|MITCHELL SIMON 1919-2014 | WAYMON CLARK
January 1, 1986
During his 20-year tenure as Penn State's coach, Joe Paterno had posted a 187-43-2 record, a .810 winning percentage, and had completed the regular season undefeated four times. On three of those occasions ('68, '69 and '73), he had gone on to defeat an opponent in the Orange Bowl to complete a perfect season, only to be denied a national championship in the polls. Then came another undefeated regular campaign in '78, but his top-ranked Nittany Lions lost to #2 Alabama, 14-7, again denying Paterno a title. But his frustration ended in '82, when #2 Penn State went to the Sugar Bowl and defeated #1 Georgia, 27-23, to finally claim the national title.
After a disappointing 6-5 season, the Nittany Lions began '85 ranked #18. They had narrowly won each of their first six games by seven points or less, three by only two points, including two over top-ten teams, #7 Maryland in the opener and # 10 Alabama in mid-October, before a 27-0 shutout of West Virginia provided their first comfortable margin. Another four-point victory over Boston College followed, before Penn State blew away Cincinnati, 31-10, to inherit the #1 ranking in the November 12th AP poll. They closed out the season with blowout wins over Notre Dame (36-6) and rival Pittsburgh (31-0) en route to an 11-0 record, their 13th Lambert Trophy in 20 seasons signifying the best team in the east and a berth in the Orange Bowl, where the Lions would be looking for a second national championship.
And late in the season, when Penn State had locked up a major bowl bid and Paterno asked the team where they wanted to go, they said to play the highest ranked available team. It appeared to be an Orange Bowl match up against #2 Nebraska, but Oklahoma dominated the Huskers, 27-7, to claim the Big Eight title. So the Lions' destination remained the same, but the opponent had changed.
Penn State featured a conservative running offense that averaged 24 points per game, but was coming off three straight, and their only, 30-point games. Leading the way were three juniors, quarterback John Shaffer, fullback Steve Smith and halfback D.J. Dozier. But the Nittany Lions really excelled on defense, where the school had come to be known as "Linebacker U" under position coach and defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky. Junior nose guard Tim Johnson and senior linebacker Rogers Alexander, who led the team with 102 tackles, combined with a pair of second team All-Americans to lead the defense, junior linebacker Shane Conlan and senior safety Mike Zordich, and as a unit, they had yielded only 11.6 points per game.
Penn State was entering their 23rd bowl game, and after having won each of their previous five, they owned a stellar 14-6-2 record in bowl games. It would be the Nittany Lions' fourth trip to Miami, having won the three previous games. Paterno's record against teams from the Big Eight was a respectable 8-5, but most of those had been against the lesser teams, for against the two best, he was 2-4 against Nebraska, a pair of three-point wins, and was 0-1 against Oklahoma. So it would be only the second meeting ever between the two teams, as the Sooners had shut out Paterno and Penn State in the Sugar Bowl following the '72 season, 14-0, in Chuck Fairbanks' last game as Oklahoma's head coach before his young offensive coordinator took over.
In his 13th season at the helm, coach Barry Switzer had compiled a 125-24-4 record, good for a .830 winning percentage that was the best among active coaches, and one of the top marks all time. He had claimed two national championships, '74 and '75, and had also come close on a few other occasions. This would be Oklahoma's 26th bowl game, having posted a 16-8-1 record in the previous games, including disappointing losses in their last two post-season appearances. Personally, Switzer had posted a 6-3 mark in bowl games.
Oklahoma had come so close to a possible national championship in '84, only to see any chance fade away during Washington's 28-17 upset victory in the '85 Orange Bowl. The Sooners began the '85 season as the AP's top-ranked team, but they dropped to second even before playing their first game in late September. A 27-14 loss to then unranked and visiting Miami in October, in which starting sophomore quarterback Troy Aikman broke his leg and was lost for the season, knocked them down to tenth, but the Sooners used that as motivation to blow out a series of opponents and steadily climb back up the ladder. Now, riding a seven-game winning streak, young third-ranked Oklahoma (10-1), also ranked #2 in the UPI coach's poll, entered the Orange Bowl determined to claim the spotlight.
The Sooners also brought a record-setting defense. Under coordinator Gary Gibbs, they ranked #1 in total defense (193.5 yards per game) and passing defense (103.6), and finished second in rushing defense (89.9) and scoring defense (8.5 points per game), and in the process became the first unit in NCAA history to rank first or second in each of the four major defensive categories. In addition, they had allowed only three rushing touchdowns all year, and only one in the last seven games. It featured a pair of consensus All-Americans, two-time senior nose tackle Tony Casillas, also winner of the Lombardi Award for best lineman and named UPI Lineman of the Year, and colorful sophomore linebacker Brian Bosworth, winner of the inaugural Butkus Award. They also had a player named to the second team, senior linebacker/end Kevin Murphy, and all three were joined on the All-Big Eight team by sophomore end Darrell Reed.
On offense, Oklahoma ranked near the top of the charts behind a wishbone attack that ran an average of 68 times per game, producing 336 yards per game, and had scored 31 points per game. It was under the direction of true freshman All-Big Eight quarterback Jamelle Holieway, a former Los Angeles High School Player of the Year from Carson who took over as the starter in the fourth game of the year when Troy Aikman went down with a season-ending leg injury. Just that quickly, the Sooners had to switch back to a wishbone running attack to fit the strengths of its new quarterback. Holieway responded with four 100-yard rushing performances en route to leading the team with 861 yards, becoming the first Oklahoma quarterback to lead the team in rushing since 1947. He had also completed 41% of his passes for another 517 yards and five touchdowns, and first-year offensive coordinator Jim Donnan had given the youngster ample freedom to call some audibles when necessary.
The rest of the backfield was loaded, led by sophomore fullback Lydell Carr, who rushed for 735 yards, and three speedy halfbacks, junior Spencer Tillman, sophomore Patrick Collins and freshman Anthony Stafford. Leading the way up front were three All-Big Eight performers, freshman guard Anthony Phillips, sophomore tackle Mark Hutson, and sophomore tight end Keith Jackson, and providing leadership as the only senior on the offense was guard Eric Pope.
The resolute Sooners were still smarting from their upset in Miami a year earlier, costing them a possible title, and this time around, Switzer brought his team down to Florida before Christmas to prepare hard for Penn State. Meanwhile, the Lions were looking for a little respect after many viewed their schedule as being a little soft. But given the speed and talent of the Sooners, it was easy to see why they were better than a touchdown favorite by the odds makers.
Earlier, the Rose Bowl saw UCLA pound #4 Iowa, 45-28, knocking the Hawkeyes out of any possible contention. So with AP #2 and UPI #4 Miami playing at the same time in the Sugar Bowl, a team that beat Oklahoma, the national championship would be decided on New Year's night. The Hurricanes had an outside shot at a title, but they had to beat Tennessee, and in the week leading up to the game, Miami coach Jimmy Johnson constantly stressed that the SEC champion Volunteers were better than their #8 ranking. Meanwhile, the Sooners needed either a win combined with a Miami loss, or a blowout victory, to claim the title.
With the match up, it meant that in four of the last five years the national championship was at stake in the Orange Bowl. On a hot and humid night with the temperature in the upper 70's, and in front of 74,178 fans, the captains for each team went to midfield, Oklahoma's in their crimson jerseys and Penn State in their trademark blank, boring and all white uniforms, save for a navy stripe on the helmet and navy numbers. The Sooners were represented by Casillas, Murphy and Pope, and the Lions were represented by Alexander, senior offensive tackle Todd Moules, and Zordich. Penn State won the coin toss, and they elected to defer to the second half and play defense first.
On their opening possession, Oklahoma reached into their bag of tricks and a handoff to Jackson was flipped to Stafford, but Conlan was right there and stopped the play for a loss of two. After Carr gained five and Holieway only two more, Penn State's strategy had worked and the Sooners were forced to punt. Mike Winchester, who had averaged 39.9 yards per boot in the season, nailed one 46 yards, but it was returned eight.
The Lions started at their own 37, but an illegal motion backed them up another five. Dozier went up the middle for four, and on the second play, Shaffer dropped back to pass. He threw mid range down the middle for senior tight end Dean Dimidio and into double coverage, but defensive back Tony Rayburn clearly was guilty of pass interference, and despite Switzer's plea to the referees that the high ball was uncatchable, the penalty moved the ball across midfield to the Oklahoma 47.
Penn State went back to the ground, and Smith went up the middle twice, which gained 11 yards and a first down, and then Dozier took a pitch for five more. Mixing their plays, Shaffer rolled to his left and threw a strike to junior flanker Eric Hamilton down on the sideline that picked up 12, and they were at the Sooner 18. From there, a fade pattern into the right corner was incomplete, and after Dozier picked up three, State was faced with a third down-and-seven at the 15. Shaffer went to the air again and found sophomore split end Ray Roundtree across the middle for 13 yards, and the Lions were at the two and knocking on the door against the #1 defense in the land.
Smith tried his luck at pounding up the middle, and the Sooners stopped him just inches short of the goal line. They were not as fortunate on the next surge, as junior fullback Tim Manoa went straight ahead again and plunged across for a touchdown, capping an ten-play, 63-yard drive, and Penn State had the lead. Junior kicker Massimo Manca's extra point made it 7-0, and Penn State looked every bit like the #1 team in the country.
On Oklahoma's next possession, which started at the 29 after Stafford's 27-yard return, the longest for the Sooners of the season, Conlan stuffed Holieway on a blitz for a loss of 13. Penn State had devised a plan that had the linebacker isolated on the Sooner quarterback, and he mirrored him wherever he went. Carr went for five, and then Holieway took a two-step drop on a draw and broke it for 16 yards, but it was a few yards short, and the Sooners were again three plays and out.
Winchester's punt gave State the ball at their 15, and word came that Tennessee scored to tie the Sugar with Miami, 7-7. Up the middle went for no gain, and then Shaffer's pass downfield for Dozier was almost intercepted. Faced with a third-and-ten, a screen pass to Dimidio was defended beautifully by junior tackle Steve Bryan and junior back Sonny Brown, limited to a gain of two, and State was forced to punt the ball back. Junior John Bruno's punt went to the Oklahoma 42, where junior Derrick Shepard fielded it and ran up to the 48, but with a tackler on him, he alertly flipped back to sophomore Rickey Dixon, who took the ball into State territory to the 46.
With just under five minutes in the quarter, Oklahoma went to work. Holieway's pitch to Tillman was bobbled and dropped for a loss of two, and then Carr went for three. Faced with a third down-and-nine, the Sooners went to the air, and Holieway found Jackson cutting across the middle for a 13-yard gain, and their initial first down of the night. In a change of tactics, as the Sooners could not work the corners with the wishbone, they decided to pound the middle behind their horses, and Carr went off left tackle for exactly ten, and then he went off the right guard for seven more. Carr again went up the middle and got close to a first down, but then Tillman did the same for two, and Oklahoma had first-and-ten at the Penn State 12.
Jackson's false start cost them five yards, and then Alexander stopped Carr off the left tackle after a gain of two. Holieway then went back to pass and scrambled around looking for running room, but he went the wrong way and was dropped for a loss of 13, but Zordich had grabbed his face mask during the tackle, and the penalty gave the Sooners the ball back up at the ten. Freshman fullback Leon Perry went up the middle for four, and the first quarter ended with Oklahoma threatening.
It ran Penn State's string to seven straight games without allowing any first quarter points, and a look at the statistics showed a fairly even game, except on the scoreboard. Oklahoma had rushed for 40 yards, primarily Carr's 35, and had 53 total yards overall, but the Lions had 25 on the ground and 27 in the air for a total of 52. Now, they the two teams entered a period that the Sooners had owned during the season, outscoring their opponents 130-10 during the second quarter.
A third down-and-four began the period and Holieway optioned to the left, but sophomore linebacker Pete Giftopoulos nailed him for a loss of four, and the Sooners sent kicker Tim Lashar out for a field goal on the 11th play of the drive. He booted a 26-yarder, and just 25 seconds in, Penn State still led, 7-3.
After Oklahoma's David Vickers drilled sophomore return man Jim Coates at the 15 on the kickoff, they continued to hit when a blitzing Reed nailed Shaffer hard when he rolled to the right. Dozier tried up the middle, but the defense swarmed all over him, and then Shaffer threw too high for Roundtree, and it was another three plays-and-out for the Lions. And on Bruno's 46-yard punt, Oklahoma was guilty of a dead-ball personal foul, which meant they would have to start at their own 27 with 13:24 showing.
On account of the penalty, the Sooners had 25 yards to go for a first down. Following their earlier success, Oklahoma attacked the middle, and Tillman, who had gained only 243 yards during the season, broke a tackle at the line and went for a gain of 12. Holieway wanted to option on the next play, but a gang of Penn State defenders was all over him for a loss of ten, which brought up a third-and-23. Oklahoma caught the Lions in an ill-timed blitz, and with single coverage on three receivers downfield, Holieway lofted a home run pass in the middle for Jackson, who was opposite backup nickel back Brian Buchman on account of starter Ray Isom being on the sidelines from an earlier injury, and Jackson caught the ball in stride at the 31 and ran clear into the end zone for a 71-yard touchdown, the fourth longest scoring reception in Orange Bowl history, and a Sooners' lead. Lashar's kick made it 10-7 at the 12:26 mark, and Penn State was stunned.
The Oklahoma defense again forced a three-and-out series, Murphy stuffing Dozier for a loss of one, Bryan almost sacking Shaffer and forcing an incompletion, and Bosworth stopping Manoa on a draw, and for the third straight series, Penn State had to punt. The Sooners' defense clearly was taking control, but the wishbone offense needed to find itself, and as they took over at the 32, news came that Tennessee was ahead of Miami, 14-7. But three runs up the middle came up just short of a first down, and Switzer elected to punt back to Penn State.
The Lions had the ball at their own 14, and a screen pass back to Manoa was stopped when freshman defensive back Derrick White dropped him for a loss of seven. But Shaffer found Dimidio across the middle for a gain of 16, and after Smith went ahead for two, Penn State had their first new set of downs since their opening drive. Shaffer dropped back to pass and looked for his receiver down the right flat, but his pass sailed way too high and Oklahoma's Brown was readily waiting to intercept the ball at the 45, and he streaked down the left sideline all the way to the 15, a return of 30 yards.
Perry tried up the middle, but was stopped for no gain, and then Conlan continued to cause fits for Holieway, as he strung out the Sooner quarterback along the line of scrimmage for a loss of one. Holieway threw into the end zone for receiver Lee Morris, who was drilled after the ball hit his shoulder pads, and Oklahoma had to settle for Lashar's 31-yard field goal, and a 13-7 lead with 5:24 left in the half.
Penn State started from their 23, and Smith went up the middle for only three. The Lions clearly were not a passing team, and were uncomfortable in that position, and as Shaffer rolled to his left, sophomore end Troy Johnson leveled him at the 19 for a loss of seven. Faced with a third-and-13, Shaffer dropped back and looked down the left sideline for running back David Clark, but his pass into double coverage was tipped at the 40, and junior defensive back Tony Rayburn grabbed it on the run at the 44 and kept motoring down the sideline for a 36-yard interception return, setting the Sooners up at the Penn State nine.
Holieway, obviously told to keep it under wraps, handed off up the middle to Stafford, but Johnson hit him to cause a fumble, and Jamelle had to cover the loose ball at the 13, resulting in a loss of four. Carr tried the middle on the next two plays, which gained five and then three, and Lashar again came on for points. He kicked a 21-yard field goal, and it increased the Oklahoma lead to 16-7 with 1:50 remaining in the half.
The Sooners' defense again held suit for another three-and-out series, and after Bruno's 53-yard punt, they had the ball at their 14 to run out the clock. First, Holieway went up the middle for one, and then he was nailed for no gain. With time dwindling down, and instead of dropping to a knee, he inexplicably scrambled around on the next play with the ball dangerously unprotected and fumbled, and the Lions pounced on it at the 11 with nine seconds left. After an incompletion, Manca came on to kick a 27-yard field goal with one second left, pulling the Lions to within six at 16-10.
The defenses had dominated the second quarter. Oklahoma held Penn State to just 15 yards in total offense, but the Lions' defense was performing reasonably well also. The long touchdown pass had accounted for all of the aerial yards, but they had permitted just 13 yards rushing in the quarter, and of the 53 yards gained on the ground for the Sooners, Carr had gained 45 of them, as Holieway and the other three backs had combined for eight yards on 18 carries. During the 45-minute intermission, word came that Tennessee was soundly beating Miami by 21 points in the Sugar Bowl, 28-7, and if Oklahoma could hold on for 30 more minutes, the national championship would be theirs, but in six of Penn State's 11 games during the season, they had come from behind in the second half to win. There was still a lot of football to be played.
Penn State's first possession of the second half started at their 30. Dozier went up the middle for one, and then took another off right tackle for eight, and from there, Smith was hit a bunch of times, but his determination moved the ball across the 40 for a first down. They again tried the middle for a gain of two, and then a double reverse to freshman receiver Michael Timpson, a sprinter in high school, gained 21 yards into Oklahoma territory at the 47.
Penn State again went back to the run, as two Dozier carries up the middle gained three. Shaffer then found Dimidio for a 12-yard completion, and another first down at the Oklahoma 33. Predictably, Smith tried the middle, but gained one. Shaffer went back to the air and found tight end Brian Siverling for seven, setting up a third-and-one. Shaffer rolled to his left, and instead of passing, he tucked the ball and plowed ahead for a gain of four, as the Lions again moved the chains. But on the 12th play of the sustained drive, Shaffer aired a toss out down the right side line and into double coverage at the goal line for Timpson, but it was under thrown and Oklahoma's Brown intercepted it at the one to stop the long march. It was Shaffer's third interception of the game.
Oklahoma began their possession with a pair of penalties, which moved the ball half the distance to the goal line each time, and were now barely out of their own end zone. A Holieway incompletion on second down was sandwiched by a pair of Carr runs up the middle for one and three yards, and it brought out Winchester to punt. He nailed a beauty that Penn State's Coates fielded at the Lion 49, and they tried a reverse to the faster Timpson, but when Mike Mantle hit him at the Sooner 44, it caused a fumble, and it was recovered at the 42 by teammate Jodie Britt, giving Oklahoma the ball back.
The offense went back to attacking the middle, and Tillman and Perry each gained two yards. Holieway then faked an option to his right and pulled up to fire a completion to Shepard at the Penn State 45, but it appeared that he was going to lateral to a trailing Collins, and the ball squirted loose. The Lions recovered, but the officials ruled Shepard was down by contact, and not a fumble or incompletion, and clearly a big break for the Sooners.
Holieway then optioned to the right and finally found some room to break it for a 13-yard gain. Going back to what had already worked, Perry went up them middle for four, and then Carr did the same for nine, and another first down at the 20. Carr then went up the gut again, and he broke it for a 17-yard burst to the three. From there, the offense sputtered, as Holieway's late pitch to Collins was fumbled, but recovered at the 12, and courtesy of some piling on during the scramble, a penalty moved the ball to the eight. Carr gained two, and after Holieway overthrew an open Jackson for a sure touchdown, Lashar's 22-yard field goal on the 11th play after the fumbled punt, his Orange Bowl-record fourth, put the Sooners ahead 19-10 with 3:09 left in the third. And with Miami still losing to Tennessee by a 28-7 count, now in the fourth quarter, clearly this game was for the national championship.
On the Lions' next possession, Paterno stayed with Shaffer at quarterback. Starting at their 20, Manoa picked up two, and then Shaffer was forced up the middle for two more. Shaffer then hit Hamilton for a 13-yard completion to move the ball to the 37. Manoa went for five, and then for three, and then Clark took a pitch and carried across midfield for another first down as the third quarter came to an end, a period that the Lions had out-rushed the Sooners, 34-8.
On the first play of the fourth, Penn State reached into their bag again and Dozier took a pitch to the right, but he pulled up and fired a halfback pass downfield for Hamilton, whose desperate dive was still not enough to collect the surprising throw. After Dozier went up the middle for five, Shaffer's pass into the right flat for Hamilton was tipped away by Rayburn, and Penn State was forced to punt, which sailed into the end zone.
Oklahoma stuck to what was working, and using their horses, Tillman went up the middle and broke it for a big gain of 20 yards. After Carr gained only three, Tillman picked up only one. Faced with a third-and-six at the 44, Collins took a pitch from Holieway around the left end and broke it into Penn State territory and down the sideline for a gain of 18 to the 38. It was the Sooners' first option pitch around the corner that had worked. Illegal procedure backed them up five yards, and then Perry went into the middle for two. Holieway kept an option, and as he was working to the 36, a big hit caused a fumble, and when Penn State recovered at the 35, it was Oklahoma's first turnover of the night.
The scoreboard clock showed 11:05 left in the game, and the Sooner defense, which had permitted 86 yards on the ground and 70 through the air, remained tough. Smith found nothing in the middle, and when Shaffer rolled to his left, sophomore linebacker Dante Jones strung it out and nailed him for a loss of two. Shaffer then tried to get a pass to Dimidio in the flat, but Rayburn tackled him immediately at the 39, and Bruno had to come on for his sixth punt of the night.
Penn State's defense was also answering the call as Oklahoma started at their 20. Stafford tried the middle, but gained only one. Then fellow frosh Perry tried going up the gut twice in a row, picking up six and then two, and Winchester came on to punt his fifth of the night.
As the Lions took over on their 41 with 6:56 left in the game, Shaffer's night was finished. In came sophomore backup quarterback Matt Knizner who had thrown for just one touchdown and one interception during the season. A screen pass to Dozier gained two, and then he carried up the middle for ten and a first down. Bosworth batted Knizner's short pass attempt down, and then a high-percentage shovel-pass to Smith up the middle went for a gain of almost 15 to the Oklahoma 33, but Penn State was guilty of a late hit from center Scott Radecic blocking on Dixon, and resulted in a 15-yard penalty that moved the ball almost back to the original spot.
Knizner hit Siverling for an 18-yard completion to the Oklahoma 29, and then the pair again hooked up for another 13 before the tight end went out of bounds, as Penn State was threatening. Dozier was hit hard by Jones for no gain, and then Knizner rolled to the right and kept for a gain of six to the ten. Faced with a third down-and-four, he tried the same routine on the other side, but Jones met him hard this time and flattened him for a gain of only one. With about three minutes to play, Paterno opted for a field goal attempt, and in came Manca, who had never missed a "chip shot" from inside the 30. But this time, his 26-yard kick was barely wide to the left and it would have pulled the game within reach, instead, Oklahoma took over at their 20, and with a nine-point lead.
There was 2:46 showing on the clock, which was clearly an ally for the wishbone running game, but Penn State still had three timeouts left. Sticking to what had worked, Carr went up the middle for three, and then another try gained nothing. Tillman found some daylight and broke one out to the 33 for a first down, but he was forced out of bounds, which stopped the clock. Carr went up the middle for six more yards, but more importantly, the clock continued to run. It showed 1:52 as Oklahoma was lined up for their next play, and predictably, it was Carr attacking up the middle, but he broke through and angled towards the right sideline, where he scampered towards the end zone and eluded a few feint diving tackles to score a 61-yard touchdown as the Oklahoma fans were screaming, going over the 100-yard mark in a game for only his fourth time. With only 1:42 left, it was the final nail in the coffin, and nobody cared when Lashar kicked a knuckleball that sailed wide left on the extra point. The 25-10 score made it just about official, as flashes of #1 were everywhere among Sooners players and faithful.
After the ensuing kickoff, Penn State started at their six, and they didn't give up. Knizner hit Manoa for nine, before a sack followed an incompletion, but Knizner kept the ball alive by completing a 12-yard pass for a first down. He hit Dimidio for seven and then Darryl Giles for another 14, and then he threw long down the middle, but it was intercepted by Ledell Glenn at the Oklahoma 27 and he returned it 41 yards to the Penn State 32 before being tackled with just four seconds left.
Freshman quarterback Eric Mitchel took the snap and a knee for the final play, and Switzer got a much-deserved victory ride. Oklahoma had not done what they usually do well, run the wishbone, but summed up, it was their swarming defense, a record field goal performance, and two big offensive plays that helped them defeat Penn State, leaving no doubt as to the best team in the country.
The Sooners tallied 58 total plays, with 52 of them runs totaling 228 yards. With Holieway limited to only a net of one yard on his 12 carries, Carr led the ground attack by carrying 19 times for a career-high 148 yards, the fourth highest in Orange Bowl history. But it was the Oklahoma defense that had lived up to their billing. They limited Penn State to 267 total yards, with 103 coming on the ground and 164 through the air, most of it late from the arm of Knizner, who completed eight of 11 passes for 90 yards. The Sooners held Dozier to 39 yards on 12 carries, and they forced five turnovers, four on interceptions. And Bosworth seemed to be all over the field, as he finished the night with 13 unassisted tackles.
It marked the end of a long journey for Switzer, whose Sooners had last been ranked #1 during their season seven years earlier before the heart-breaking 17-14 loss at Nebraska in November of '78. "We survived the bowl day. Iowa didn't. Miami didn't. Penn State didn't," crowed Switzer. "The easiest solution would have been for Penn State to win. We made it happen the hard way."
It was only the seventh time in 36 years that a team ranked as the Associated Press' preseason #1 won the national tile, and four were Oklahoma ('56, '74, '75, and '85). It was also the school's sixth overall, with their third national championship from the Orange Bowl, joining the '55 and '75 titles. "Oklahoma has probably played at a higher level of expectation for a longer period than anyone else," Switzer said. "In the time we've won three national titles, 13 years, we could have won six or maybe seven, we've been that close on other times."
His references were duly noted, and also well documented. First, there was '77, when the Sooners were ranked #2 and top-ranked Texas, who had beaten Switzer and Co., lost earlier during the day in the Cotton Bowl, but a 31-6 Orange Bowl loss to #6 Arkansas cost them the title, and Oklahoma dropped to #7. Next came '78, when the Nebraska loss left the Sooners with no chance given the 1 vs. 2 game between Penn State and Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, but Oklahoma easily won a rematch in the Orange Bowl over the Huskers, 31-24, and then finished ranked third. That was followed by '79, when a 16-7 loss against then #4 Texas cost Switzer any reasonable shot, and after knocking off #4 Florida State in the Orange Bowl, the Sooners finished third for the second straight year. And finally, in '84 they were ranked #2 heading into the Orange Bowl and a debate swirled around whether unbeaten and untested BYU deserved the title if Oklahoma won, but they were upset by #4 Washington, 28-17, ending the controversy, and finishing ranked #6.
And the only other team that could reasonably come close to Switzer's statement was Alabama. Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide had won a share of the national championship in '73 and '78, and had undisputedly claimed the title in '79. They had also gone through the regular season undefeated in '71 and '74, only to lose bowl games each time. In addition, Alabama had the second best winning percentage in the 70's, trailing only Oklahoma.
But for Switzer, it was probably his most satisfying title of the three because it was won with players recruited entirely by himself and his staff. He continued, "But this one does mean more to me because I recruited these players, not Chuck Fairbanks. Winning the national championship is probably, for the most part, something the players and the assistant coaches do. I am just a part of it."
And given that most of his team was returning, the future looked very bright in Norman.
Source: Jeff Linkowski