Too close to call. Just how it should be

If Oklahoma had the team they had from last year, this game probably wouldn't be all that dramatic. Even the fact that it's Oklahoma versus Nebraska, there would probably be as much suspense in who will win as there was last year and in the late 90s. That's not the case, both teams far more equal than they have been in years. So perhaps this could be another Oklahoma versus Nebraska for the ages.

Last year Oklahoma was loaded and at the end of the season they would play once again for the national title.

This year's team isn't and won't.

Last year Nebraska was in disarray, both inside and outside and they would actually have a losing season and they would be staying home for the post-season.

This year's team isn't and won't

One team is down, the other is up, both aren't ranked and while that doesn't paint a picture of a classic Oklahoma/Nebraska match up as most have had national implications, the fact that this game isn't a sure-fire win for either team, it could be yet another climactic ending in this historically climactic series.

Why is Oklahoma down?

A few reasons, but most of it hinges to the fact that the Sooners lost a TON of players, approximately 16 starters off one of the best teams in the country and most of those players went in the 2005 NFL Draft.

They lost Heisman winner Jason White, Outland winner Jammal Brown and their three best receivers went in the top three rounds of the draft.

Add to that three safeties that were drafted, another offensive lineman, a linebacker and one of the premier defensive ends, I don't care who you are and how much talent you have in the tank, being just as good is impossible and you are going to have a lot of growing pains.

They have, losing almost as many games as they have won, currently standing at 4-3, their one saving grace a 3-1 record in the conference.

Where the Sooners ranked amongst the top ten in almost every major offensive category last year, they currently rank above 25th in one category this year:

Punting

On defense, while markedly better in comparison to this year's offense, Oklahoma was giving up not even 17 points a game last year and this year, they are actually giving up more points on average (23.7) than they are scoring (23.2).

This sounds dramatic and it is, but based on the loss of personnel, coaches and experience, it would be hard for any team to do any better, if they could.

Why is Nebraska up?

Like Oklahoma, Nebraska lost some key players to the draft, three of their main defensive stars gone in the first two rounds of the draft.

Unlike OU, though, Nebraska actually got better on defense, but it was more to do with the fact that for most of these players, this was the first year they had the same defensive staff two years in a row.

And the differences in how the defense has performed statistically is dramatic:

Last year they were amongst the worst in the entire division in stopping the pass and in kickoff return defense. They were abysmal in giving up yards and points. They were abused in the air by teams like Iowa State and Oklahoma and abused on the ground by teams like Kansas State.

The Huskers were actually giving up more points per game on average (27.1) than they were scoring (25.0). That had a lot to do with the first losing season for Nebraska in over 40 years.

This year's defense is quite a bit better, despite lackluster showings against Missouri and Texas Tech, though only the number one ranked Texas Longhorns have managed to solve the Red Raiders this year.

There is no question, though, that if it weren't for the Nebraska defense and their special teams, they could have easily lost two of their first three home games and against Tech, a nail-biter, where the blame for the loss ultimately fell on a defensive player's shoulders, wouldn't have even been a nail-biter had the defense not clamped down when they did, especially after the Huskers had to deal with short fields for Tech following Husker turnovers.

Putting it basically, this is going to be two good defenses matching up with two either suspect or inexperienced offenses.

One of Oklahoma's strengths is its defensive line and the same can be said for the Huskers and unlike OU, NU hasn't lost some five starters to either the draft, academic eligibility or injury this year.

Both have good linebacker corps and both have suspect secondary play, OU's a by-product of inexperience, which can be said for Nebraska as well, one of their starting cornerbacks (Tierre Green) converted from the running back position just this year.

Both have suspect offensive lines, but OU's is more a loss of experience, where Nebraska's is simply not having the quality talent they need to do the things they want to do.

Like pass protect, something that this group actually seems to be getting worse at instead of better.

Oklahoma can usually do that, but this year's a down year in that respect for them as well.

At running back, both have sure fire starters, but Adrian Peterson is injured, probable to play this weekend, but not expected to make a huge impact. I've never been sold on OU run blocking, even when Peterson was churning out the kind of yards he has last season.

For Nebraska, Cory Ross is the mainstay, but his blocking has been so inconsistent and not very good even when it is at its best, he's definitely making his yards the old fashioned way.

At quarterback, two fairly green QBs take the helm, Rhett Bomar a redshirt freshman and Zac Taylor a junior college transfer this year. Both have made mental mistakes that are a by product of that inexperience, but both are also tough as nails and will fight to the bitter end.

Bomar has the mobility edge, though, the Huskers can be thankful that he isn't another Brad Smith. Taylor's strength is in his deep ball, but if given the time, Zac has proven that he can make just about every pass on the field.

In special teams, Nebraska has the slight advantage in most categories, especially in punting, punt return and kickoff return defense.

You look at this, on paper or no and it's almost a wash. You can't really find a clear cut favorite, nor do you see any one thing that given the circumstances of the game, anyone can reach or create some clear momentum.

What Nebraska has is the crowd, something they need as they have had two road performances, one decent, the other abysmal and the decent one was against Baylor in front of their usual throng of six-plus fans in the stands.

You can split hairs and find a little advantage for either team. You can look at past recruiting classes and say Oklahoma should have the upper hand, because they have the talent. You can look at the experience and health factor and say that it's Nebraska's for the taking.

Or, you can look at head coaching at Bob Stoops clearly has the edge on Bill Callahan in college coaching careers.

To just hammer it all out, come out with an obvious answer, a team being a shoe-in to win, though, it's not happening. This one is almost too close to call.

And that's just the way it should be

It's bad enough this rivalry has been reduced to less than a shadow of its former self, because the pinheaded morons in the Big 12 didn't have enough common sense to realize the importance of this game. But, for either or even both not to be ranked is salt in an open wound.

Back in the day, it wouldn't have mattered, because this was Nebraska taking on Oklahoma and regardless of the ability, this one was going to be a war going down to the wire.

We should get at least that much out of the contest this time around.

It might not make us remember the good old days or think that we have seen the past literally re-lived. But, if it's as close as it seems, it will be a chance for the younger kids to take in a moment, that many Husker fans have felt for years, one season after next.

It could be just like the good old says in almost every single way and people will shudder when they year about the Oklahoma/Nebraska game of 2005. I don't know, I'm not counting totally on that, but it should be a good game.

What would make it better, though, if THIS was the last game of the year, and instead of 65 degrees, it was in the thirties or forties, with mist and possibly a touch of freezing rain.

Than it would truly be Oklahoma/Nebraska

The way it was meant to be played.


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