Photo courtesy of Frankie Leon
In Oklahoma’s storied history, there have been a plethora of talented running backs. Some are among the greatest we’ve seen in the sport.
Many of those running backs have gone on to win Heisman Trophies, NFL MVPs, and have landed themselves in the Pro Football and College Football Hall of Fames.
With that being said, Norman, Oklahoma has been a breeding ground for Hall of Fame running backs; but which one of them was the best? In this list, we will be taking for account success at the college level, including: accolades, stats, and team success. So, this won’t include anything they’ve done at the NFL level.
With that being said, let’s dive into the top five Oklahoma running backs of all-time.
5. Samaje Perine
Career Stats: 685 attempts (5th), 4,122 rushing yards (1st), 49 rushing touchdowns (4th), six yards per attempt (12th)
Statistically, Samaje Perine ranks among the best in Sooners history. The program’s all-time rusher, Perine comes in at No. 4 at Oklahoma in touchdowns.
The peak of his reign of dominance between 2014 and 2016 came during his freshman season on Nov. 22, 2014. That day, he broke the NCAA single-game rushing yards record against Kansas with 427, which still stands today. This happened just a week after Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon had set the record against Nebraska with 408 yards.
That freshman season was the best season of his career at Oklahoma, as he finished with 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns on 263 carries. He was named Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year and was first-team All-Big 12 that season.
Throughout the rest of his career, he did see fewer carries than in his freshman season. Still, Perine had over 1,000 rushing yards and more than 10 touchdowns in both of his last two seasons.
Perine was one of the most productive running backs in school history. Unfortunately, it didn’t translate into many accolades past his freshman season.
4. Demarco Murray
Career Stats: 759 attempts (2nd), 3,685 rushing yards (7th), 50 rushing touchdowns (3rd), 4.9 yards per attempt (26th)
Before his storied Dallas Cowboys days, Demarco Murray had a spectacular career at Oklahoma. Ranking in the top 10 in rushing yards, attempts, and rushing touchdowns, Murray was one of the best tailbacks Norman has ever seen.
Murray made the Big 12’s first team in two of his four seasons in Norman (2008, 2010) along with an appearance on the second team in 2009.
Murray was both an excellent rusher and an excellent receiver out of the backfield; it showed with his 5,256 yards from scrimmage.
He also holds a plethora of school records, such as the all-time touchdowns record (65), the all-time all-purpose yards record (6,718, which includes his kick return yards), and all-time receiving yards for a running back (1,571),
Murray was one of the key pieces to the Sooners’ offense for the entirety of his four-year run with the team. That included a trip to the BCS National Championship game, where they lost to Florida to close 2008.
3. Steve Owens
Career Stats: 958 attempts (1st), 4,041 rushing yards (5th), 57 rushing touchdowns (1st), 4.2 yards per attempt (32nd)
Steve Owens was a touchdown machine for the Sooners in his three-year run. Owens still holds the all-time record for rushing touchdowns as a Sooner.
He was the face of the Sooners’ wishbone offense in the late 1960s, as he was handed the rock more than any other running back in program history. His willingness to be a workhorse paid off as he became the second Sooner to ever win the Heisman Trophy in 1969.
In that 1969 season, he ran for 1,523 yards and added 23 touchdowns. He also won the Walter Camp Award and was a unanimous selection to the All-American team.
In his years as a Sooner, the team won the Big 8 Conference twice and beat the Tennessee Volunteers in the Orange Bowl in 1967. However, Oklahoma finished fourth in the conference during his 1969 Heisman campaign.
Owens was one of the pioneers that made Oklahoma “RBU”, which is why he comes at No. 3 on this list.
2. Billy Sims
Career Stats: 593 attempts (9th), 4,118 rushing yards (2nd), 53 rushing touchdowns (2nd), 6.9 yards per attempt (2nd)
Billy Sims was arguably the face of the Barry Switzer era, as he dominated in 1978 and 1979. His career started out slow, but he burst onto the scene in 1978 when he ran for 1,762 yards and an NCAA-leading 20 touchdowns, earning him the Heisman Trophy.
The next season, he again led the nation in rushing touchdowns with 22 and added 1,506 yards. This time, Sims finished second in the Heisman voting to USC’s Charles White.
In his run with the Sooners, Sims led the team to two Big 8 championships and two wins in the Orange Bowl, beating Nebraska in 1978 and Florida State in 1979.
Sims’ amazing Sooners career proved itself to be great, as he was undeniably the best player in the nation at the time. Sims was selected first overall in the 1980 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions.
1. Adrian Peterson
Career Stats: 747 attempts (3rd), 4,045 rushing yards (4th), 41 rushing touchdowns (7th), 5.4 yards per attempt (16th)
Before Adrian Peterson was breaking countless NFL records, he was doing the same as an Oklahoma Sooner.
It all started with his spectacular freshman season of 2004, where Peterson set the NCAA record for most 100-yard games as a freshman (11) and rushing yards as a freshman (1,925, which has been since broken by Jonathan Taylor.)
During that season, he finished second to USC quarterback Matt Leinart for the Heisman Trophy. A Big 12 Freshman of the Year, Peterson was the first Oklahoma freshman to be named a first-team All-American. He was selected unanimously. The Sooners lost to the Trojans in the BCS National Championship that year.
His career also consisted of three first-team All-Big 12 appearances and two Big 12 championships.
Peterson suffered some injuries during his sophomore and junior seasons that prevented him from accomplishing more, but still had a great enough impact on Oklahoma football to land him the top spot on this list.