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Oklahoma and Alabama: Comparing two college football dynasties

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Bud Wilkinson (left) and Nick Saban (right).
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Alabama’s football team won its fifth national championship last week with a victory over Georgia. Bama coach Nick Saban also claimed his sixth national title (five with the Crimson Tide and one with LSU in 2003).

But are Alabama and Saban the greatest dynasty in college football? The Oklahoma Sooners of the late 1940s and 1950s were another dynasty of big-time football. Since Saban took over the job in 2007, he’s been there 11 years as head coach. But, I’m going to compare each coach’s records beginning with their second seasons. Saban from 2009-17, and Wilkinson from 1948-57.

During those 10 years of Wilkinson’s era, the Sooners won 92.4 percent of their games (97-7-2). Saban’s first decade of coaching at Alabama, the Tide won 89.9 percent of their games (125-14).

Wilkinson never lost a conference game from 1948-57 as he led the Sooners to a 57-0-1 record for an astonishing 99.1 percent. Oklahoma tied Colorado, 21-21, at the beginning of the 1952 season then won 35 straight through 1957. Wilkinson, who began as OU’s coach in 1947, did not lose his first conference game until 1958. Saban’s Tide has won 91.7 percent of his conference games (99-9).

Oklahoma outscored its opponents, 35-10, during its era of greatness, while the Tide outscored its foes, 35-13. The Sooners still own the major college football record with its 47-game winning streak (1953-57). Bama’s best streak in the Saban era was 26 (2015-16).

Saban was better than Wilkinson with a 48-9 (84.2%) record against Top 20 teams, while Oklahoma owned a 21-5 (80.8%) mark against ranked foes.

Alabama won five national titles with Saban at the helm during the BCS and College Football Playoff Era. The Tide won the 2009, 2011 and 2012 BCS Championships Games, a one-game playoff system voted upon by a combination of human voters and computer rankings. Bama won the 2015 and 2017 national championships by winning two games in a four-game playoff system, of which teams were decided upon by a committee.

OU won three national championships all decided by a group of voters—media (Associated Press) and coaches (United Press International). The Sooners won their titles in 1950, 1954 and 1955 under Wilkinson. National championships were awarded before bowl games were played in those days. Oklahoma lost to Kentucky in the 1951 Sugar Bowl, but the Sooners were rewarded the title before the bowl game.

Oklahoma might have had two more championships—one in 1949 and another in 1954. Pollsters favored Notre Dame in the 1949 AP poll (the UPI poll didn’t begin until the next season). Oklahoma finished second. The Irish finished 10-0 in ’49 and outscored their opponents 36-8.8. The Sooners won all 11 of their games by an average of 36-8. OU went on to defeat No. 9 LSU, 35-0, in the Sugar Bowl. Notre Dame was not allowed by school policy to compete in bowl games. But, remember championships did not include bowl games.

The Sooners had tighter competition for the title in 1954. Ohio State and UCLA both finished with 9-0 records at the end of the regular season and split the national championship (Ohio State by AP and UCLA by UPI). The Bruins were second in the AP and the Buckeyes third in the UPI and Oklahoma wound up third in the polls with a 10-0 record. OU had an average scoring differential of +24.4. Ohio State’s differential was +17.4, and UCLA’s was +31.9

The Sooners beat three ranked opponents, the Bruins defeated two ranked foes, and the Buckeyes beat five ranked opponents.

Oklahoma and Alabama—two great dynasties that came 60 years apart.

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About the Author

Ray Dozier

Ray Dozier is the author of Legends of Oklahoma Sooners Football and two editions of The...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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