Nebraska-Oklahoma: Is This the Big 12's Game of the 21st Century?

Lake CruiseAnalyst IDecember 1, 2010

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 2: Fans of the Oklahoma Sooners cheer against the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the 2006 Dr. Pepper Big 12 Championship on December 2, 2006 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. The Sooners won 21-7. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

“Game of the Century” usually refers to the titanic 1971 clash between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  When asked to rank the best games of the 20th century, most sportswriters include it on their lists. 

The game was one of the most watched sporting events in American history.

In 1971, to the very heart of Boomer Sooner Nation—Norman, Okla.—travelled the defending national champion Huskers.  Nebraska was seeking its second national championship in the program’s history—and back-to-back national titles.  They had also defeated OU in 1969 and 1970. 

Previous OU coach Bud Wilkinson had won three national championships for OU (1950, 1955-56). And at 47 wins in a row, Oklahoma held—and still holds—the NCAA record by a major college.  The Sooners established the record under Wilkinson over five mighty seasons from 1953-57.   He retired from OU in 1963.

Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak can be considered one of the greatest feats in major college football history.  For kicks, they had a 31-game winning streak from 1948-50 under Wilkinson.

Since World War I, only four programs have won 30 or more games in a row in major college football. OU did it twice.  Toledo won 35 from 1969-71, Texas won 30 from 1968-1970 and Miami won 34 from 2000-02.

On Thanksgiving Day in ‘71, No. 1 Nebraska appeared on the Memorial Stadium turf to battle No. 2 Oklahoma.   It was Big Red—or scarlet and cream—against Crimson and Cream.  OU’s head coach, Chuck Fairbanks, welcomed the powerhouse Huskers.

Overseen by Bob Devaney, the Cornhuskers were riding Big Red on a 14-game undefeated streak.  The only blemish was a tie against USC on Sept. 19, 1970.  With a reported 55 million homes watching, Nebraska played Oklahoma for what appeared to be college football dominance.

The game quickly became a showcase for the magnificent Nebraska wingback, Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers.  He executed the most exciting punt return ever seen by many.  During the dazzling run, he broke from a tackler and jetted about 70 yards to score the game’s first touchdown. 

“Man, woman and child, put ‘em in the aisle.  Johnny Rodgers just tore ‘em loose …” was the broadcaster’s exhortation.  The brilliant touchdown featuring precise cuts and breakaway speed set the tone for the game.  Nebraska prevailed, 35-31, and continued on to win the program’s second national championship.

Which program will prevail on Saturday night, NU or OU? 

The game pits a rising star in Bo Pelini against fellow Youngstown, Ohio native Bob Stoops.

On Saturday night in Dallas, Texas, Stoops has a chance to win his seventh conference title.  Bo Pelini, his brother Carl and their nephew—who is a freshman Cornhuskers offensive lineman—will try to stop them.

Since the conference was born in 1996, Oklahoma University’s football program has been the dominant force in the conference.  Under Bobby Stoops, one of four football Stoops brothers, OU owns six Big 12 football championship titles. 

That’s nearly 50 percent of the total Big 12 conference championship games.   

In 2006, the teams played for the Big 12 title.  No. 8 OU won it, 21-7, on the strength of a 99-yard drive led by quarterback Paul Thompson.  NU was No. 19 and went on to play in the Cotton Bowl.  Oklahoma played Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. 

Nebraska is making back-to-back appearances and has a chance to win their program’s third Big 12 championship.  It will be their second straight appearance under Pelini, who was hired by Tom Osborne in 2008.  Osborne was an assistant to Bob Devaney in ’71.  Now the athletics director, he saw his Huskers lose to Texas in the title game last year.

Two times out of a trifecta of years, Oklahoma (No. 9) has played in the Big 12 title game.  OU won the BCS tiebreaker over No. 14 Oklahoma State and No. 18 Texas A&M.

The three teams finished the regular season tied atop the Big 12 South, and the BCS rankings were used to break the dead heat.

A poll has been the dominant national champion selector since the AP Poll began in 1936. 

For several years, the national champion was selected before bowl games as follows: AP (1936–1964 and 1966–1967), Coaches' Poll (1950–1973), FWAA (1954) and NFF (1959–1970).  In all other polls, champions were selected after bowl games.

Ironically, Texas A&M defeated Oklahoma this season, but the Aggies lost to Oklahoma State.

Oklahoma won a controversial tiebreaker in 2008 over Texas and Texas Tech.  The Longhorns defeated OU in ’08 by a score of 45–35.  But, Oklahoma beat Texas Tech, 65–21, and Texas Tech beat Texas, 39–33.

Around six victories separate the wins and losses records between old rivals OU and NU.  OU has won seven national titles in football.  Barry Switzer added three (1974-75, 1985) to Wilkinson’s previous trifecta, and Stoops added one (2000). 

NU owns five national championships—all under Devaney (1970-71) and Osborne (1994-95, 1997).  Incredibly, Oklahoma and Nebraska were in the same conference during the 12 combined national title runs.

In my view, there’s nothing else like their competition in the history of American sports.  

The closest comparison would be the Lakers-Celtics rivalry.  The Boston Celtics and Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers own over half the NBA championships—33 of 64.  But, they play in different conferences.

Both Nebraska and Oklahoma appear to be out of the running for a national championship this season.  Yet, I believe this is still the Big 12 Conference’s “Game of the Century.”

Nebraska is bolting for the Big Ten after this season, while Oklahoma will remain in the Big 12.  The two programs do not have any scheduled meetings after this one.  This could be the last hurrah in the storied rivalry, and I think it’s a shame if it will be.

The game must go on, nevertheless, and it will be good for college football.

This will be one of the most interesting Big 12 football championship games ever.  Big Red wants nothing more than to bring to a close their Big 12 run with a bang.  Stoops could use Big 12 honor as a motivational tool.

The game could surpass 55 million homes watching.  We will have to wait and see if that happens.  I’m interested to know, meanwhile, how many of my readers believe this is the Big 12’s “Game of the Century.” 

Both teams have the opportunity to grab bragging rights in this intriguing titanic clash.  I cannot let this opportunity go by without giving one of my controversial and on point prophesies. 

Prediction: Surprise!  OU is playing for the 2010 Big 12 football championship.  Should we be surprised?  Not really.  They do it almost half of the time.

If Taylor Martinez, who is one of NU’s biggest playmakers, is impeded or sidelined due to an injury, then OU wins.  If Martinez is at full strength, then OU wins. 

Protégé Bo Pelini will do fine in the coaching battle against Stoops—one of Pelini’s friends.   But, Oklahoma will defeat scarlet and cream and add a seventh Big 12 football title to the Crimson and Cream trophy case.


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