It used to be a game marked off on every college football fan’s calendar. For a half a century, Oklahoma and Nebraska met some time in late November usually with a conference title and often with a shot at a national championship at stake.

Twice the Sooners and Huskers have met as No. 1 and No. 2, and 17 times between 1971 and 2001 both have been ranked in the top 10. When the “Big Reds” collided it was a heavyweight battle that usually lived up to the billing.

The nation, courtesy of ESPN, will be able to see the 84th meeting at 7 Saturday night at Owen Field. But there’s no doubt it’s not the rivalry it once was.

The formation of the Big 12 Conference had to have some drawbacks. Turning the OU-Nebraska rivalry into a twice-every-four-years series was the collateral damage.

“I think that it’s different. There is no denying that,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “Being in separate divisions and having a couple of years off, changes it to some degree. You know, with the Big Eight and playing all those games so often after Thanksgiving to decide who is going to be the Big Eight champion. It has changed … but there is still no doubt it is still exciting.”

But not at the same level. It was the Big Eight’s perpetual game of the year. It’s not even the Big 12’s game of the week. No. 1 Texas at No. 6 Texas Tech Saturday night takes that prize.

It’s not the fault of either school. Both Husker coach Bo Pelini and Bob Stoops have done their best to remind players how big the game once was. Stoops went so far as to show players clips of past games.

There were plenty of classics to choose from. Take the “Game of the Century” in 1971, which will recognized with a halftime ceremony Saturday night with players and coaches from both teams. The No. 1 vs. No. 2 meeting in 1987. The regular-season meetings in 2000 and 2001 both featured two teams in the top 3. Even the 2006 Big 12 championship game, the programs’ only postseason meeting of the Big 12 era, provided plenty of clips.

Some didn’t need the history lesson. OU quarterback Sam Bradford and middle linebacker Austin Box vividly recall the 2000 game in which OU topped the top-ranked Huskers 31-14 en route to the national championship. Stoops called it his fondest memory in Norman.

“To this day it’s the only time that the fans have rushed the field after a win,” he said. “The biggest satisfaction for me was the way it happened. Everyone wondering if we were for real.”

OU and Nebraska used to be able to define their seasons with the outcome of this game. Nebraska (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) would be able to do that with a victory Saturday. OU (7-1, 3-1) needs to win this one and several more.

It’s an indication of where the two programs stand. OU’s trying to stay at the top. Nebraska’s trying to claw its way back there.

“It’s still a special game for us. We understand what went on in the past, how special the rivalry was,” Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz said. “It’s not as big of a deal as it was back then, but it’s still a big deal for us. It’s still huge. Guys still get really excited. Just the name, Nebraska-Oklahoma, kind of brings a chill up your spine.”

John Shinn

366-3536

jshinn@normantranscript.com

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