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December 1, 2006
Sooners renew rivalry with Huskers for title
"I actually think the weather will favor OU because their offense is a heavy ground game. Add to that they have a better defense and we can't afford to get into a ground battle with OU ... I just hope it's not windy so we can still toss the pigskin around."
-- C of Red on the Red Sea Scrolls message board on HuskersIllustrated.com.
Considering Texas needed just one win in its last two games to clinch the Big 12 South Division, it might seem surprising that Oklahoma and Nebraska are playing for the conference championship.
However, the bigger surprise might be that it has taken 11 years for the Sooners and Cornhuskers who once dominated the old Big 8 to play for the Big 12 crown.
Oklahoma or Nebraska represented the Big 8 in the Orange Bowl in 17 of the 19 years before the Big 12 was formed in 1996. From 1962 to 1995 the Sooners and/or Cornhuskers won or shared the conference championship every season but two.
When they vie for the 11th Big 12 championship on Saturday night at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium, the significance of the meeting won't be reserved for old-timers.
"We've definitely watched films of the old rivalries," Oklahoma quarterback Paul Thompson said. "When you get here coach (Bob) Stoops does a great job at showing the traditions with all of the teams. Nebraska is definitely one of those teams.
"(The rivalry) kind of maybe died a little bit lately because we don't play them every year, but if you look back on the Big 8 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."
That they're going to play on Saturday is like a long shot that paid off big. Texas (9-3, 6-2) beat both Oklahoma and Nebraska, but consecutive losses to Kansas State and Texas A&M prevented the Longhorns from defending their conference championship.
Stoops said that he remained optimistic of reaching the championship game even before Texas' late-season nose dive.
"We've been playing in a good way," he said. "You've seen some of (Texas') early games were pretty close. Nebraska played the heck out of them. You always feel that the door is open, you don't ever shut it. We always felt there was a chance, and fortunately it worked out for us."
Nebraska surely would've relished the opportunity to avenge a 22-20 loss to Texas, but the Cornhuskers insist they didn't care which team would be their opponent.
"Either one would have been a tough game," Nebraska linebacker Corey McKeon said. "Oklahoma is hot right now. It's hard to look at them and say that you want to play them as good as they've been playing."
Oklahoma is riding a seven-game winning streak. Its running game, primarily behind tailback Allen Patrick, has produced more than 200 yards in four of its last five games. The Sooners defense has allowed an average of 11 points per game during the win streak.
The Cornhuskers are on a three-game winning streak in which they've scored no fewer than 28 points. Senior quarterback Zac Taylor - who is originally from Norman, Okla., but was not recruited by the Sooners - has thrown two touchdown passes in his last five games. The Huskers rank 18th nationally in rushing with an average of 183.3 yards per game. Four running backs have rushed for more than 300 yards and junior Maurice Purify, who is averaging 19.5 yards per catch on 30 receptions and has seven touchdowns, is emerging as one of Nebraska's best receivers ever.
Also, the Cornhuskers have scored touchdowns on 38 of 46 trips inside the red zone.
But none of that was accomplished against Oklahoma, which allows only 273 yards per game to lead the Big 12 in total defense. The Sooners have notched 14 interceptions this season.
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"Their corners have come on this year and they are playing well, so you can't make mistakes against them," Taylor said of the OU defense. "They'll make you pay. You just have to play smart and take what they give you. They don't run anything real complicated, but they are very good at what they do so you just have to adjust and be smart."
Taylor might be more concerned about the OU pass rush than its secondary. Last season he was sacked nine times in a 31-24 Sooners victory in Lincoln.
"We are a completely different team than we were last year and so are they," Taylor said. "It was a rough game. It was a close game. I think both teams are completely different with completely different styles now. It will be a different game."
But it will also be the same as it used to be - a championship is at stake.
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