Since the 1970s, fans of the OU Sooners and OSU Cowboys have been accustomed to seeing their teams hang big numbers on the national scoreboard.
As they rolled for 5,196 rushing yards, the 1971 Sooners remain the most prolific running team in major-college football history. Barry Switzer-coached OU teams still have national records for average rush attempts (74 per game in 1974) and single-game rushing yards (768 against Kansas State in 1988).
At Oklahoma State, Terry Miller rushed for 1,887 yards in 1976. Ernest Anderson ran for 1,877 yards in 1982 and Thurman Thomas for 1,767 in 1987.
Barry Sanders followed in 1988 with his incredible, national-record-shattering performance of 2,850 rushing yards.
Imagine going back to 1969 or 1979 or 1989. Imagine showing fans of that time a stat sheet from 2010-18 — a decade like no other in the history of college football in this state.
Before 1999, when Mike Leach completely transformed the Sooners during his one-year run as the offensive coordinator, no one could have envisioned what would happen with passing offense at each Bedlam school.
Imagine the reaction to the past two seasons at Oklahoma, where Baker Mayfield completed 71% of his passes in 2017 and Kyler Murray completed 69% last year.
Not that long ago — in 1998, John Blake’s third and final season as the OU head man — Sooner passers converted on only 43% of their attempts.
Imagine the reaction to Justin Blackmon’s Oklahoma State seasons of 2010 and 2011, when he totaled 233 catches for 3,304 yards and 38 touchdowns. In 1998, no Cowboy receiver had more than 25 catches.
In 20 seasons during the ’60s and ’70s, OSU tossed 116 touchdown passes.
In 2010-18, as Brandon Weeden and Mason Rudolph broke all program records, and as QBs like Clint Chelf and Taylor Cornelius developed to a point at which they could post impressive yardage figures, there were 289 touchdown passes.
This decade closes with the 2019 season and with new quarterbacks both at OU and OSU. Even if there are dips in production and efficiency, passing-game success at each school will remain far beyond what it used to be.
As it pertains to offensive style, the two most influential coaches in state history were Switzer (for having driven OU’s 1970 switch to the wishbone) and Leach (who brought the fast-paced, Air Raid passing game to Norman).
Today, most Oklahoma high school programs try to replicate the spread attack that Leach installed and Josh Heupel mastered as OU’s quarterback in 1999 and 2000.
In the 124-year history of OU football, there have been only eight 200-yard receiving performances. Seven of them occurred during this decade. Marquise Brown, Dede Westbrook and Ryan Broyles each did it twice. Sterling Shepard did it once.
This is among the reasons why Bob Stoops was hired in December 1998: During the 1998 season, no Oklahoma receiver had more than 14 catches.
As Jason White won the 2003 Heisman Trophy, Mark Clayton caught a school-record 83 passes. In 2010, in a resounding sign of things to come, Broyles obliterated Clayton’s record by finishing with an astounding 131 catches.
That record might actually stand for a long time, if not forever.
Mayfield and Murray were Heisman Trophy recipients. Blackmon twice won the Biletnikoff Award. OU’s Westbrook (2016) and OSU’s James Washington (2017) were Biletnikoff winners. Last season, Cowboy fans grumbled when Tylan Wallace was a finalist but didn’t get the award.
In 2019, Wallace remains OSU’s No. 1 receiver while OU — with CeeDee Lamb and a tremendous freshman class of wideouts — may have more legitimately talented targets than at any point in program history.
This passing-game eruption doesn’t feel temporary.
On a year-round basis, high school quarterbacks and receivers hone their skills. Teams get more yards and more scores with an up-tempo passing attack than they would with an old-school, conventional offense.
There seems to be no turning back. The presence of quarterbacks like Mayfield, Murray, Weeden and Rudolph will never be common, but passing-game personnel will remain talented enough to sustain the status quo.
The expectation here is in 2020-29, the Sooner offense and Cowboy offense thrive in the same manner as they thrived in 2010-18.