Most Beatable? Try LEAST Beatable — For 75 Seasons
When Oklahoma plays LSU in the College Football Playoff Semifinal on December 28th, it will be the Sooners’ fourth trip to the CFP in five years. Even though they haven’t won any of those games, few people realize that Oklahoma — not Ohio State, Alabama, Notre Dame, anyone — is the winningest college football program since World War II, with 669 victories (a whopping 40 more than Alabama) and a .759 winning percentage (.006 more than Ohio State).
What fewer people know is that one of America’s greatest sportswriters accurately predicted this level of consistent dominance over six decades ago.
The Nov. 18, 1957 cover of Sports Illustrated — then only three years old and establishing itself as a respected voice — read, “WHY OKLAHOMA IS UNBEATABLE”. Straightforward, clearly, perhaps because the feature story’s headline was anything but…
A + $ + X + F + B = INVINCIBILITY
The piece, written by Tex Maule, compared the University of Oklahoma’s football team to the likes of Standard Oil and the Roman Catholic Church. It presented a simple (if a tad cryptic) formula explaining Oklahoma’s then (and still unmatched) 47-game winning streak. Maule then predicted that the Oklahoma football program, already winners of 17 Missouri Valley, Big 6, and Big 8 conference championships and three national titles, would “probably continue to produce the most formidable team in the nation for years to come.”
You know what’s coming. That issue of S.I. actually dropped on Thursday, Nov. 14, two days before Oklahoma hosted Notre Dame in Norman. They lost 7–0. So, tragically or hilariously — depending on which side you were on — the streak had ended by the time the magazine’s cover date rolled around. So began the S.I. Cover Jinx. (Which, my statistically-oriented friends tell me, is just regression to the mean. As a native Oklahoman and Sooner alumnus, I’m not so sure.)
However, cursing Oklahoma by calling it “unbeatable” does this matter a disservice. Its prediction about that week was wrong. But it’s prediction about the next half-century was spot-on.
Maule argued that the formula behind Oklahoma’s success, and the recipe for future invincibility, boiled down to:
A = Mother Lode
$ = Reward
X = Spirit
F = Foe
B = Boss
The “Mother Lode” was (and still is) the school’s ability to recruit some of the best players from areas where football is a way of life — specifically Oklahoma and neighboring Texas. The Sooner State itself has produced four of their seven Heisman trophy winners. The other three came from the Lone Star State. Maule deemed the Oklahoma recruiting program “the worst menace to Texas border security since Pancho Villa gave up his raids from Mexico.”
During the ’40s and ’50s, Maule explained, Oklahoma was able to permeate Texas’s talent hotbed because the Sooners were in a different conference (the Big 6, subsequently the Big 8). Texas was in the Southwest Conference, which had stricter recruiting rules. Those loopholes have closed, but the 47-game streak prompted decades of recruits spewing up to Norman like oil at Spindletop.
Oklahoma long afterward kept drawing recruits up north. Noah Allen, 36, then a quarterback from the Houston suburb of Pearland, was recruited to OU by then-offensive coordinator Chuck Long. This week, Allen recalled an invitation by the University of Texas and its coach, Mack Brown, actually led him to Norman. “Coach Brown’s staff invited me to the annual Red River game against OU (in 2000),” Allen, who now works in the oil business, said in a telephone interview, “I remember Quentin Griffin ran for like six touchdowns, and I saw a team that worked harder than anyone else and it was something special.”
Back to the 1957 S.I. article, Maule pointed to the fact that the $ (“Reward”) of going to Oklahoma was that you could (like Allen and many others) learn the oil business — and easily get a job in a state whose X (“Spirit”) revolves around the Sooners. Why X instead of S? Maule was not available for comment; he died in 1981.
“One happy by-product of football fever in Oklahoma is that it has finally cured the state of a swollen inferiority complex stemming from the Depression days of the Dust Bowl,” Maule wrote.
F, for “Foe,” established a trend in college that lives on through today. Oklahoma filled out its schedule with weak opponents so that underclassmen could get in blowouts, building more experience for the tough games against Texas, Colorado, Army or Notre Dame. Future Sooners coach Barry Switzer coined the phrase “hang half-a-hundred on ‘em” to describe such easy games.
Which, brings us to B, or “Boss.” This might have been Maule’s most prescient prediction of all. Oklahoma’s most prominent and successful coaches since World War II were all B’s: Bud Wilkinson (1947–63, three national championships), Switzer (1973–88, three titles) and Bob Stoops (1999–2016, one). Their combined winning percentage: .812. Also, remarkably, those three legends served as head coach at no school other than Oklahoma.
The 2000 National Championship season, was the proverbial proof in the pudding, 43 years after Maule’s formula was hypothesized. John Blake had the Sooners’ worst three seasons from 1996–1998.
(Note that the coach’s first name has to begin with B. This is to exclude John Blake, whose 1996–98 tenure was the most disastrous in school history, with an unsightly 12–22 record.)
Oklahoma’s current coach, despite having no B’s, has still carried on Tex Maule’s winning formula. Lincoln Riley is 36–5 in three seasons with two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks (Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray) and most recently, the runner-up (Jalen Hurts). Riley pointed-out last Saturday after a win over Baylor secured the Sooners’ fifth straight Big 12 championship, “We’ve got fifth-year seniors that are going to leave here with five rings on their fingers.”
On December 8th, the College Football Playoff ranked Oklahoma №4 — suggesting the Sooners are the most beatable team in the bracket. But beware of Maule’s formula. Because for the last 75-seasons, Oklahoma has been the least beatable program in college football.