“The love that we knew
Is living again
And nothing else matters, baby
We’re together again”
- “Together Again,” by Ray Charles
According to Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald, sources from inside the Nebraska program say that NU has agreed “in principle” to a home-and-home football series with Oklahoma. No contracts have been signed but, according to Shatel, both sides want the series to happen.
The series is scheduled to start in Norman in 2021. That would be the 50-year anniversary of when Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers tore ‘em loose from their shoes with a punt return for a touchdown to cap off Nebraska’s 35-31 win over Oklahoma in what became billed as “the Game of the Century.” The return game would be in Lincoln in 2022.
Most Nebraska fans will be excited to see this news and are hopeful that the two schools are able to dot the I’s and cross the T’s to make the series happen. A renewal of the Nebraska-Oklahoma series will have real benefits for Nebraska, both emotional and practical.
Reviving a Tradition
Most importantly, a Nebraska-Oklahoma series would renew one of the most storied series of games in college football history. Conference realignment has recently claimed a number of traditional games as casualties, including Texas-Texas A&M, Kansas-Missouri and Pitt-West Virginia. But the death of the Nebraska-Oklahoma series was not sudden, like those other series. Instead, it began dying a slow death with the formation of the Big 12.
When the Southwestern Conference broke apart, Texas and Texas A&M needed to find a conference home. Geographically, it made the most sense to graft on to either the Big 8 or the SEC. After the sting of betrayal from Arkansas’ departure to the SEC, it was an unlikely destination for the big Texas schools. Besides, those schools had to carry Texas Tech and Baylor as political weight.
So the Big 12 was formed, and a conference championship game like the money-making juggernaut the SEC had established a few years earlier, was born. The conference was broken into divisions, and Oklahoma was left with a choice between playing Nebraska and playing Texas every year, as it did not want to have both schools on its schedule every year.
Oklahoma chose Texas and the Red River
Shootout Rivalry at the Texas State Fair.
So the Nebraska-Oklahoma game shifted from what made it great, a game played the day after Thanksgiving, with the nation watching, usually to decide the conference title and a trip to the Orange Bowl. Instead, it became a game played twice every four years and felt more like just another game.
Besides, throwing tortilla chips onto the FieldTurf was far less satisfying than throwing oranges onto the frozen AstroTurf.
But the Nebraska-Oklahoma series has great memories attached to it. Sure, there is the Game of the Century as the crown jewel of the series. But there were so many more memorable contests. The 1978 game where Nebraska won 17-14, finally validating Tom Osborne’s position as Nebraska head coach.
The 1987 game where Oklahoma came to Lincoln and put on a show, beating Nebraska 17-7 and only letting NU cross midfield three times. The 2000 game in Norman where Oklahoma re-established itself as a national power, beating top-ranked Nebraska, 31-14. The 2001 return game in Lincoln, where “Black 41 Flash Reverse” dazzled the crowd and helped Nebraska pull off a 20-10 victory.
Great memories, for fans of both teams. And if this series does get confirmed, college football as a whole will have dates to circle for 2021 and 2022.
Helping Both Teams Make the Playoffs
Sure, nostalgia is wonderful. But there is a very practical benefit for both Nebraska and Oklahoma to play each other. Starting in 2014, college football will have a four-team playoff to decide a national champion.
The makeup of the four-team playoff field will be decided by a selection committee which, according to ESPN.com, will consider “win-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results and whether a team is a conference champion.” (Emphasis added.)
By 2021, college football’s playoff system will be old hat (and expanded to eight teams, if at least one presidential candidate gets his way). But it is clear that it will be beneficial for any teams with aspirations of making the playoffs have a strong strength of schedule.
So yes, seeing Nebraska and Oklahoma play on the 50th anniversary of the Game of the Century will be flat-out awesome to see. But, assuming Nebraska will be competing for a playoff spot, the Oklahoma series will also almost assuredly help Nebraska’s strength of schedule and improve NU’s chances to make the playoffs.
Another Shot at the Sooners
This reason is unique to Nebraska and probably a little petty. In 2009, Nebraska played its last season in the Big 12 conference. The season was full of acrimony on both sides, with many conference foes angry at Nebraska for leaving and Nebraska angry at the conference officials about how the departure was handled.
Things got bad enough that many Children of the Corn suspected a conspiracy amongst the conference brass to ensure Nebraska was humiliated as it left the conference.
As it happened, Nebraska got to play Oklahoma in its final game as a member of the same conference with the Sooners. Meeting in Cowboy Stadium in Dallas, Nebraska took a 17-0 lead and looked poised to break its decade-long conference championship drought and throw a little sand into Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe’s eyes on the way to the Big Ten.
But then Nebraska fell apart, allowing Oklahoma to roar back and claim a 23-20 win. Many Nebraska fans (including one particularly smart and handsome analyst) hated the thought of that title game being the last taste of the Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry. The chance to get another shot at the Sooners, in Norman and in Lincoln, should have the Children of the Corn salivating.
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