Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Passing of one of College Football's Greatest Rivalries

Fans from opposing Big XII schools have shown solidarity in showing their disgust at Nebraska for leaving their conference for the Big Ten next season. But, the biggest impact might just be felt in the death of one of college football's greatest rivalries.

By MIKE DAROZA
CFRT Editor

Editor’s Note: In an effort to not show any favoritism whatsoever, the teams mentioned below will appear by virtue of alphabetical order only. So, please, please, please do not send any hate mail, pipe bombs, grenades, Anthrax, Armour Potted Meat, etc. if your team does not appear first!

How ironic is it that “just like the good old days” will meet “never to be seen again” on Championship Saturday this weekend?
I am, of course, referring to one of college football’s most legendary rivalries – Nebraska vs. Oklahoma (alphabetical order, remember?!).
Many of you are probably not aware of this, but in a time long before ESPN College Gameday (or ESPN for that matter), the BCS or Heisman Trophy scandals, this rivalry was one of the titans of the sport.
And on Saturday, it will officially take its last, storied breath.

From 1962 to 1972, former Cornhuskers coach Bob Devaney compiled a remarkable 101-20-2 record and two national championships at Nebraska.
The Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry, which was played on Thanksgiving Day for more than 20 years, is as deeply woven into the fabric of college football as any other rivalry in the country.
Simply put, this rivalry was THE Blue Blood of Blue Bloods!

The centerpiece of Bud Wilkinson's time as Oklahoma's head coach was a 47-game winning streak from 1953 to 1957, an NCAA Division record that still stands today. Except for two losses in 1951, the Wilkinson-coached Sooners did not lose more than one game per season for 11 years between 1948 and 1958, going 107–8–2 over that period. Wilkinson did not suffer his first conference loss until 1959 against, you guessed it, Nebraska, his 79th conference game.

However, much of the nostalgic punch of this mammoth annual showdown was first significantly watered down when the former Big Eight Conference merged with four Texas schools from the old Southwest Conference to form the Big XII in 1994.
It was at that time that Nebraska (North) and Oklahoma (South) were split into different Big XII divisions.
The slit-division nature of the Big XII meant the Cornhuskers and Sooners – who up to that point had met every year for 71 years – would only be scheduled to meet twice every four years.

Widely regarded as the greatest Nebraska Cornhusker of all time, Tommy Frazier was the first player to lead his team to back-to-back consensus national championships since the 1950s.
The second, and final crushing blow came this past June, when Nebraska announced that it would be ending the university’s affiliation with the Big XII, and would be joining the Big Ten Conference beginning with the 2011 season.
They did not play each other in the regular season this year, and no meetings are scheduled in the foreseeable future, but since both Nebraska and Oklahoma won their respective divisions this year – as fate would have it – they will meet one final time in Arlington on Saturday for the Big XII Championship Game.

Leroy Selmon is considered one of the greatest Oklahoma players of all time. In 1975, Selmon won the Lombardi Award and the Outland Trophy for the nation's best defenseman. Sooners Head Coach Barry Switzer called Lee Roy the best player he ever coached.

To give you an idea of the magnitude this single rivalry – that began on November 23, 1912 – had on the landscape of college football in “the good old days,” let’s examine some of the historical numbers behind their 85 meetings.
Try to wrap your mind around the following.

18 – Times these teams were each ranked in the Top-10 when they met.

12 – Times the winner in this game went on to win the national championship.

9 – Times these teams were each ranked in the Top-5 when they met.

7 – Times the loser of this game finished the regular season with only that one loss.

3 – Times (1971, 1987 and 2000) these teams were ranked No.1 and No.2 coming when they met.

2 – Times (1971 and 1987) in which this game was nationally hailed “The Game of the Century."

Nebraska’s Heisman Trophy-winning Johnny Rodgers (20) weaved his way through the Oklahoma defenders for a 72-yard punt return in the first quarter of NU’s 35-31 victory in the 1971 “Game of the Century.” ABC-TV broadcast the game nationally to an estimated 55 million viewers (at the time the largest television audience ever for a college football game) with Chris Schenkel doing the play-by-play.

Unfortunately for old man tradition and those of us who still hold college football history near and dear to our hearts, there is but a single number that really matters at this point.

1 – Historic rivalry game “never to be seen again.”

Here’s hoping it’s 1 for the ages.

CFRT’s Pick 6

Many call the Oregon/Oregon State annual season finale the UN-Civil War.

(Saturday)
No.2 Oregon at Oregon State - Civil War

Oregon State began the season in good position to make a sizable splash, ranked No.24 in the preseason and dates against two Top-5 teams (TCU and Boise State) early in the schedule.
That was before one of their best players – James Rodgers – went down with a season-ending knee injury midway through October and the Beavers have lost four of their last seven since.
Of course, you can usually throw all the records, facts and figures out the window in rivalry games, but hanging with No.2 Oregon this time around may be asking a bit much from Oregon State.


At least it will help that the Beavers are playing at home, right?
Wellllll, not exactly.
The Beavers were drubbed, 31-17, by Washington State two weeks ago at home, snapping a conference losing streak the Cougars had sustained for nearly two and a half years.
The Ducks have had a couple of slow starts recently at Cal and last week at home against Arizona (trailing 19-14 at the half), but will be hard to stop knowing that if they win, a BCS title games awaits them.

Oregon, 51-24.


No.1 Auburn vs. No.19 South Carolina – SEC Championship Game

It seems so long ago now, but these two teams met in an early-season match up that looked like a blowout midway through the second quarter in Auburn.
The Gamecocks, then ranked No.12, seemed like they had the then No.17 Tigers on the ropes, leading 20-7 with 6:16 left in the second quarter.
Unfortunately for South Carolina, that game may also end up being remembered as one of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton’s first coming-out parties in his bid for the 2010 Heisman Trophy.

Auburn QB Cam Newton brought the Tigers back against South Carolina this year like he's done so many times this season since then.

Newton, like he has done several times since that night, kept Auburn cool and collected as he guided them to a brilliant come-from-behind 35-27 behind victory.
It also didn’t hurt that the Gamecocks, who had no turnovers in the first three quarters, turned the ball over four times in the final 15 minutes.
This will be South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier’s seventh trip to the SEC title game, but his first with the Gamecocks, who have never made the trip. 
I could bore you with statistics, strength of schedule and third-down efficiency defense and all that mumbo jumbo, but sometimes teams are just destined for greatness.

War Eagle, 38-28.


No.21 Florida State vs. No.15 Virginia Tech – ACC Championship Game

These two teams do have at least one thing in common.
After embarrassing early-season disasters, each has rebounded nicely to land in the ACC title tilt in Charlotte on Saturday.
Tech began the season about as bad as one can, losing a nationally-televised marquee match-up (with hype building all summer) to Boise State, and then was dealt a shocking upset at home at the hands of mighty Division I-AA James Madison just five days later.

The Hokies 21-16 loss to James Madison was one of the program's worst defeats ever.

Since then, the Hokies have run off 10-straight victories by an average margin of better than 21 points, and in only one of those games did they win by less than double digits. 
Meanwhile the Seminoles had to do some growing up of their own this season.
After a quick start and Top-20 ranking, FSU was humiliated on their trip to Oklahoma (47-17) in the second game of the season.
The Seminoles were then able to put together a five-game win streak after that debacle, but lost two straight to NC State and North Carolina, and then needed a 55-yard field goal as time expired to beat Clemson and keep from losing a third game in row.
The key to this match up may be as simple as who has enough left in the tank emotionally to get the job done.
VT had an easy go of whipping rival-Virginia 37-7 last week, while despite having an easy 31-7 win over Florida last week, FSU expended a lot of emotion – followed by unbridled celebration – in beating the Gators for the first time since 2003.

Can FSU come back to Earth after ending their six-year losing streak to Florida in time to focus on Virginia Tech?

Question is, will the Seminoles still be suffering from a euphoric hangover?

Hokies, 31-20.


No.9 Oklahoma vs. No.13 Nebraska – Big XII Championship Game

Without going back over what I've already covered above, there are a few interesting notes about this match up. 
The first being that the Sooners have been in half of the Big XII Championship Games played since 1996, having won six times in seven trips, including three out of the last four. 
That includes a 21-7 dismissal of Nebraska the last and only time they faced the Cornhuskers in the 2006 championship game.  
The Huskers – who have won two of their four Big XII championship game invites – have made the most recent appearance in the title game of the two, losing a controversial, 13-12, heart breaker to Texas last December.

A Texas player collapses in joy over the Longhorn's controversial win over Nebraska in last year's Big XII title game.

For that reason, Nebraska salivated over the opportunity to get revenge on the Longhorns the entire off-season, but was man-handled by a terrible UT team when they finally met.
The season hasn’t felt the same for NU since.
This will be the Cornhuskers’ final Big XII game, and they probably can’t wait to leave the conference considering the going-away party the Big XII referees seem to be throwing for them in their swan song.
For whatever reason, Nebraska has been flagged a total of 57 times in just eight league games, which is 10 more than the league average.

Huskers coach Bo Pelini has made his feelings known about how he thinks his team is being unfairly targeted by Big XII officials during Nebraska's final year in that conference.

On the contrary, the Huskers’ opponents have been penalized only 29 times, which is 20 less flags than the league average.
Think there might be some questionable calls going against NU if the Cornhuskers threaten to take the Big XII trophy with them to the Big Ten?

Boomer Sooner, 31-28.


UConn at South Florida

If recent history has anything to do with it, UConn might be in trouble.
The home team has won every single meeting in the brief five-year history of this series.
South Florida’s head coach Skip Holtz got what appeared to be his first “signature victory” with the Bulls when his USF team beat Miami 23-20 in overtime last week.
On the other hand, with a win against South Florida on Saturday, Huskies’ coach Randy Edsall wouldn’t just be picking up his most significant win, he’d also be delivering UConn to its first-ever BCS bowl berth in the history of the program.
Speaking of history in the Huskies’ program, Holtz was actually the head coach for UConn from 1994 to 1998, including a 10-win season in his last year at East Hartford.

USF's Skip Holtz got his "signature win" last week against Miami. Can he and his Bulls also spoil the season for UConn?

He left the Huskies when his mother was diagnosed with cancer and joined his father – Lou – as an assistant coach with South Carolina so he could be closer to home and his mother.
The Bulls have little more at stake in this game than a better bowl selection, but could play the role of spoiler for UConn.
The Huskies hold their own destiny, and with a win they will capture a three-team race for the Big East title.
A UConn loss, coupled with a West Virginia win over Rutgers, and the Mountaineers are champs.
But, if both the Huskies and West Virginia lose and Pitt beats Cincinnati, the Panthers take the crown.
Confused yet?

Bulls, 27-24.


USC at UCLA

They might as well rename the stadium the Dose Bowl for this anticlimactic match up.
Other than L.A. bragging rights, there isn’t much on the line in this game.
Both teams’ seasons will end on Saturday regardless of the outcome. 
The Trojans are 7-5, but because of NCAA-imposed sanctions, USC is on probation and cannot go bowling.

The Trojan's are currently on a three-year NCAA probation for improper benefits that occurred under former coach Pete Carroll's watch. The sanctions will keep USC out of a bowl game for three years.

As for the Bruins, they are 4-7, and even if they were to beat their cross-town rival 1,000-0, they still won’t be eligible for a bowl with less than six wins.
Both teams are coming off two losses each.
The Bruins had probably their best offensive game of the second half of the season last week scoring 34 points.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is their pitiful defense gave up 55 to Arizona State.
If USC hasn’t packed it in already, they have the horses to make this an ugly end to 2010 for UCLA.
Problem is, both teams might be just as happy to mail in the score at this point.

USC, 42-35.

Last Week: 3-3
Season: 54-24

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