1950 National Champions

OU History & Tradition | National Championships

1950 National Champions

Oklahoma's initial national championship, the first of three under legendary head coach Bud Wilkinson, set the football program on a course that regularly meets with high-level success.

It was supposed to be a rebuilding year after most of the starters from 1949 had either graduated or exhausted their eligibility. A surplus of talented reserves and newcomers, however, were ready to leave their mark on the program.

The 1950 Sooners featured plenty of homegrown talent (Wilkinson limited his recruiting to a tight radius of the campus), yet achieved on a level that was recognized from coast to coast.

Consensus All-Americans Leon Heath and Jim Weatherall paved the way for Oklahoma's high-powered offense, and names like Frankie Anderson, Claude Arnold, Tom Catlin, Buddy Jones and Billy Vessels would soon be rolling off the tongues of Sooner faithful.

Vessels scored 15 touchdowns in 1950, and two years he later would capture OU's first Heisman Trophy.

This squad wasn't defined by individual stars, however. Instead, it was about a group working together as a unit to become one of the finest football teams in school history, culminating with an undefeated season and Oklahoma's first national championship.

OU opened the year with a  28-0 win over Boston College, posting its third consecutive shutout dating back to the end of the 1949 season.

Against Texas A&M the following week, the Aggies put the famed "Oklahoma 5-2" defense to the test. Twice they broke loose for long touchdown runs and held a 28-21 advantage late in the fourth quarter.

Claude Arnold then orchestrated a pair of beautiful scoring drives to lead the Sooners to one of the most dramatic come-from-behind victories ever staged on Owen Field. The clincher came with just 37 second remaining. Facing a first-and-goal, Arnold called two plays in the huddle in case the first one didn't score. The Sooners wouldn't need the second, however, as fullback Leon "Mule Train" Heath took a pitch from Arnold and darted into the end zone for the winning score.

Wilkinson summed it up simply as "one of the greatest finishes I have ever seen."

The Sooners had little chance to relax, as another cardiac comeback loomed on the horizon, this time against arch-rival Texas.

Trailing 13-7 with just over four minutes remaining, Oklahoma's defense had the Longhorns pinned deep in their own territory. On fourth down, Texas fumbled the snap on a punt attempt and OU took over at the 11-yard line. Vessels scored from there and Weatherall, who doubled as OU's kicker, made the extra point for the 14-13 victory.

"Our boys have a world of heart," Wilkinson said. "It took a fumbled punt to beat Texas, but it seems if you play hard enough, things like that will happen."

Oklahoma blanked Kansas State the following week, 58-0, then traveled to Iowa State and won 20-7.

With three of OU's biggest playmakers sidelined due to injuries, Arnold gained the responsibility of carrying the load against Colorado. No stranger to the spotlight, that's exactly what he did, rushing for 134 yards and two touchdowns in guiding the Sooners to a 27-18 victory.

Against Kansas, Oklahoma did not score in the first half, something that had never happened before in 38 games under Wilkinson. The Sooners didn't panic, putting up 33 in the second half to cruise to a 20-point win.

On November 20, 1950, three days after a 41-7 triumph over Missouri, Oklahoma ascended to the top spot in the AP poll for the first time in school history.

Nebraska rolled into Norman with hopes of knocking off the new No. 1 and claim a share of the Big Seven title. From a fan standpoint, this one was definitely entertaining, as OU and Nebraska combined for 84 points, and the Sooners were forced to come from behind for the fifth time on the season. They did so with a furious 21-point rally in the third quarter. Vessels was the star, rushing 18 times for 208 yards and three touchdowns while also passing for another.

Arnold lit up the scoreboard with four TD passes the following week vs. Oklahoma State en route to a 41-14 victory.

While a loss to Paul "Bear" Bryant's Kentucky Wildcats in the Sugar Bowl would brand them with a 10-1 record, the Sooners finished the regular season atop the AP poll to claim the first national championship in school history.

OU History & Tradition | National Championships