As rivalries go, Oklahoma-Nebraska achieved special status.

Their annual late-November meetings almost always crowned the king of the old Big Eight Conference and had a major effect on the national championship picture.

When the Sooners and Huskers got together, college football took notice.

Between 1971 and 1988, the teams met 17 times when both were in the top 11, including 15 times with both in the top 10. Many believe the 1971 “Game of the Century” was the greatest college football game ever played.

“Everybody understands the history there,” OU coach Bob Stoops said.

It will get a new chapter when the eighth-ranked Sooners (10-2, 7-1 Big 12) and the 19th-ranked Huskers meet at 7 Saturday night at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., for the Big 12 championship.

OU coach Bob Stoops doesn’t mind doing a little history teaching. Every August he gives a tutorial on the prolific history of the Sooner program.

The players know a lot of that history was made with the Huskers on the other of the field.

But the lore of OU-Nebraska faded when the Big 12 came along. Their end-of-season battles were replaced by mid-season meetings twice every four years.

There have been some memorable moments.

In 2000 and 2001, both teams were ranked in the top five. But when the Huskers returned to Owen Field in 2004, they entered the game unranked for the first time since 1968. Last year’s meeting at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln was the first with neither team ranked since 1961.

The passion was still there among the players and the fans, but the infrequent meetings took something away.

“It kind of maybe died a little bit lately because we don’t play them every year,” said OU quarterback Paul Thompson, who will be suiting up for his third game against the Huskers. “But if you look back on the Big Eight, it was pretty much Nebraska and Oklahoma every year. We’re definitely real aware of the tradition between the two schools and hopefully we can keep it going.”

Many hoped the tradition would stay alive in settings like Saturday’s. Nebraska held up its end of the bargain in the early years of the Big 12, claiming the North division’s spot three times from 1996 to 1999.

The Sooners heated up with the arrival of the new millennium. They represented the South four times from 2000 to 2004.

Getting both teams hot at the same time didn’t happen until this season.

“You would’ve thought that over the last how many years it’s been — 10 years — that Oklahoma and Nebraska would’ve played in the championship game,” Nebraska quarterback and Norman native Zac Taylor said. “But for whatever reason it hasn’t happened. Now both teams have stepped up and got in the game. It’s going to be a great game.”

The matchup has all the makings. Two long-time historic rivals meeting with a conference title and a major bowl berth at stake. Those are the kind of things fans think about when OU and Nebraska get lumped together.

It’s been a long time since the Sooners and Huskers faced each other with so much on the line. And it’s the stakes that have always fueled the rivalry.

“I recognize and appreciate the history of it,” Stoops said. “We’ve got a fair history now going on my eighth year with them. So sure, it’s exciting.”

John Shinn366-3536jshinn@normantranscript.com

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