Game of the Week: Storied rivalry renewed in Big 12 title game
Nebraska's last Big 12 game fittingly takes place against fellow icon Oklahoma
Husker Nation is convinced calls are going against team due to impending exit
Oklahoma won't post its usual points against Nebraska, but should have an edge
The Big 12 Championship Game will not have an impact on the national title picture this year, something it has had eight times during the game's 14-year history. But there are still some juicy storylines, including the renewal of a storied rivalry that will truly be going into hibernation starting next season. Oklahoma and Nebraska are two of the sport's great programs, so it's fitting that they will battle for a championship in the last year they share a conference. The ghosts of Switzer and Osborne, Pruitt and Rodgers, Sims and Rozier will be in the background at new Cowboys Stadium while the current generation bids farewell and battles for a berth to the Fiesta Bowl.
1. Taylor Martinez and his bad wheels. Nebraska's starting quarterback missed the Colorado win with an injured right ankle and bad left toe, and coach Bo Pelini says it will be a game-time decision whether the freshman will play against the Sooners. Backup Cody Green was solid against the Buffs, completing 10 of 13 passes for 80 yards, and running back Rex Burkhead got in on the action, throwing two touchdowns from the Wildcat formation. But points won't come as easily against the Sooners. With a limited Martinez or backup Green under center and leading receiver Niles Paul out with a foot injury, Oklahoma will stack the box against stud running backs Burkhead and Roy Helu Jr. Nebraska will have to power through that defensive front and avoid third-and-longs, because even if Martinez plays, it doesn't look like he'll be 100 percent. The Sooners want Nebraska to pass. Nebraska wants to run. It will be fun to watch this war of wills.
2. Landry's revenge. Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones suffered through the worst game of his career against Nebraska last year, completing less than 50 percent of his passes (26 for 58) and throwing five interceptions in a 10-3 loss in Lincoln. Jones will certainly carry extra motivation into Saturday, as will his top receiver, Ryan Broyles. The junior has been in the shadow of Oklahoma State wideout Justin Blackmon all season and was not selected on the AFCA All-American squad despite leading the nation in receptions with 115 and ranking third in receiving yards with 1,391 to go along with 13 touchdowns. Both players have something to prove, and with running back DeMarco Murray less than 100 percent (but probable to play), look for Jones and Broyles to at least test a Nebraska secondary that leads the nation in pass defense. Corner Prince Amukamara is a sure first-round pick and will present a great challenge for Broyles.
3. Nebraska's not-so-fond farewell. Husker fans have long held the reputation as one of the most polite and respectful groups in the nation. Starting with last year's controversial clock tinkering by officials in the Big 12 championship game, and continuing with this summer's eventful decision to head to the Big Ten, Nebraska fans have felt like the world is against them, and they have reacted as such. Controversial calls by officials have been lamented as punishment for leaving the league behind, and Pelini's histrionics toward officials during games has done nothing to quell the rising anger. Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe declined to go to Lincoln last week when the Huskers clinched the North out of fear for his safety. Any hint of controversy will be exaggerated Saturday, and the awkward exchange between Beebe and the Nebraska brass if the Huskers win will be priceless.
Oklahoma enters the game as a four-point favorite. Nebraska is 12-5 against the spread under Pelini away from home. Oklahoma is 6-1 against the spread in Big 12 championship games with an average margin of victory of 28 points in its six wins. Oklahoma has also covered in six of its last eight meetings with Nebraska. Slight betting lean toward Oklahoma.
From 1963 to 1988, either Nebraska or Oklahoma won or shared the Big Eight title.
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline weighs in with his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup.
CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska: NFL scouts graded Amukamara as one of the top two seniors in the nation before the 2010 season began, and he's done nothing to disappoint them. He's a shutdown cornerback with a terrific combination of ball skills and football intellect. Amukamara is also considered a high character prospect who's as much a leader off the field as he is on it. Grade: First-round prospect.
RB DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma: The Sooners' featured ball-carrier avoided the injuries that have nagged him in the past and put together a career year as a senior. He's an explosive back who makes defenders miss and is a terrific receiver out of the backfield. He doesn't have the makings of a featured NFL runner yet, but should do well as a situational ball-carrier. Grade: First-round prospect.
WR Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma: Broyles is another Sooner who took his game to another level this season. The junior lacks classic NFL size, but is very reliable catching the ball and incredibly effective running after the reception. Broyles is also a skilled punt returner, which just adds to his next-level value. Grade: First- or second-round prospect.
WR Niles Paul, Nebraska: Paul entered the season with high marks from NFL scouts and moves toward the draft as one of the best senior receivers available. He's more of a possession receiver who willingly makes the tough catch in a crowd, but he's also one of the best blocking receivers in the nation, a skill often overlooked. Grade: Second-round prospect.
Nebraska and Oklahoma have faced off the last two years, with Oklahoma winning a 62-28 shootout in 2008 and Nebraska winning a 10-3 slugfest in 2009. Sooners coach Bob Stoops is 6-1 in Big 12 championship games, and he should be able to improve to 7-1 if his defense can stop the Nebraska running game. Oklahoma will be held below its average of 37.5 points per game, but it will still be able to score enough to outpoint a Nebraska offense that has a banged up quarterback and is missing its top receiver. OKLAHOMA 27, NEBRASKA 17
(Note: This column is bowl eligible, but not BCS worthy, having gone 8-5 in the predictions department.)
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