Now they’ve convinced their nation and maybe THE nation they’re a playoff contender, a national championship contender, too.

Nebraska may be horrendous, but the Huskers seem to play everybody close.

Ranked, not ranked, top-10, everybody.

Until the Sooners arrived.

Inside Memorial Stadium on Saturday, even spotting the Huskers a quick seven points produced in six plays spanning 77 yards, even against a crazy and believing crowd, given overdue coaching upheaval and their team’s opening salvo, Oklahoma not only beat Nebraska, not only beat Nebraska bad, 49-14, but beat up Nebraska, too.

How great the mismatch?

A few quick numbers:

Sooner quarterback Dillon Gabriel completed 11 of 20 throws for 166 yards in the first half. Nebraska quarterback Casey Thompson completed 13 of 18 for 108 and a score. Gabriel threw for more yards, but not that many more, barely completing half his tosses. Thompson was effective and efficient.

Yet the halftime score was 35-7 Sooners, meaning OU’s offense was that good despite their QB’s inaccuracy and their defense was that good despite Thompson’s accuracy.

Calling it complementary football doesn’t do it justice? It was lights out football, ridiculous football.

Gabriel wound up finishing just fine, too, completing 5 of 7 in short second half duty for 64 yards and a score.

The Huskers figured to play greater than the sum of their parts. Scott Frost had been fired and Mickey Joseph had been elevated. That and their old historic rival was in town for the first time in 13 years.

It was the beginning of a great Lincoln story. Only the Huskers had no chance because the Sooners gave them none.

There’s good, really good and the kind of good that puts new hopes and dreams on the table and OU was that kind of good for the first time since … gosh, too long ago to remember.

Before illness forced him off the air, play-by-play man Gus Johnson blurted out, “Under coach Venables, they look different.”

Color man Joel Klatt, who took over Johnson’s play-by-play duties in the third quarter, said it looks like the Sooners “could be headed back to a playoff.”

Venables offered this prophetic-in-retrospect nugget before walking off the field.

“I loved the attitude and the hunger in the locker room,” he said.

Not the pregame locker room, but the halftime locker room, his squad up 28 points.

Then OU opened the third quarter by turning Nebraska over on the Huskers’ first snap, then turning that fumble recovery into a quick seven-play 46-yard, seven-point march.

Next, after a three-and-out defensive stand, OU needed 10 plays to go 60 yards, Gabriel hitting Theo Wease for a 15-yard touchdown four snaps after finding him for 31 facing second-and-13.

Just the latest example of the Sooners taking on the personality of their coach, this time on both sides of the ball.

They reflect his energy, his drive to be perfect or something quite close to it, his perpetual energy.

Rather than playing to win, they’re playing to be great in every moment, knowing the final score will cooperate if they do.

The guy Venables replaced?

Winning was always enough.

A state of affairs that never failed to lead to an eventual bad, dumb loss.

Defensively, OU popped.

Four more sacks made it 13 for the season. Nine more tackles for loss made it 32 and 167 lost opponent yards … IN THREE GAMES.

A week ago, Danny Stutsman led Sooner tacklers. Saturday it was a freshman named Jaren Kanak, third on the depth chart behind David Ugwoegbu and Jake McCoy at middle linebacker. Only three were solos, but maybe that just means there’s not many solos to go around, three, four or five Sooners always meeting at the ball.

The Big 12 awaits and somebody’s bound to give OU trouble. The offense sputters sometimes and a great defense can still be burned by superior execution.

Right?

Right?

Maybe that’s the thing.

Eventualities long believed inevitable suddenly don’t seem so with this team in the best possible way.

Yeah, the offense has sputtered, but Saturday it scored 49 straight points in the space of nine possessions and one of the two that produced none still earned a 39-yard field goal attempt Zach Schmit should have made but pushed right instead.

All that and they’re still throwing to Marvin Mims all the time without forgetting about Drake Stoops; more than the previous regime ever managed.

Tight end Brayden Willis actually threw a touchdown pass to Marcus Major and going to Eric Gray on the ground after putting Major out there first produced Gray’s finest day to date: 11 carries, 113 yards, two scores.

A contest that might have been difficult never was, for the last 56 minutes at least.

Sooner fans have long wished for more than their team might deliver.

Not now.

Now, anything can happen.

It’s all right there in front of them.

Now, we know they’re capable.

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