Skip to main content

"Football, in its purest form, remains a physical fight. As in any fight, if you don't want to fight, it's impossible to win" is a famous quote by legendary Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bud Wilkinson

This quote is apropos in describing "The Battle of the Big Reds," as Nebraska and Oklahoma were always willing to fight for the victory. Both had tremendous pride and for a generation, this was the top rivalry in the central part of the country. 

“We viewed it as a coaching staff (that) to beat Nebraska is to win the Big Eight Conference championship and have a chance to play for the national championship in the Orange Bowl,” said Hall of Fame Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer. “So the biggest game on our schedule every year is Nebraska at the end of the year. And they had a great program. I think we had great respect for each other."

Hall of Fame Nebraska head coach Bob Devaney echoed similar sentiments from an interview for the documentary, "Battle of the Big Reds," which focused on the Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry, "I think this has been a clean hard fought series and I think that is one of the reasons it is one of the outstanding series in the country."


Origins of the Rivalry

Program of the first game of Memorial Stadium in Lincoln versus Oklahoma in 1923

Program of the first game of Memorial Stadium in Lincoln versus Oklahoma in 1923

The series between Nebraska and Oklahoma predates the Big XII conference. It dates back to when Nebraska was a member of the Western Interstate University Football Association (WIUFA) before the turn of the century. The division in the WIUFA Nebraska played in consisted of Kansas University, University of Iowa, and the University of Missouri. 

Oklahoma began playing football in 1895 and was a fledgling program, and began its maturation when Bennie Owen became Sooners coach in 1905 with Oklahoma still an independent. 

The first game between the schools occurred in 1912 where Nebraska hosted Oklahoma in Lincoln and won 13-9. 

The schools wouldn't play again until 1919, and during that time Nebraska along with Missouri, Kansas, Washington University of St. Louis, and Iowa were founding members of the Missouri Valley  Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MVIAA) that would later be the foundation for the Big XII conference. 

Iowa would be part of the MVIAA until 1911, when they joined the Big Ten conference. Between 1907 and 1919, the year the Sooners first application to the MVIAA, the league expanded to add Iowa State, Kansas State, and Drake University. 

The Sooners, under Owen, were starting to mature, and were looking to play in a conference. Oklahoma in its infancy would take on all schools in the Oklahoma Territory and after achieving statehood in 1907, the Sooners looked south for a partner. 

This was the genesis of the Red River Rivalry with Texas, and why now and forever, the two schools will forever be linked. Texas was a key influencer in getting Oklahoma into the Southwest Conference in 1914. The Sooners would play in the Southwest Conference through the 1919 season. Their 1915 team was legendary as it opened the season with four consecutive shutouts, and outscored opponents 248-0. 

They would go unbeaten finishing 10-0, add in a fifth shutout against Arkansas, and a close win against Texas 14-13 in Dallas, it was the momentum Owen needed to finally take his program to the next level.

In 1919, the Sooners and the Huskers met for a second time in Omaha and finished to a 7-7 tie. Oklahoma had finished the previous season undefeated and was looking for different competition with geographical ties, applied for the first time to the MVIAA. 

While Oklahoma was being evaluated, their first application for admission was rejected by the MVIAA due to athletic department mismanagement and other deficiencies. Oklahoma reapplied and remedied all issues and was finally in a conference with Nebraska. 

The two would begin playing on an annual basis, and Nebraska dominated the early part of the series going 15-3-2 against the Sooners.


Tatum's Greatest Gift to Oklahoma

© David Boss-USA TODAY Sports

© David Boss-USA TODAY Sports

After the abrupt resignation of Dewey Luster in 1945, Oklahoma was looking for a coach that was looking to continue the Sooners momentum. Luster finished 27-18-3 record, including the first three game winning streak in their rivalry with Nebraska. 

The OU Board of Regents conducted an exhaustive search for Luster's replacement, one of the candidates the Board interviewed was Paul "Bear" Bryant. Former North Carolina coach Jim Tatum, who coached Iowa Pre Flight in the U.S. Navy during World War II and enlisted in the U.S. Navy, became the frontrunner for the job. But that wasn't necessarily because of any of his own doing.

Tatum brought to the interview a little known assistant named Charles "Bud" Wilkinson, and the Oklahoma Board of Regents were so impressed by Wilkinson they wanted to hire him directly. When the Board discussed the hiring ethics considering Wilkinson performed for Tatum's interview, they decided to hire Tatum knowing Wilkinson would be part of the package. 

While Tatum guided the Sooners to a 27-6 win in Norman for their fourth consecutive win against the Huskers, it was Tatum's slush fund of $125,000 ($1.78 million in 2022 dollars) and paying players bonuses for exceptional play that gave the university some uneasiness. 

Tatum was quickly offered the job at Maryland, and he jumped at the opportunity, eager to take Wilkinson with him. But the Oklahoma Board of Regents was able to convince Wilkinson to stay and the rivalry changed forever with this decision. Under Wilkinson, the Sooners beat the Huskers 12 consecutive times and overall the Sooners would win 16 consecutive matchups in a row, the longest in the series. At the conclusion of the winning streak, Oklahoma would take a three game series lead, and it would never relinquish the series lead back to Nebraska. 

One of the classic matchups during the streak was the 1950 matchup where both teams were ranked for the first time in the rivalry, and featured two fantastic sophomore running backs. Future Heisman Trophy winner Billy Vessels for Oklahoma who rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns and "Mr. Touchdown" Bobby Reynolds ran for 81 yards in the first half, but a costly Reynolds fumble and an avalanche of Sooners scoring in the third quarter gave Oklahoma a 49-35 victory. 

Ahead of their 1959 matchup, Bud Wilkinson was already an immortal in the coaching game. He had a record entering the Nebraska game of 117-11-3, won three national championships, had a record 47 game winning streak, and had a 74 game unbeaten streak in conference play (to put that into perspective Florida State has had the longest winning streak in conference play in the last 30 years and they only won 29 in a row.) And most importantly, they had won 16 in a row against Nebraska. 

Nebraska turned to former Wilkinson assistant Bill Jennings to resurrect their program and his signature moment in happened in Lincoln against the Sooners. Nebraska took advantage of Oklahoma special teams miscues of blocked punt returned for a touchdown, poor punt coverage that included a 61 yard return and Nebraska holding onto a 25-21 lead, it was an end-zone interception by Husker defender Ron Meade to seal the landmark win.


Nebraska's Rebirth to the Game of the Century

© Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

© Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

With Jennings unable to capture the magic from the 1959 upset of Oklahoma and with five consecutive losing seasons, the Huskers were in need of a coach who could transform the program back to being winners. Nebraska Athletic Director Tippy Dye was seeking out a replacement and failed to get any traction with John Ralston, who chose Stanford over Nebraska, and Ray Nagel from Utah, he targeted Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty

Daugherty realized he has something special going on in East Lansing, he extended a personal courtesy to Dye by recommending Wyoming coach Bob Devaney, who coached with Daugherty at Michigan State under Biggie Munn. Devaney turned it down and was convinced the Wyoming job was better than Nebraska. Daugherty persisted it wasn't and if Devaney wanted to realize his dream of winning a national championship, it would be realized in Lincoln and not Laramie. Devaney changed his mind and accepted the position, producing immediate results for the Cornhuskers. 

While guiding the Huskers to four consecutive Top 10 seasons and going to four major bowl games, he had a problem beating Oklahoma as the Sooners would take five of the first seven head to head matchups. As Devaney started to build a program and getting athletes like Johnny "The Jet" Rodgers, Jerry Tagge, Jeff Kinney, Bill Olds, and Woody Cox, Devaney started to have the roster to beat the Sooners and inch closer and closer to a national championship. 

1970 was a landmark year for the Huskers, they defeated the Sooners 28-21 in Lincoln, to mark back-to-back wins against the Sooners for the first time in over a decade. It was good enough for Nebraska to make the Orange Bowl against LSU. During this time and up to 1973, the UPI Coaches Poll would crown their national champion before the bowl games, and the UPI crowned Texas national champion before their bowl game against Notre Dame. 

The Longhorns ended up No. 2 in the AP Poll, which crowned a national champion after the bowl games, and gave Nebraska an opportunity to win an elusive national championship. 

Behind the efforts of Jerry Tagge, Nebraska marched on a near nine minute fourth quarter drive with Tagge scoring from a yard out, put the Huskers up for good 17-12, and were named national champions by the AP. 

The unique part of that 1970 Huskers is Bob Devaney continually rotated quarterbacks through every game of the season between Jerry Tagge and Van Brownson

As the 1971 season was leading up, the Big 8 conference had three really special teams. Nebraska was defending national champions and had their entire core back, Colorado was a team that was deep and talented, and Oklahoma who hired Chuck Fairbanks in 1967, had a squad back that was experienced and poised to compete with Colorado and Nebraska. 

Fairbanks started fast in Norman, winning back to back Big 8 championships in 1967 and 1968 but things seems to cool down in 1969 and through most of 1970, but Fairbanks engineered a 4-1-1 finish for the Sooners, with their only loss to Nebraska and a tie against Alabama. 

Fairbanks had cultivated a great deal of talent both coaching and playing. On the coaching front, Fairbanks had an offensive coordinator who just perfected the wishbone attack in Barry Switzer. Switzer coordinated an offense that averaged 45 points per game, gained 563 yards per game, and set an NCAA record of 472.4 rushing yards per game.  

On offense, the Sooners had All American Greg Pruitt who averaged 8.98 yards per rushing attempt, quarterback Jack Mildren, and All American center Tom Brahaney. As the season progressed, it seemed both teams were on a collision course toward a national championship and each other, and the hype started to become real as the season progressed. Oklahoma in consecutive weeks beat No. 17 Southern Cal, No. 3 Texas, and No. 6 Colorado by a combined score of 126-64. 

Nebraska distinguished itself by the play of Heisman contending wide receiver Johnny Rodgers, with an offense that matured in offensive coordinator Tom Osborne's revamped I-Formation system, and in eight of the Nebraska's first 10 games, they only allowed more than seven points twice and had a three shutouts. 

Sports Illustrated promoted the game on its cover with the headline, "Irresistible Oklahoma Meets Immovable Nebraska."

Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated

Very few times, when we anoint a game the "Game of Century," more often than not the game doesn't live up to the billing. This game is the reason we all buy into the hype, as the heavyweight promotion and heavyweight hype live up to it. 

It was a see-saw battle that had signature moments that included the iconic Johnny Rodgers punt return for a touchdown, and it was an offensive fight, one that "Bear" Bryant commented on the ABC postgame show, "It was probably the greatest offensive football game I've ever seen."

The Cornhuskers 35-31 victory over the Sooners is the biggest win in the rivalry, and still regarded as the greatest game in college football history.

Paul "Bear" Bryant and his Crimson Tide didn't have to wait long to witness first hand that offensive juggernaut as No. 2 Alabama took on No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The Cornhuskers played some of their best football of the season and demolished the Crimson Tide 38-6 to be named unanimous national champions of the 1971 season.


Osborne & Switzer

Getty Images

Getty Images

With Chuck Fairbanks departing for the NFL's New England Patriots and Bob Devaney seeking retirement after a very successful career in Lincoln, both Oklahoma and Nebraska turned to their very successful offensive coordinators. What came of those decisions is one of the greatest coaching rivalries in college football.

Tom Osborne and Barry Switzer both won three national championships in their time at their schools, but both elevated this rivalry to the main game for both schools.  Switzer has stated, that after those who followed Darrell Royal at Texas didn't succeed or maintain his level of excellence, it was the Nebraska game that elevated in importance over Texas due to what was on the line for that game. 

Osborne had the tougher task early, he was following a hall of fame coach in Bob Devaney, who ended his tenure going 32-2-2 with two national championships. Expectations were a lot higher to perform. Switzer had to deal with the fallout of Chuck Fairbanks using ineligible players and not being able to go to a bowl game in 1974 or be televised in 1975. 

Despite the obstacles left by Fairbanks, Switzer excelled early and went undefeated in 1973 and 1974, won national championships in 1974 and 1975, and cranked the heat up on Osborne winning the first five head to head matchups. 

By 1978, the questions began around Lincoln was could Osborne ever win the big game? Nebraska was hurdling to a national championship in 1975, they were 10-0 and No. 2 in the nation, entering against No. 7 Oklahoma who lost a stunner to Kansas two weeks prior 23-3. 

The Sooners led 7-3 at the half, and entering the fourth quarter were up 14-10. As the quarter began, the miscues of the Cornhuskers began to ensue when the Cornhuskers fumbled a punt on their own 13 yard line and Oklahoma scored with ease. Oklahoma capitalized on two more Cornhusker turnovers and win 35-10, ending the Cornhuskers dreams of a national championship and adding insult to injury Oklahoma won the national championship that year. 

The 1978 game in Lincoln, it was all on the line for Tom Osborne, and how many described that game from Memorial Stadium, you could feel the intensity and pressure to win that game. The Huskers entered the game ranked No. 4 in the country and Switzer's Sooners were No. 1. But the Blackshirts defense that caused nine Sooner fumbles, with the Cornhuskers recovering six.

On offense, senior Husker running back Rick Berns, had 25 carries for 113 yards and one touchdown.

The Sooners weren't going away in this contest, late in the fourth quarter Nebraska was up 17-14, driving to at least force a tie or go up by four, the Sooners were on the Nebraska three yard line, when the Sooners running back and future Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims fumbled with 3:27 to go in the game.

Holding onto the win, it was the first Nebraska win over Oklahoma since the 1971 “Game of the Century.” The win locked up at least a tie for the conference title and an Orange Bowl berth.

The game was selected by Nebraska fans celebrating their 300th consecutive sellout that it was the most memorable game during the stretch. 

Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

While most Nebraska fans were exhaling and celebrating their first win against the Sooners, strange events began happening around the national landscape. Nebraska would lose the next week to Missouri 35-31, Oklahoma would win Bedlam over Oklahoma State 62-7. 

Across the country, Georgia, who was vying for the Orange Bowl, tied Auburn. With Alabama going to face Penn State in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown, the Orange Bowl held an emergency meeting to determine if they could have a Nebraska and Oklahoma bowl game. 

When they agreed they could and the schools agreed they would play, it set forth the armageddon matchup in Miami. Oklahoma who was energized for the rematch jumped out to a 31-10 lead to start the fourth quarter. Nebraska valiantly fought back by going on a 15 play, 78-yard drive that was capped by a Rick Berns touchdown with 9:12 remaining. 

On the following Oklahoma possession, the Blackshirts forced a Thomas Lott fumble on the Oklahoma 42 with 8:07 remaining in the bowl game. The momentum had swung back to the Cornhuskers, as they drove to the Sooner seven yard line. Facing a fourth and one from the Sooner's seven, the Huskers attempted to run up the middle only to be stopped for no gain with 4:24 left in the game, effectively sealing the game for the Sooners. 

Nebraska went on to score a meaningless touchdown with three seconds to go, and all that did was reflect the game was a seven point loss 31-24 versus a 14 point loss. The Cornhuskers would go on to lose two more head-to-head matchups with the Sooners, and the big game failure cries became even louder for Osborne. 

During the 1980 season, the Sooners dropped two games earlier to Stanford and Texas, and with the confidence exuding in Lincoln that the Huskers were finally going to beat the Sooners. Most fans in Nebraska were predicting the Sooners would be going to the Sun Bowl in El Paso. 

Leading up to the game, billboards were plastered in Lincoln with "Send Switzer to El Paso" and "Sooners love Mex-Tex." Switzer caught wind that they were filming The Bob Devaney Show, and he had one of his assistants go get a bag of tacos. 

Much to the surprise of everyone in Lincoln, Switzer showed up on the show, and gave Bob Devaney a bag of tacos. In the game itself, that will forever be known in Sooner lure as "The Taco Bowl," the Sooners trailed 17-14 late in the fourth quarter, and on a clock killing drive the Sooners drove the length of the field when Sooners running back Buster Rhymes scored from a yard out with 56 seconds to go to give the Sooners a 21-17 win. 

Switzer famously quipped after the game, "Are there any good Mexican restaurants in Miami?"

Between 1981 and 1983, Tom Osborne would assemble an offensive juggernaut that consisted of quarterback Turner Gill, running backs Mike Rozier, who would win the 1983 Heisman Trophy, Roger Craig, Irving Fryar, and had dominant offensive lines anchored by Dave Rimington and Dean Steinkuhler

Osborne won three in a row against the Sooners. Nebraska fell short in 1982 and 1983 of capturing national championships on a handful of key plays. In 1982 against Penn State, the extended sideline controversial call where Mike McCloskey's catch was ruled in bounds and good catch helped the Nittany Lions defeat Nebraska 27-24, and the infamous 1984 Orange Bowl rallying back from a 31-17 deficit, the Cornhuskers got it within 1 and Tom Osborne went for the win instead of the tie, and when Turner Gill's pass fell incomplete. It was another hard big game defeat for the Cornhuskers and another rival in Miami who Tom Osborne took a decade trying to figure out. 

The 1985 season saw another Top 5 matchup, with the winner advancing to a national championship showdown with No. 1 Penn State in the Orange Bowl. Nebraska was No. 2 in the country and after an early season defeat to Florida State, the Cornhuskers ripped off nine wins in a row. 

Oklahoma entered the game No. 5 and were fast risers after losing early in the season to Miami Hurricanes 27-14 had rallied off seven wins in a row. The Sooners established the tone of the game early when just over three minutes into the game, an 88-yard touchdown run by tight end Keith Jackson put the Sooners up 7-0. 

Oklahoma's defense led by Brian Bosworth completely stifled a Cornhusker offense who had no answers. Up 27-0, Nebraska scored on a Chris Spachman 76 yard fumble for a touchdown. Oklahoma advanced to the Orange Bowl and would defeat Penn State in the national championship game, to put Switzer up three on championships over Osborne. 

Husker Hanky for Game of the Century II in Lincoln - courtesy of HuskerMax

Husker Hanky for Game of the Century II in Lincoln - courtesy of HuskerMax

In 1987, the conditions were forming for another colossal matchup between Nebraska and Oklahoma. Oklahoma opened its season undefeated at 10-0 and had outscored its opponents 462 to 75 led by All Americans Rickey Dixon, Mark Hutson, Keith Jackson, Dante Jones, and Darrell Reed

The Sooners entered the game No. 2 in the country after dropping in the polls after surviving against Missouri 17-13 a week prior. Nebraska benefitted form Oklahoma's scare jumping to No. 1 in the country. 

The Cornhuskers were 9-0, and the Blackshirts defense had been absolutely lights out in conference play giving up only 15 points in five Big 8 games. The game was electric and Nebraska set the tone early on a Keith Jones 25-yard touchdown to put the Huskers up 7-0. 

Oklahoma scored 17 unanswered points, and stifled Nebraska on third downs. The Huskers only converting 3 of 14 opportunities, and nearly went two full quarters without a first down. 

This was the last titanic matchup of Switzer and Osborne, as in 1989 allegations of illegally paying players, players purchasing cocaine from undercover FBI agents doomed the Sooners and Switzer, leading to Switzer resigning in disgrace. 

In the head to head matchups, Switzer defeated Osborne 12 to 5, including the 1979 Orange Bowl win.

Tom Osborne exhibited grace when talking about Barry Switzer. “A lot of (the memories) weren’t very good memories because he whipped us a lot of times, but we always had a good relationship. Sometimes in a heated rivalry, things get really ugly, and I don’t think Nebraska-Oklahoma was ever that way. And a lot of it had to do with Barry always had a good outlook. We were good friends. So it was always a healthy rivalry."


Osborne finally wins championships and Formation of the Big XII

© RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

© RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

The bitter end to Barry Switzer era and being on probation ended any competitiveness  from Oklahoma in the Tom Osborne era. The Cornhuskers would win nine of ten matchups against the Sooners, outscoring Oklahoma 359 to 99. 

With Nebraska locking down the Big 8, with the occasional Colorado competition for the league championship, Osborne was able to focus his energies and on his new Achilles heel in the Florida powers of the Miami Hurricanes and Florida State Seminoles. 

Osborne had a "Devaney-esque" conclusion to his career in Lincoln, going 60-3 and winning three national championships in 1994, 1995, and 1997. It was during that time, a dynamic shift to the Big 8 was happening with the idea of expansion. 

The genesis of this stems to a landmark 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision in that involved the University of Oklahoma and University of Georgia over the handling of television contracts through the College Football Association (CFA). Oklahoma Board of Regents argued that the way television contracts were handled through the CFA violated Sherman and Clayton Anti-Trust Acts, legislation that designed to prohibit group actions that restrained open competition and trade. Ultimately the Supreme Court, sided with Oklahoma and Georgia and former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens penned in the majority opinion, "There can be no doubt that the challenged practices of the NCAA constitute a 'restraint of trade.'"

In 1994, Pac-10, Big Ten, Notre Dame all opted out of the CFA to seek independent television contracts. When the SEC determined it was in their best interest to seek a contract, it opened the door for a partnership between the Southwest Conference and the Big 8. The Southwest Conference had lost Arkansas a few years earlier to the SEC, and with SMU in a deep recovery from their 1987 Death Penalty, the conference was in serious jeopardy. 

From an SI article detailing the formation of the Big XII:

"It took more than a year for the conference to resolve these arguments, and the debate was portrayed in the press as acrimonious, with battle lines drawn at times between the old Big Eight and old SWC, other times between the haves and the have-nots and too often between Texas and Nebraska.

One issue, though, was especially divisive: the question of how many partial qualifiers, if any, would be allowed to compete. Nebraska for years had admitted these "Prop 48" athletes, who did not meet the NCAA's eligibility requirements; instead of attending junior college, they'd lose a year of eligibility but benefit from the school's academic support to get their scores up to par. In fact, on Nebraska's 1995 national championship team, four starters were Prop 48 players. However, the SWC had not allowed partial qualifiers, nor did Texas think the new league should. Eventually, the Big 12 ruled that it would allow two male and two female Prop 48 athletes per school per year, angering Nebraska."

Chuck Neinas, who was a former Big 8 commissioner, at the time was with the CFA, called to iron out what the networks wanted

"ESPN did not want all the members. They wanted eight from the Big Eight and they'd take four from the Southwest Conference. Obviously, the two they wanted most were Texas and Texas A&M. I received a call from Loren Matthews, who was a key executive with ESPN with whom I had developed a good relationship. And Loren told me, he said, "Here's my problem. We want the Big Eight, but we don't want all of the Southwest Conference." I said, "Well, just let me make some phone calls, and I'm sure they'll get back to you." So I called DeLoss Dodds at Texas, Donnie Duncan at Oklahoma and Bill Byrne at Nebraska, and the rest is history."

Texas brought into the conference Texas politics, and was bullish in their endeavors. With the Longhorns in the league, there would be a rotation of when teams would play and teams coming on and off their schedule. Nebraska and Oklahoma was one of the casualties of this and this was the first domino of the interruptions of the rivalry.

Former Texas A&M head coach R.C. Slocum said about Nebraska's feelings of Big XII expansion, "Nebraska came in with a great program and a great history, and I think they were offended all along. Tom Osborne told me that at the time that they resented the way they were treated at some time in the conference. They were like a little stepchild from the north."


Bob Stoops arrives in Norman, and Nebraska exits

© Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

© Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Nebraska and Oklahoma rivalry game, after the Cornhuskers 69-7 demolition in 1997, went on hiatus until 2000. During their interruption, Tom Osborne retired and Frank Solich replaced him, keeping continuity in the program that dated back to Bob Devaney. 

Meanwhile, Oklahoma was trying to find the right man to navigate the Sooners. After Switzer's resignation, Gary Gibbs was promoted to head coach with a responsibility of cleaning up the programs image but also winning games on the field. 

Gibbs was successful in cleaning up the program. But his inability to go to a bowl and have full amount of scholarships prevented Gibbs from winning the big games, something Sooner fans held against him. Gibbs went 2-15-1 against Texas, Nebraska, and Colorado during his time. 

After the disastrous tenures of Howard Schnellenberger, who in his one season led the Sooners to their first conference losing season in 31 years, and John Blake who couldn't translate the Dallas Cowboys dynasty in Norman after three losing seasons, the Sooners were desperate for the right man. 

They found their right guy with Florida defensive coordinator Bob Stoops. Stoops assembled a staff and galvanized the base guiding the Sooners to their first bowl game in seven seasons in 1999. 

The 2000 season saw a comeback in the Nebraska vs. Oklahoma rivalry game and the Sooners who began the season No. 19. A midseason stretch saw the Sooners have contests with No. 11 Texas, No. 2 Kansas State, and ending with No. 1 Nebraska. 

Both Oklahoma and Nebraska entered their midseason clash undefeated, with Nebraska No. 1 and Oklahoma No. 3 in the polls. Oklahoma were led by All American linebacker Rocky Calmus, quarterback Josh Heupel, and safety J.T. Thatcher. Nebraska under Frank Solich entered the 2000 season coming off a Fiesta Bowl victory and was ranked No. 1 in the country in the six of the first seven weeks of the season. 

The Cornhuskers were led by future Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, Bobby Newcombe, Dominic Raiola, Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Dan Alexander. In the first quarter, Nebraska dominated going up 14-0 on the Sooners responded by forcing three Cornhusker turnovers and scoring 31 unanswered points. 

Sooners quarterback Josh Heupel passed 20 for 34 for 300 yards and a touchdown. The victory helped springboard the Sooners to a seventh national championship in the Orange Bowl against Florida State 13-2. With Oklahoma jumping back in a big way, it only meant the 2001 season meant a lot more to Nebraska responding to Oklahoma's surprise national championship season. 

© USA TODAY Sports

© USA TODAY Sports

Guided by Eric Crouch, who would win the 2001 Heisman Trophy, the Cornhuskers were on a mission and had the October 27th date with the Sooners circled. Entering the highly anticipated matchup the Sooners were ranked No. 2 and the Huskers at No. 3. 

The atmosphere at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln was electric and the game was tied at the half 10-10. Entering the fourth quarter, the Cornhuskers had a slight lead 13-10 and were looking to break the stalemate between the two. 

The signature play occurred on a gadget play when freshman Mike Stuntz connected on a 63-yard pass to Crouch with six minutes to go to effectively put away the Sooners. 

The 20-10 Nebraska win was the last major victory in Lincoln for the Cornhuskers in the series. 

Outside the 2006 Big XII Championship game where Sooners quarterback Paul Thompson hit Malcolm Kelly for two touchdown passes to give the Sooners the Big XII Championship, the series didn't have the same luster due to Nebraska's constant rotation of coaches. 

The eventual tension and rifts between Nebraska and Texas is what drove the Cornhuskers to leave the Big XII. Former Iowa State coach Jim Walden said of Nebraska's departure, "I won't say who [told me], but one of the major reasons why Nebraska left to go to the Big Ten [in 2010] was they were tired of Texas. That's just an opinion. Maybe 100 people will deny that, but that's what I surmise."


State of the Rivalry Today

After their final game as Big XII members was in the 2010 Big XII Championship, Nebraska built a 20-3 lead, and the momentum began to swing when linebacker Travis Lewis had an interception in the end zone and recovered two fumbles, guiding the Sooners from a 17-point deficit to beat Nebraska 23-20. It was bittersweet defeat, but Nebraska thought it was going to greener pastures in the Big Ten. 

While there was hope in the future that the series would renew in some significant capacity outside of the two game sets in 2020-2021 and 2029-2030, the news last year of Oklahoma joining the SEC all but decimated any hope for a revival. Last season marked the 50th anniversary of 1971's Game of the Century and while the Cornhuskers were still down as a program and the Sooners riding high with Lincoln Riley who had two stud quarterbacks in Spencer Rattler and Caleb Williams with a potent offense. 

The Nebraska defense played with the same spirit so many Blackshirt Nebraska defenses had in the past and kept the game close. Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez had one of his best days in his career going 19 for 25 passing for 300 yards with a touchdown. 

While Oklahoma never trailed in the contest, it was a costly Martinez interception on a fourth quarter drive that saw the Huskers get to the Sooners three yard line and that sealed it for the Sooners up 23-9 with 8:16 to play in the game. Nebraska would get another score to make the game closer in a 23-16 defeat, and in a lot of ways this was the signature game in the failed Scott Frost era in Lincoln, who played in this rivalry as a player in the 1990's.

As we turn into Saturday's matchup, Nebraska is without a head coach after firing Scott Frost on Sunday. Mickey Joseph will add his name to a long list of legendary figures who have coached in the rivalry, as Nebraska's interim head coach. 

For Oklahoma coach Brent Venables it is his first game as a head coach against Nebraska, “I grew up on Nebraska football,” Venables said. “Along with Oklahoma and a few others, those were the programs that were always on TV. The programs that everybody strived to be like. It’s going to be really exciting.”