Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma Sooners were the indisputable team of the 50’s. They began with a 35-0 rout of LSU in the 1950 Sugar Bowl and by the end of the decade lost only 9 games out of 105. They rattled off winning streaks of 31 and 47 games, earning 9 top 10 poll finishes, 8 top 5s, and 3 No. 1s while no other team won more than a single national championship.
With their innovative tearaway jerseys that put a stop to desperation shirttail tackles, and with the one platoon system putting a premium on speed and conditioning rather than sheer size, the Sooners dashed and darted around their frustrated opponents and put up a decade that may never be duplicated.
Of all their triumphs, none was sweeter than their upset of top-ranked Maryland in the 1954 Orange Bowl. It was a pairing of mentor and student, as Wilkinson’s predecessor in Norman had been none other than the Terrapins’ head coach Jim Tatum, who had hired Wilkinson as his assistant in 1946 before leaving for Maryland the year after. Under “Big Jim”, as he was called, the Terps hadn’t been doing too badly themselves, having won 27 of their last 29 decisions coming into Miami. So with Maryland ranked No. 1 to Oklahoma’s No. 4, the Orange Bowl was clearly the featured matchup of the day.
As it turned out, the game followed Wilkinson’s plan to a T. After stopping a first quarter Maryland drive just inches from the goal line, the Sooners then utilized their aforementioned speed and conditioning to gradually wear down the Terps’ resistance. Halfback Larry Grigg provided all the scoring that was needed by capping an 80-yard second quarter drive with a 26-yard touchdown sprint, his jersey in pieces but both feet in the end zone.
And though the final poll back then wasn’t revised after the bowl games, when the dust had settled over the Orange Bowl the whole country knew that the Sooners were the real national champions.
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