This is the first installment by Sooners Illustrated in selecting the top football players at the University of Oklahoma at every position. We will start by selecting the 10 greatest quarterbacks of all time.
Voting on these positions will be six people who have been associated with Oklahoma football for a long time — Barry Switzer, Bob Barry Sr., Berry Tramel, Dean Blevins, James Hale and myself, Al Eschbach.
Each person voting was asked to vote for their top-10 quarterbacks (1 through 10) of all time and the following are the results. In the next issue, we will be voting on the top-10 running backs of all time.
1. JASON WHITE
White was one of the very first recruits Bob Stoops went to visit when he was hired in December of 1998. This was a fairy-tale story. The kid from Tuttle, Okla., goes on and becomes the only quarterback to win a Heisman Trophy at the University of Oklahoma.
"If there wasn't a coaching change at OU at that time I probably wouldn't have gone to school there," White said. "I probably would have gone to either Miami or Tennessee."
Stoops was certainly glad he persuaded this excellent all-around athlete to stick close to home. Not only is White the only Sooner quarterback to capture the Heisman Trophy, he's the only signal-caller in Oklahoma history to be on the team for six seasons.
It started in 1999 when he was redshirted. He then watched Josh Heupel lead OU to a national title the next season. White was engaged in a fierce quarterback battle with Nate Hybl in 2001, but when Hybl was named the starter, White didn't mope. He continued to work hard. When Hybl got hurt against archrival Texas, it was White to the rescue by leading Oklahoma to a 14-3 victory. Two games later he had his first career start against Baylor. However, disaster struck the next week when he went down with a season-ending knee injury against Nebraska.
When the 2002 season got underway, he was given the nod this time in his competition with Hybl. He did not look sharp in an opening win against Tulsa. The following week many thought his college career was ended when he went out with yet another knee injury against Alabama. In the summer of 2003, Stoops ended any speculation as to whom his quarterback was going to be when he named White over Brent Rawls.
"It was one of the best days of my life when I heard that news. It was also my birthday," White said.
There were few that thought he couldn't get through the season without getting hurt. And there was nobody who thought he would do what he did — throwing for 3,846 yards and capturing the Heisman. He didn't have a shabby senior year either when he fired the ball for 3,205 yards and 35 touchdowns. The Sooners lost two national championship bids — to LSU his junior year and to USC when he was a senior.
2. JOSH HEUPEL
One of the most unlikely stories ever in Oklahoma. He arrived on campus about a month after Stoops began to try to resurrect the program.
"I knew about him when I was at Kentucky," said Mike Leach, who left Kentucky and was the first offensive coordinator under Stoops. "I knew we had to come up with a quarterback at OU and I liked what I saw of him on film. He made all the right reads. He just made plays."
No one was thinking of the wishbone when they brought him in from Snow junior college in Utah. All of a sudden, the Sooners were throwing the ball all over the field in their new, wide-open offense. Heupel was shattering every imaginable passing mark in the OU record book. He threw for 3,850 yards to go along with 33 touchdowns as a junior.
"I knew he would be good, but I have to tell you the truth. I didn't think he would be that good," Leach said.
What happened in 2000 is probably the most amazing story in Oklahoma history. There weren't a lot of expectations and this was not supposed to be a top-10 team. In an amazing stretch, the Sooners knocked off Texas, 63-14; Kansas State, 41-31; and Nebraska, 31-14. All of a sudden Oklahoma was back at No. 1 in the polls and every college football fanatic knew who Josh Heupel was.
Before Stoops' team played Florida State for the national title in the Orange Bowl, Heupel had to settle for a second-place finish behind Florida State's Chris Weinke for the Heisman Trophy. But at the end, it was this South Dakota native who had the most satisfaction as the underdog Sooners upended the Seminoles, 13-2, to give the school its seventh national title. In his two seasons at OU, Heupel completed 634 passes for 7,456 yards and 53 TDs.
3. JACK MILDREN
Mildren was the No. 1 high-school quarterback in the country when he was a senior at Abilene Cooper High School in Texas in 1967. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and ended a massive recruiting battle when he signed a letter of intent with OU.
"There were a lot of people in Texas who were very upset with my decision. They thought I was a traitor. I got a lot of hate mail at that time," Mildren said.
Huge crowds gathered at Owen Field to watch this highly recruited athlete in action. Sooner fans envisioned him breaking all kinds of passing records, but that's not exactly what happened. During his sophomore year he was mainly handing the ball off to Steve Owens, who was on his was to winning a Heisman Trophy.
But what happened in 1970 was something that changed Oklahoma football for almost two decades. The Oklahoma offense struggled in its first three games and offensive coordinator Barry Switzer approached head coach Chuck Fairbanks with an idea.
"We have a week off before we play Texas. Let's change our offense to the wishbone. We have a perfect wishbone quarterback in Jack Mildren," Switzer told Fairbanks.
Texas was running this offense that no one seemed able to stop. It relied on a quarterback who could run, not pass. Obviously, Mildren wasn't happy with the idea.
"I wasn't thrilled at all. I took it as a slap in the face to me. But those were times when you didn't argue. You accepted what was told to you," Mildren said.
The rest is history. It was 1971 when this wishbone offense became one of the greatest in college football history. Records were being shattered. Halfback Greg Pruitt rushed for over 9 yards per carry. OU ran for 768 yards against Kansas State! That team still holds the school mark for yards per play during a season (7.6) and yards per game (556.8).
"I guess you can say today that the move to the wishbone worked out pretty well," he said.
Mildren finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting as a senior. He rushed for more than 1,200 yards that year and is fifth in total yards at OU with 5,117. He is best-known for leading OU against Nebraska in the Game of the Century in 1971. The Huskers were ranked No. 1 in the land and OU No. 2. Nebraska scored on a last-second drive to defeat Oklahoma, 35-31.
4. JAMELLE HOLIEWAY
Holieway came to Oklahoma in 1985 as one of the top option quarterbacks in the country from Banning High School in Los Angeles, Calif. Most thought this wishbone magician would sit on the bench at Oklahoma for quite some time as Switzer was tinkering with the thought of throwing the ball more. And why not? Yeah, he was still running the wishbone but he had a tight end named Keith Jackson and he had a sophomore quarterback, Troy Aikman, who was just starting to show some promise.
Aikman was getting it going in the fourth game of the year against Miami in Norman. But in the second quarter the crowd in Norman went almost silent when he went down with an injury and broke his leg. So much for the hopes of winning a national title. Into the game enters true freshman Jamelle Holieway.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't have time to become nervous. I just put my helmet on and ran into the game. There I was, a freshman playing against all those great Miami defenders," Holieway said. He couldn't save the day as OU lost to Jimmy Johnson's team, 27-14. But that was one of the few times that Holieway couldn't get the offense into high gear the rest of the season. In his first start against Iowa State, the Sooners scored 59 points. The next week they registered 48 against Kansas. Then there was 51 at Missouri, 31 against Colorado and 27 against rival Nebraska.
"Jamelle was such a special player. Remember, those were the times when the wishbone had developed into a quarterback-fullback offense," said Switzer. "He wasn't one of the fastest quarterbacks that I had, but he was deceptive and he was strong. He just knew how to run that offense."
When Oklahoma topped Penn State in the Orange Bowl, Switzer had his third national title — led by a true freshman. Holieway led OU to another Big Eight title and an 11-1 record as a sophomore. The only blemish on the record was a 28-16 setback at Nebraska.
During his junior year, the Sooners were undefeated heading into ninth game of the year against Oklahoma State when he tore his ACL. Without him, the Sooners lost to Miami once again, 20-14, this time for the national championship. He regained his starting job back as a senior, but lost his quickness because of the knee.
"I just couldn't do some of the things that I was able to do before I sustained the injury," he said.
5. J.C. WATTS
Watts has one of the great names in OU history — the J.C. stands for Julius Caesar. He came in the days when talented quarterbacks had to wait their turn to see action. When he arrived on campus in 1976, he watched Thomas Lott take control of the team. He was homesick and ready to head back to his hometown of Eufaula, Okla.
"There was a couple of times that I just packed my bags and went home," said Watts. "I was going to head somewhere else. And then coach Switzer and my parents would talk me into going back."
"J.C. wasn't the first guy that quit the team to go back home. It happened all of the time. I'm just glad that we got him back," said Switzer.
Watts was not your typical wishbone quarterback at that time. He could really throw the ball.
"When I look back now I wish that we had thrown the ball more with J.C. He had a very strong and accurate arm. He could have gone to a lot of different schools at that time that were throwing the ball all over the place. He was that talented."
Watts finally became a starter as a junior in 1979. The only game the Sooners lost that year was a 20-13 heartbreak to Texas. During his senior year, OU posted a 10-2 mark. Once again, there was a loss to the Longhorns and another one to Stanford and quarterback John Elway.
Watts' final game in an Oklahoma uniform was his most memorable. The Sooners trailed Florida State and its coach, Bobby Bowden, 17-10 in the waning moments. He drives the Sooners down the field and fires a touchdown pass. Switzer decided to go for the win and got it when Watts connected on a two-point conversion.
J.C. was drafted by the New York Jets, but decided to go to Canada where he had an excellent career in the CFL.
"I just didn't think the Jets would give me a shot at quarterback, so I thought Canada was my best bet," he said.
And in 1994 he was elected to the U.S. Congress. He was one of the Republican's young and up-and-coming stars until he decide to get out of the political ring and into private business.
6. JIMMY HARRIS
Now what we're talking about is winning. Jimmy Harris didn't know anything else. He started for three years at Oklahoma (1954-56). During that span, the Sooners were 31-0 and captured two national titles.
"He was the glue to that team," Bud Wilkinson once said. "We had a lot of great players during that time, but Jimmy always had the knack of coming up with the big play at the tight moment. I knew I could always count on him."
The Sooners were invincible his senior year. The only team that came within double-digits was Colorado. OU won that one in Boulder, 27-19.
"That was a game in which Bud gave us a pretty good halftime speech," Harris said. "We just weren't playing well. But somehow in the second half we were able to pull it all together.
Tommy McDonald, who was the star halfback on that team, said, "You have to have a quarterback who is a leader. And that's what Jimmy was for us. Everyone on the team respected him. We knew in the clutch if we needed a play he could get it for us."
Following his graduation from OU, Harris played four years in the National Football League as a defensive back. In 1962, he got into the oil business in Louisiana and has been very successful.
7. THOMAS LOTT
Just like Holieway, this Texas native was thrown into an unexpected fire early in his career during his sophomore season when the Sooners were getting ready to play Texas. At that time, this San Antonio product was backing up starter Dean Blevins.
"I got a call into coach Switzer's office a few days before the game. He told me that I was going to be the starter because Dean had come down with some kind of illness. I was ready to go because I thought I should have been the starter anyway," said Lott.
The Sooners scored late in the game against Texas to tie the score at 6-6. OU botched the extra-point attempt and that's the way the game ended.
"I thought we were too conservative," said Thomas. "The coaches were afraid that I was going to make a lot of mistakes because I was nervous. To tell you the truth, I just wasn't that nervous."
"Thomas Lott was a strong quarterback. He was one of the strongest that I ever had. He could break tackles and get that extra yard. He also did a great job of reading the defense. And he was a hard-nosed competitor," said Switzer.
The Sooners were ranked No. 1 in the country during his senior year when they rolled into Nebraska on Nov. 11. It appeared that they were going to pull off another late-miracle win over the Cornhuskers when Lott engineered a drive that started inside the OU 10. But Billy Sims lost a fumble on the Husker 3-yard line. And Tom Osborne had his first victory over Switzer.
"We were the best team in the country that year. And I think a lot of people will agree with me on that. We lost to Nebraska that day because we had nine or 10 fumbles. We were the better team and we proved that when we beat them in the Orange Bowl later in the year," Lott said.
8. STEVE DAVIS
The only one who comes the closest with this Sallisaw, Okla., native as far as winning is Jimmy Harris. During Davis' three-year tenure as the Oklahoma starting quarterback, the Sooners lost a total of one game. Before the Sooners opened up their 1973 game against Baylor, Switzer said, "I think we're going to be pretty good. We have some great players on this team. I just don't know how good we are going to be at quarterback."
Well, Davis became really good. The only game OU didn't win in '73 was a 7-7 tie to USC in Los Angeles. They rolled the rest of the year and scored more than 40 points in five encounters. The following year no one even tested the Sooners as they went 11-0 and won a national title.
The 1975 campaign wasn't as easy. This OU team wasn't as dominant, but they were still finding ways to win. Finally, on Nov. 8 Switzer suffered his first loss as a coach and Davis his first as a starting quarterback at Oklahoma. The Sooners offense couldn't overcome turnovers and the OU crowd actually booed Davis.
"I couldn't believe that was happening," said Blevins, who was the backup quarterback at the time. "Look at all this guy had done for the program and the first game he loses, they turn on him."
Switzer says that with today's scholarship limitations Oklahoma wouldn't have been able to offer him a scholarship.
"Steve was one of those guys in high school who didn't wow you," he said. "He was a good player from a small school. If we had the 85 scholarships that they have today, we wouldn't have offered him a scholarship. He turned out to be one heck of a player for us."
9. EDDIE CROWDER
Eddie Crowder was a player from the Bud Wilkinson era that helped put Oklahoma on the map. Those were the days when Oklahoma was not throwing the ball much. How about throwing it 57 times in 1951 and then just 52 times as a senior in 1952. His career stats were 110 attempts, 61 completions, four interceptions, 11 TDs and 1,189 yards.
"Those were the days before the college game had started to evolve. Remember, those were the days when players were going both ways," Bud Wilkinson once said.
Crowder was also a standout at safety. He was an All-American choice as a senior and was an all-conference performer in his last two years.
"He was tough. You won with guys like that. He was a hard worker, but he was also one of the best athletes that we had on the team at that time," said Wilkinson.
This Muskogee, Okla., native was drafted by the New York Giants in the second round in 1953. He later became one of several ex-Wilkinson players who went on to become outstanding head coaches. In fact, Crowder's 1971 Colorado team finished No. 3 in the country behind Oklahoma and Nebraska.
He later became athletic director at Colorado and still resides in Boulder.
10. BOBBY WARMACK
Nicknamed the "Wicked Worm," Warmack held most of the Oklahoma passing records for the longest amount of time. He is fifth in career passing with 3,744 yards behind Jason White, Josh Heupel, Cale Gundy and Nate Hybl. He is also fifth behind those four players with career completions (259) and sixth in career completion percentage at .545.
"He was tougher than nails," said Warmack's ex-teammate, Steve Owens. "You loved playing with that guy because he worked his tail off and you knew he was going to come up with a big play when you needed the big play."
Warmack was at his best as a junior when he helped lead the Sooners to a 10-1 record in 1967 and an Orange Bowl win over Tennessee.
"When I got here I don't think a lot of people knew who I was. Those were the days when you probably had 10 quarterbacks on scholarship. So you have to be patient and then take advantage of your opportunity," Warmack said.
Owens thinks Warmack is one of the most underrated quarterbacks who have played at OU.
"Look at how long he held those passing records," Owens said. "That has to tell you an awful lot about him. Those who have seen him play know just how good a player he was."
Others receiving votes: Cale Gundy, Jack Mitchell, Jack Jacobs and Claude Arnold.
Do you agree or disagree? Who are your Greatest 10 Oklahoma quarterbacks?
The Greatest 10: Quarterbacks
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