Top 5 games all-time in Nebraska-Oklahoma series
Nebraska and Oklahoma renew their once-annual rivalry Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. It’s a tall order for Mickey Joseph in his first game as interim coach of the Cornhuskers. Joseph takes over after Scott Frost’s firing Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Sooners, under first-year coach Brent Venables, are riding the momentum of a 2-0 start and No. 6 ranking.
The once storied rivalry took a turn in 1996 when the Big 12 was formed. The teams still met often in the new league. But with North and South divisions separating the 2 schools, their series was halted briefly in 1998-99.
Overall, the schools have met 87 times dating to 1912. Oklahoma leads 46-38-3.
There’s been countless memorable games over the years. Late November tilts were common. It was must-see viewing. Most times a Big 8 title was on the line. As was an appearance in the Orange Bowl or a ticket to a national title matchup.
The Sooners dominated in the 1940s and ’50s. Oklahoma won 16 in a row — the longest winning streak in the series — from 1943-58.
Legendary coach Bud Wilkinson roamed the sidelines and the Sooners were ranked for 12 of those 16 victories. The Huskers were only ranked once during the span.
Nebraska’s longest streak was 7 wins in a row from 1991-97. The Huskers won 3 national championships during that time under Tom Osborne.
Picking a top 5 list of Oklahoma-Nebraska games isn’t easy. The top choice may be obvious, but beyond that it’s a laundry list of epic storylines and finishes.
Using the criteria of 1) game competitiveness and 2) what was at stake, I rank the 5 best games between the storied programs. But before counting down, a quick peek at a few games that just missed the cut.
Honorable mention: 1963, 1983, 1987, 2000
In 1963, with the nation in shock mourning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, there was talk of postponing the Nov. 23 game in Lincoln. A decision to play was made late Friday night, and No. 10 Nebraska upset the 6th-ranked Sooners 29-20.
The Huskers led 17-0 in the 4th quarter, and 29-7 with 2 minutes left. They held off a furious Oklahoma rally in the final minutes before a sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium.
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The 1983 game saw top-ranked and unbeaten Nebraska go to Norman with national title hopes. The “Scoring Explosion” offense — which included the trio of QB Turner Gill, RB Mike Rozier and WR Irving Fryar — came in averaging over 50 points per game. But the unranked Sooners went toe-to-toe with Nebraska. And it took a deflected pass in the end zone on 4th down by the Huskers’ Neil Harris to preserve a 28-21 win and an Orange Bowl berth.
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In 1987, Barry Switzer’s second-ranked Sooners came into the game as a decided underdog to No. 1 Nebraska. The Sooners slipped by Missouri 17-13 a week earlier. Backup quarterback Charles Thompson (dad of current Husker Casey) was in the game for the Sooners in place of injured starter Jamelle Holieway.
Billed by the media as “Game of the Century Part II,” the game itself didn’t live up to the hype. Oklahoma broke open a 7-all game late in the 3rd quarter as Patrick Collins raced 65 yards for a TD. The Sooners’ defense stifled Huskers’ quarterback Steve Taylor and the Nebraska offense in a 17-7 win.
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In 2000, the teams resumed their rivalry after a 2-year hiatus. No. 1 Nebraska came riding high into Norman and jumped out to a 14-0 lead over the 3rd-ranked Sooners.
However, Oklahoma and 2nd-year coach Bob Stoops would score the game’s final 31 points in a 31-14 win. Quarterback Josh Heupel put himself on the college football map with 300 yards passing and a touchdown.
The win propelled the Sooners to a 13-0 record and the national championship. A 13-2 win over Florida State in the Orange Bowl sealed the prize.
5) Oklahoma 23, Nebraska 20 – Dec. 4, 2010
Nebraska’s final season in the Big 12 ended with a trip to Arlington, Texas. A date with the Sooners in the conference championship game ensued.
The No. 13 Huskers raced to a 17-0 lead behind Roy Helu Jr.’s running. But a key 2nd-quarter pick in the end zone thrown by Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez shifted momentum.
Oklahoma’s Landry Jones ran for a TD and threw for another. Jimmy Stevens’ 27-yard field goal in the 4th was the difference.
Bob Stoops’ No. 9 Sooners clinched the Big 12 title and trip to Glendale and the Fiesta Bowl.
It was a disappointing end for the Huskers to their Big 12 tenure. Bo Pelini’s team dropped back-to-back conference championship games, having lost 13-12 to Texas the year prior.
4) Nebraska 20, Oklahoma 10 – Oct. 27, 2001
The only non 1-score game selected for the list. Nebraska fans will always remember “Black 41 Flash Reverse Pass.” Reserve QB Mike Stuntz took a pitch from running back Thunder Collins and delivered a strike to Eric Crouch.
It was a signature play in Crouch’s Heisman campaign. The 63-yard TD sealed the win and vaulted the No. 3 Huskers to the top spot in the polls.
ESPN’s College Gameday was in the house. The Memorial Stadium crowd was juiced from the opening kick. Many long-time season ticket holders said the noise level on the Crouch TD was as loud as they’ve heard it.
Frank Solich got his signature win as Nebraska’s coach.
3) Oklahoma 20, Nebraska 17 – Nov. 22, 1986
Nebraska wore all-red uniforms. The only time they’ve done so in history. Third-ranked Oklahoma entered as 9-point favorites. No. 5 Nebraska was a decided underdog at home.
Pregame chirping from both sides ensued. OU’s Brian Bosworth and Nebraska’s Broderick Thomas were brash and confident all week.
Nebraska took a 17-7 lead into the final quarter. The lead remained 17-10 when the Sooners took over at their 6 with 4:10 remaining.
Holieway engineered an 11-play, 94-yard drive. A key facemask penalty on 4th down deep in Oklahoma territory kept the drive alive.
Legendary Sooners’ tight end Keith Jackson hauled in a 17-yard touchdown to tie it with 1:22 left. Oklahoma forced a quick punt and got it back with under a minute left.
That’s when “Sooner Magic” took over. Holieway connected with Jackson on a 41-yard reception. Nine seconds remained. Tim Lashar knocked through the game-winning field goal, and Barry Switzer’s team celebrated an epic comeback and a trip to the Orange Bowl.
2) Nebraska 17, Oklahoma 14 – Nov. 11, 1978
Tom Osborne’s 1st win over his rival was one to remember.
Top-ranked Oklahoma entered unbeaten and on a 6-game win streak in the series. Their defense included 3 All-Americans. Switzer had never lost to Osborne.
Talk all week was ‘How would Nebraska move the ball?’ Fourth-ranked Nebraska boasted a stingy defense of its own. But containing Thomas Lott and Billy Sims would be its biggest challenge yet.
Sims ran for 153 yards and 2 touchdowns. But he fumbled with 3:27 left at the Huskers’ 3. Nebraska’s Jim Pillen pounced on it, and Nebraska was able to run out the clock.
The back-and-forth affair went the Huskers’ way. However the Orange Bowl would pit the teams in a rematch on New Year’s Day. A game Oklahoma would win 31-24.
1) Nebraska 35, Oklahoma 31 – Nov. 25, 1971
Owen Field in Norman was the scene for the “Game of the Century.”
Top-ranked Nebraska came in riding a 20-game win streak. The No. 2 Sooners were unbeaten and entered with the nation’s top offense. Jack Mildren guided the wishbone attack that averaged 472 yards rushing a game.
The Thanksgiving game lived up to the hype. Big names were everywhere. Seventeen of the 22 All-Big 8 players were from the 2 teams.
Johnny Rodgers weaved his way through traffic on a 72-yard punt return TD. Nebraska led 7-0.
Who could forget Nebraska play-by-play radio announcer Lyell Bremser’s call?
“Holy moly! Man, woman and child did that put ’em in the aisles! Johnny ‘the Jet’ Rodgers just tore ’em loose from their shoes!”
Mildren rushed for 3 touchdowns. He threw for another.
His 16-yard TD toss to Jon Harrison put the Sooners up 31-28 midway through the 4th.
Nebraska’s Jeff Kinney had a big game of his own. His 4th TD of the day — from 2 yards out — provided the winning margin with under 2 minutes left.
Fifty-five million viewers tuned in on ABC. They were rewarded with a high-drama game that featured 5 lead changes and left both players and fans exhausted.
Nebraska and coach Bob Devaney would go on to capture the national championship with a 38-6 win over Alabama in the Orange Bowl.
The “Game of the Century” still holds up as one of the best ever played.
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The Mickey Joseph era kicks off Saturday. It’s a new beginning for the Huskers.
What better way to start anew than with an old dance partner.