Ranking the OU quarterbacks
Periodically over the years I have ranked the OU quarterbacks in history, and I don’t always have the exact same order. New QBs come along, I learn new information about older guys, someone says something that makes me change my mind. For instance, last time, I didn’t include Jimmy Harris. and I heard from enough old-guard Sooner fans, including a couple with very good points, to make me reconsider. Anyway, with the death of Jack Mildren, this seems like as good a time as any to rerank.
1. Jack Mildren: The only real reason to rank Jack behind Jason White is that White won the Heisman and Mildren didn’t. But here’s my question. How many Oklahomans vote in the Heisman, 15 or 20? Something like that. That’s out of 800-900 voters. So should we let guys from Pennsylvania and California and South Carolina, 33 years apart, decide for us which OU quarterback was better? Here is the Heisman truth. Maybe White deserved the 2003 Heisman. But does anyone now (or even then) really believe Jason White was the best campus football player in 2003? No one really wants to make that argument. But you most definitely can make the argument that Jack Mildren was the best college football player in 1971. Auburn’s Pat Sullivan won the Heisman. They went head-to-head in the Sugar Bowl. It was clear who was the better player, and it wasn’t the guy with the trophy.
2. Josh Heupel: One of the favorite things I ever wrote was maybe the most lyrical column I’ve ever written. It could have been put to music. It was about the two quarterbacks who changed OU history. Jack from Abilene and Josh from Aberdeen. Both quarterbacks transformed Sooner football. Both spectacularly ignited era: Mildren in the wishbone, Heupel with the passing spread. Both turned their coaches into virtually-instant legends; Mildren made Chuck Fairbanks a big winner who was plucked off by the NFL, paving the way for Mildren’s offensive coordinator, Barry Switzer, and Heupel jump-started the Bob Stoops era with a national championship in Year No. 2.
3. Jason White: This is not a knock on White. I love White. I wrote about my preferences for White over Nate Hybl back in their first QB derby, and received a catty email from Hybl’s girlfriend, which turned out to be ironic because I later did a radio show with Hybl and got to know both he and Stephanie. Had them over for dinner and they became friends. We went to their wedding. White was a wonderful quarterback on wonderful teams. I don’t want to take back his Heisman. But he didn’t transform the Sooners. He had the ultimate respect of his teammates, but those ’03 and ’04 OU teams weren’t White’s teams the way the ’71 Sooners and ’00 Sooners belonged to Jack from Abilene and Josh from Aberdeen.
4. Jack Mitchell: The more I learn about Jack Mitchell, the higher up the chart he goes. Bud Wilkinson’s first quarterback and helped invent the option. Lethal punt returner, too. Here’s how good was Jack Mitchell. In 1949, the year after Mitchell’s departure, Darrell Royal made All-American as a senior quarterback. In 1947 and 1948, Wilkinson kept moving Mitchell to halfback to make way for Royal. Both years, he moved Mitchell back. How good was Jack Mitchell? He was better than Darrell Royal.
5. Eddie Crowder: My dad always told me the story of how good a ballhandler was Crowder. That several times in 1951 and 1952, Crowder would fake to the fullback, Buck McPhail I suppose, and keep the ball, only to hear the ref’s whistle blow the play dead. Strange thought. If Jack Mildren hadn’t saved Fairbanks’ job in 1970, do you suppose OU would have tried to go after Crowder at Colorado?
6. J.C. Watts: I’ve always thought J.C. was the most underrated of OU’s wishbone quarterbacks. He clearly played on teams that were less-talented than Steve Davis’ and Thomas Lott’s juggernauts. But Watts was a winner. His record as a starter was 22-3, and some of those wins came on last-minute heroics.
7. Indian Jack Jacobs: Indian Jack was OU’s greatest pro quarterback. Alas, he did it in the Canadian Football League, as a star for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who drew such crowds because of Jacobs’ aerials that they built a new stadium. “The House That Jack Built,” it was dubbed. Jacobs played at OU in 1940-41. If he had played for Bob Stoops, he would have thrown 40 touchdown passes a year and there might be a fifth statue along Jenkins.
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