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Oklahoma State’s Big 3

The Oklahoma State Big 3 were Running Backs Terry Miller, Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders.

Terry Miller was recruited by the Cowboys out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. As a freshman, Miller looked so-so averaging 3.8 yards per carry while running for 334 yards.

But, he took care of that 3.8 yards per carry nonsense as a sophomore when he exploded for 1,026 yards rushing at 5.7 yards per carry. He also scored 11 Touchdowns.

Miller was now Oklahoma State’s primary offensive weapon.

Terry Miller really took off in 1976 as a junior. Miller carried the ball 291 times as a junior and he gained 1,714 yards and scored 23 Touchdowns. His success coincided with his team’s improvement and the Cowboys won 9 games against 3 losses.

Miller placed 4th in the Heisman voting behind the great Tony Dorsett of national champion Pittsburgh. Ricky Bell placed 2nd and Rob Lytle was 3rd followed by Miller. All of those guys were seniors and Miller was probably the front runner going into the 1977 season.

Players didn’t skip their senior years in the old days, and Miller returned for his last season in 1977.  However, his team was not on the same level and they stunk it up with a 4-7 record.

Miller, on the other hand, was his usual self and ran for 1,680 yards and 14 Touchdowns. The Heisman still eluded him because of a coaching change at Texas and Fred Akers taking over for legendary coach Darrell Royal. Akers installed the I-formation and installed Wishbone Fullback Earl Campbell as his Tailback. Campbell had an unbelievable season and Texas won all 11 of their regular season games. A top ranked Pittsburgh and Dorsett won it in 1976 and a top ranked Texas and Campbell won it the following season.

Miller did come in second place.

Terry Miller was the 5th overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills and after a 1,060 rookie season, his NFL career was largely a disappointment.

Nobody that ran for 4,754 yards and 49 Touchdowns while playing college football should be considered a disappointment. He was an outstanding college football player.

Oklahoma State has always been second fiddle to the Sooners of Oklahoma in their own state. But,

the Cowboys have had their glory days as well.

When Jimmy Johnson and Pat Jones were the Cowboys head coaches, the Cowboys had some really good years. Jimmy Johnson left to take the Miami Hurricane job after the 1983 season and Pat Jones took over.

During Pat Jones’ first season of 1984, freshman Thurman Thomas came aboard to lead the Cowboys in rushing. He finished with 843 yards and 7 Touchdowns on 205 carries. He replace incumbent leading rusher Shawn Jones who was a 5th year senior.

The Cowboys were impressive winning 10 games against only 2 losses. But, still, their 2 losses were to the Big 8 bad boys of the day, Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Thurman Thomas went on a tear in 1985 running for 1,650 yards and 15 Touchdowns. But, after a very promising start, when they jumped out to an 8-1 start, they lost their last 3 games to finish 8-4.

1986 was a disappointing season for the Cowboys. Oklahoma State had Quarterbacking problems and they eventually turned to freshman Quarterback Mike Gundy to take over. You may recognize the name since he eventually became the Cowboy head coach which is a job he still holds.

The Cowboys started off poorly and lost 4 out of their first 6 games. Of course, two of their losses were to two out of the top five teams in the nation.

The eventually recovered and won 4 out of their last 5 to finish up with a 6-5 record.

Thurman Thomas still led the team in rushing, but his total dropped to 741 yards. There was also a young freshman on the team that you may have heard of, Barry Sanders.

Sanders ran for 325 yards that season.

The 1987 season was a completely different story for Oklahoma State’s Cowboys. Mike Gundy had a year of experience under his belt and he had a top talent at Wide Receiver out of Texas named Hart Lee Dykes.

Dykes was an incredible specimen from Bay City, Texas that was one of the top recruits in the country. He was 6-4, 220 and he could leap like a top basketball player. He caught 61 passes that season and took some pressure off of the running game. Dykes would later become a 1st round draft pick by the New England Patriots.

The running game was no problem in 1987 with senior Thurman Thomas bouncing back and running for 1,613 yards and 17 Touchdowns.

Young Barry Sanders backed up Thomas and ran for 603 yards and 9 Touchdowns.

Thurman Thomas finished up his college career with 4,847 yards rushing and 43 Touchdowns. He fell to the second round of the NFL Draft and was then taken by the Buffalo Bills.

Much unlike predecessor Terry Miller, Thurman Thomas was very successful at the highest level. In 13 seasons, he ran for over 12,000 yards and 65 Touchdowns. He also caught 472 passes for 4,458 yards for 23 more Touchdowns. Not too bad of a career.

He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

The 1988 football season for Oklahoma State was one of the more incredible ones to watch for college football fans in the history of the game. This team was just fun.

Mike Gundy was coming on strong and his Interceptions were down from the previous season. Hart Lee Dykes had another great year and caught 74 passes for 1,274 yards and 14 Touchdowns. Dykes was a senior and the Patriots picked him, but he was a major flop in the NFL.

Thurman Thomas had moved on, but Barry Sanders turned out to be more than adequate as a replacement.

Sanders had one of the best seasons any college football player had ever had. He was beyond amazing.

On the season, Barry Sanders ran for an eye popping 2,628 yards and 37 Touchdowns.

If you were around back in those years and you weren’t even a fan of Oklahoma State, Barry Sanders was more than likely your new favorite Running Back.

The season was amazing, but the Cowboys still couldn’t get past the Big 8 heavies in Nebraska and Oklahoma. They did finish with a 10-2 record and Sanders ran for over 300 yards in 4 different


Barry Sanders won the 1988 Heisman Trophy and decided to move on to the NFL. He ran for 3556 yards and 48 Touchdowns in really only 1 full year as a starter. Now, that is impressive.

Sanders was picked with the 3rd pick overall by the Detroit Lions and suddenly Thanksgiving Day which always featured the Detroit Lions followed by the Dallas Cowboys was no longer dull.

In 10 seasons, Barry Sanders ran for 15,269 and then at the top of his game he just walked away much like the legendary Jim Brown. His best year, in fact, was almost his last one. In 1997, he ran for 2,053 yards.

He could have easily owned every record in the book, but he chose to walk away while he was healthy much like Brown.

Barry Sanders has been inducted into both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fames.

Between Terry Miller’s 4,754 yards and Thurman Thomas’ 4,847 yards and Barry Sanders’ 3556 yards, the Cowboys have had three backs run for over 13,000 yards.

Pretty impressive stuff.