Last chance for title
Saturday, December 4, 2010
It’s time for Nebraska to take its final bow in the Big 12.
After decades of rivalries with teams across the Midwest, the Huskers will join the Big Ten next summer — but not before one last revival of their storied series against Oklahoma.
The question to be decided tonight at the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is whether Nebraska will take the championship and run or leave after a second straight sour disappointment in the Big 12 title game.
The 13th-ranked Cornhuskers (10-2, 6-2 Big 12) have won the North in back-to-back seasons, but lost the championship game to Texas last season on a field goal after one second was put back on the clock.
No. 10 Oklahoma (10-2, 6-2) is going after its seventh Big 12 title since 2000.
“OU and Nebraska have a rich tradition of playing each other for big games,” Sooners safety Quinton Carter said, “and I’m pretty sure this will go down in history as another big game.”
It was almost an annual rite for Oklahoma and Nebraska to be playing for the conference title on Thanksgiving weekend during the days of the Big Eight, when both were national powerhouses under Barry Switzer and Tom Osborne.
Those days seem like a distant memory now, with the rivalry diminished by less frequent meetings of lesser importance.
The longtime rivals have played only once in the Big 12 title game, in 2006, although there was an epic game during the Sooners’ run to the 2000 national title, an echo of 1971’s “Game of the Century.”
“The tradition and history of this rivalry is second to none,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “When you look at the number of years it spans and when you look at the number of times we have met from the Big Eight Conference to Big 12 Conference, where we’ve met and there’s been championship implications on this game. ... it’s one of the more special rivalries in all of football, and it’s really fitting then that here it is the last time we’re in conference together to have one more go at it.”
The Sooners got into the title game for the second time in three years, advancing past Oklahoma State and Texas A&M with the help of a BCS standings tiebreaker. Oklahoma has gotten there with a drag-race offense that’s run a Bowl Subdivision-best 1,052 plays this season and ranks fourth in the nation in passing offense behind quarterback Landry Jones and Biletnikoff Award finalist Ryan Broyles and his FBS-best 115 catches.
Nebraska boasts the nation’s No. 5 defense and is ranked second against the pass, allowing less than 145 yards per game. The Cornhuskers won the North in a tiebreaker against Missouri, having won the head-to-head meeting.
“There’s still more out there for this football team that we’ve got to keep getting better,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “Saturday night gives us that opportunity.”
In what was always a friendly rivalry between the odd couple of Switzer and Osborne, Stoops and Pelini take it to another level.
They’ve been friends since childhood, when both grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, and went to the same high school where Stoops’ father coached football.
Now, they’ll see the end of a rivalry that likely won’t be played again for a decade, unless the teams meet in a bowl game.
“There is a great tradition between the schools and it’ll be fitting we’ll play them in a game such as this,” Pelini said.
After this year, the Big 12 championship will go away. The league will have only 10 members left — two less than are required to hold a title game — and the conference crown will be decided in a full round-robin in the regular season.
Stoops, who has won it twice as many times as any other coach, has mixed feelings about how much the game will be missed.
“If you’re not in there in the top 1-2-3 in the national championship picture ... and other teams that are going to be in it with you aren’t playing — they’re sitting at home and relaxing while you’ve got this huge game in front of you — you don’t like it,” said Stoops, who is 6-1 in the title game. “You think, ‘Why in the world are we doing this?’
“These kind of years, it’s exciting as heck. It’s what you want, you really look forward to it and it’s a special environment to play in.”