Clendon Thomas, who combined for 1,670 yards and 35 touchdowns on the year. The offensive line was one of the best units of all-time, led by Heisman Trophy finalist Jerry Tubbs, an unheard of distinction for anyone playing the center position.

For the second straight year, OU led the nation in rushing offense with 391 yards per game, total offense with 481.7 yards per game, and scoring offense with 46.6 points per game. To illustrate how dominant they were, the Sooners outscored their opponents 466-51 en route to a perfect 10-0 season.

With all of the team's offensive accolades, sometimes lost in the shuffle was an Oklahoma defense which logged six shutouts and forced Notre Dame quarterback Paul Hornung, the 1956 Heisman Trophy winner, into his worst performance of the season.

The first shutout came in the season opener, a 36-0 drubbing of North Carolina. With a stiff 40-mile per hour wind blowing through Norman, all of OU's scoring was done in the second and fourth quarters.

Against Kansas State the following week, Thomas led a 10-touchdown assault as Oklahoma annihilated the Wildcats, 66-0. The win marked OU's 32nd consecutive victory, breaking the previous school record of 31 set from 1948-50.

Coach Wilkinson used some motivational tactics to get his team up for the Texas game, publicly stating that he was not optimistic about his team's chances against the Longhorns because of a poor week of practice.

The ploy worked, as OU responded with its third shutout in as many games, crushing the Longhorns 45-0. McDonald and Thomas scored three touchdowns apiece to lead the Sooners to their fifth straight victory over their Red River rival.

The Sooners finally yielded points the following week when they defeated Kansas, 34-12. When Michigan State replaced OU atop the poll, Wilkinson's squad took it personally.

In front of a record crowd in South Bend and with a national television audience looking on, Oklahoma embarrassed Notre Dame on its home turf, 40-0. Oklahoma intercepted eventual Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung four times, twice returning them for scores, as OU handed the Fighting Irish their first shutout since 1951 and first at home in 26 years.

After a one-week hiatus, the Sooners returned to the top of the polls.

After entering the locker room at halftime trailing Colorado 19-6, Wilkinson again lit a fire under his team. And again they responded, erasing the deficit by the end of the third quarter while shutting out the Buffaloes over the final 30 minutes. The 27-19 victory was OU's closest margin of the season.

Oklahoma dominated every facet of the game the following week at Iowa State, scoring five touchdowns in the first half while holding the Cyclones to just four first downs and 35 total yards for the game. The 44-0 victory locked up another Big Seven Conference title for the Sooners.

OU was again replaced at the top of the rankings, however, this time by a Tennessee team which defeated No. 2 Georgia the same week.

That was all the motivation Oklahoma needed, and a 67-14 waxing of Missouri sent a resounding statement about who was the best team in the land. The victory was also special for Wilkinson, who never lost a game to Missouri head coach Don Faurot, his mentor who was retiring at the end of the season.

The Sooners pounded Nebraska 54-6 the next week for their 39th consecutive victory, which tied the all-time record set by the Washington Huskies from 1908-1914.

OU then broke the record with a 53-0 victory over Oklahoma State. Thomas ran for two touchdowns to become the nation's leading scorer with 108 points. With all seniors on the field for the final drive and the ball at the two-yard line, guard Ed Gray told quarterback Jimmy Harris in the huddle that he wanted to score a touchdown. On the next play, Gray and McDonald switched places, and Gray ran it in for his only touchdown as a Sooner.

When the final AP poll was released, there was no surprise at the top, as Oklahoma became the fourth team to win back-to-back championships.

Wilkinson cemented himself as one of the best coaches ever and became the only person in NCAA history to win three national championships as a player (1934-36 with Minnesota) and three as a coach (1950, '55-56 with Oklahoma). He is still the only person in history to accomplish that feat.

OU History & Tradition | National Championships