SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
November 22, 1971
Nebraska and Oklahoma, the top-ranked teams in the nation, meet next week in the kind of epic battle that turns up in college football with delightful frequency
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November 22, 1971

This Year's Game Of The Decade

Nebraska and Oklahoma, the top-ranked teams in the nation, meet next week in the kind of epic battle that turns up in college football with delightful frequency

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History tells us a few things we might expect from Nebraska and Oklahoma. For instance, it is a good bet that the game will be exciting, full of suspense. The home field seems to mean little, since visitors have won as many Games of the Decade as they have lost. Nor does being a favorite mean much, since the underdog has won half the time. The most revealing fact of all is that the team most reliant on the forward pass tends to lose. This could be taken as a bad omen for Nebraska. But it is also true that the team that wins the biggie usually does it with the aid of a pass—somewhere, somehow.

It emerges that the average number of Games of the Decade in, alas, a decade is four. Roughly every other season one comes along, one with the necessary ingredients of a long and proper buildup, unbeaten opponents, a national honor at stake and, when possible, some glamorous stars, if not an O.J. Simpson or a Bubba Smith or a Tom Harmon or a Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard, at least a Jerry Tagge, a Jack Mildren, a Greg Pruitt and a Johnny Rodgers.

The decade which produced the most big games between No. 1 and No. 2 teams was the 1960s. Virtually every season, in a bowl if nowhere else, a No. 1 met a No. 2, or at least a No. 3. But the best single season for Games of the Decade was 1935 when there were three that captured the fancy of everyone. First, at midseason, Notre Dame and Ohio State, undefeated and untied, met at Columbus, and the Irish won in the last minute 18-13. A few weeks later Princeton and Dartmouth, undefeated and untied, met in a blizzard at Palmer Stadium, and the Tigers romped 26-6.

With these two Games of the Decade out of the way, the nation turned to a new area which was struggling for attention, the Southwest. Thus, on Nov. 30, a week after Princeton-Dartmouth, 40,000 converged on a 24,000-seat stadium in Fort Worth for a TCU-SMU encounter that would decide the Rose Bowl invitation and the winner of the Knute Rockne trophy for the national championship.

All of the world's leading football authorities, including Grantland Rice, were present that day in a bewildered Texas city to get bewildered themselves by a fellow named Sam Baugh, who threw 43 passes, an unheard-of number in those days. SMU won, despite Baugh, in a 20-14 classic decided on a sensational pass play, while people drove their automobiles through wire fences in order to get near the field.

These days, happily, no such measures are necessary in order for even 40 million people to watch a Game of the Decade. Most of the games have been turning up on television, and so will Nebraska-Oklahoma, at 2:30 E.S.T., check your local listings.

This particular Game of the Decade will match two teams as different as sprinters and weight lifters. Nebraska is a complete team, coupling a well-balanced attack with an iron defense. Oklahoma is all offense, most of it rushing out of the fashionable Wishbone T. Nebraska likes to probe and hammer, run and pass, work toward field position, and hold that line. Oklahoma only wants the football, and it will almost collapse that line in order to get it, the theory being that the Sooners will simply out-score you.

The statistics are telling on both sides. Devaney's Cornhuskers have allowed only 172 yards per game—best in the U.S.—and a mere 6.4 points per game, while offensing for 441 yards per game.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma has rushed for 481 yards per game, has a total offense of 563 yards per game and has scored 45 points per game—all tops in the country.

Nebraska thinks of itself as a team without stars, but stars have emerged. Jerry Tagge, the quarterback, is a star. He is big, strong, can pass to perfection, read defenses and lead. Johnny Rodgers is a game-breaker at running, catching and returning.

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