It's fitting that, after a decade part, Nebraska and Oklahoma are meeting now. These programs were the Big 8. That conference crowned a champion every season from 1907 to 1995. The number of seasons someone without a Block N or interlocking OU on their helmet won an outright Big 8 title: 17.
They, along with Texas, served as the backbone of the original Big 12. For everything that league in its original form was not, it was an elite football conference in its earliest days. A Big 8/12 team won or played for the national title in 1994, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009. All but two of those were Nebraska or Oklahoma.
So, yes, it's fitting that this celebration of Big 8/12 history is happening now, when soon this will be a Big Ten-SEC series.
We're 50 years removed from the 1971 Game of the Century, when No. 1 Nebraska beat No. 2 Oklahoma, 35-31, on Thanksgiving. Nebraska's Blackshirts defense had four first team All-Americans; Oklahoma ran for an NCAA-record 472 yards a game. An estimated 55 million people watched, the equivalent of nearly 87 million today -- almost Super Bowl numbers.
We're also 20 years removed from the last great moment of this rivalry.
Oklahoma -- No. 1 in the BCS standings and the defending national champion -- rode a 20-game winning streak into Lincoln to face BCS No. 2 Nebraska. It was a defensive struggle, broken by Black 41 Flash Reverse Pass, a play with its own Wikipedia page. Quarterback Eric Crouch handed the ball to I-back Thunder Collins, Collins tossed it to receiver Mike Stuntz, and Stuntz found Crouch behind the defense for a 63-yard touchdown.
And that was pretty much that for this rivalry in particular and the Nebraska dynasty in general. The Huskers were demolished three games later by Colorado, failed to win their own division but still made the BCS title game on the strength of the OU win, and were demolished again by Miami.
Those two losses embarked Nebraska on a long, twisting, painful journey to today. Scott Frost was supposed to bring back the sunshine, instead the darkness has become even darker -- 14-21 overall, 9-18 in Big Ten play, given zero chance of beating No. 3 Oklahoma on Saturday (noon ET, Fox).
Claimed national titles
It's fitting, too, that this game falls in the Big Noon Kickoff window. Oklahoma was "bitterly disappointed" Fox put this game at 11 a.m. local time and told us as much in May. Little did we know the Sooners were well on their way to leaving the Big 12, and its Fox-aligned TV contract, behind.
Saturday's outcome -- give me Sooners 51, Huskers 21 -- is secondary to the fact this game is happening. As much as any other rivalry across this land, NU-OU built college football into what it is today: a multi-billion dollar entertainment product whose future is becoming less tethered to its past by the minute. These two will play again in Lincoln next year, and there's no telling when we'll see this Block N and interlocking OU on the same field again after that.
Nebraska-Oklahoma isn't the only high-powered, long-awaited reunion on Saturday. The last time Alabama visited Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Urban Meyer still patrolled the home sideline.
Florida is on its third coach since that day, and Urban is on his third job since then.
As NU-OU built the old Big 8, Florida and Alabama built the modern SEC. Tide-Gators is the most common SEC Championship matchup in the game's history, 10 of the 29 all-time matchups.
Alabama won the first one, the first conference title game at the FBS level, on its way to the 1992 national title. The 2008 and '09 games placed the SEC on a pedestal above its peers, No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups that were de facto national title games. No. 2 Florida beat No. 1 Alabama en route to the 2008 title, and No. 2 Alabama upset No. 1 Alabama on the way to the first of six (and counting) Saban titles the following year.
SEC Championship Game Appearances
1. Alabama -- 13
1. Florida -- 13
3. Georgia -- 8
SEC Championship Game Victories
1. Alabama -- 9
2. Florida -- 7
3. LSU -- 5
National Titles, 1992-Present
1. Alabama -- 7
2. Florida -- 3
2. LSU -- 3
They met again last season, the only time the Crimson Tide sweat on their way to the sixth (and counting) of those crowns. Remove that game and Alabama won its 12 remaining games by an even 31 points a game; Florida played them to within six.
No. 1 Alabama at No. 9 Florida (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS) marks the first time the AP No. 1 team has visited Steve Spurrier-Florida Field since No. 1 Miami came on Sept. 7, 2002 (Canes 41, Gators 16). Ben Hill Griffin's attendance record of 90,916 was set for Florida State's 2015 visit; expect that to fall Saturday.
Florida's 763 rushing yards through its first two games are the most in FBS and the most by a Gators team in 25 years; Alabama's defense allows 2.37 a carry and has yet to yield a touchdown. Starting quarterback Emory Jones has fired four interceptions for the Gators, calling for freshman Anthony Richardson (6-of-11 for 192 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs; 11 carries for 275 yards and 2 TDs) to start. Those calls are well-reasoned; Alabama's plus-4 turnover margin is among the top 10 in the nation.
This is the biggest regular season game of Dan Mullen's Florida tenure, while it's simply the next big game for Nick Saban, especially considering Georgia misses Alabama in the regular season. Mullen is locked in an ongoing debate with Jimbo Fisher and Kirby Smart as to who among the trio is the most successful of Saban's contemporaries yet to beat Saban.
Dan Mullen vs. Nick Saban
2009: Alabama 31, Mississippi State 3
2010: Alabama 30, Mississippi State 10
2011: Alabama 24, Mississippi State 7
2012: Alabama 38, Mississippi State 7
2013: Alabama 20, Mississippi State 7
2014: Alabama 25, Mississippi State 20
2015: Alabama 31, Mississippi State 6
2016: Alabama 51, Mississippi State 3
2017: Alabama 31, Mississippi State 24
2020: Alabama 52, Florida 46
Now would be the ideal time for Mullen to remove himself from that debate.
-- No. 15 Virginia Tech at West Virginia (noon ET, FS1): Call this the appetizer OU-Nebraska. These former Big East rivals have met just once since Tech joined the ACC, a 2017 neutral site game in DC. WVU leads 28-23-1 all-time, but Tech has taken three straight.
-- No. 8 Cincinnati at Indiana (noon ET, ESPN): Two fan bases were heavily bummed when Iowa dump-trucked Indiana in Week 1 -- IU and Cincinnati. The Bearcats need all the scheduling help they can get if they want to pull off the impossible dream of making the Playoff from outside the Power 5, and Iowa 34, Indiana 6 didn't help. The next-best thing for Cincinnati's schedule? Pulling off their own 28-point win in Bloomington.
-- Michigan State at No. 24 Miami (noon ET, ABC): How about this scheduling note from BTN?
Miami holds a 4-0 lead here, though with no meetings since 1989.
-- SMU at Louisiana Tech (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network): When's the last time two former teammates started against each other at completely different schools? Austin Kendall and Tanner Mordecai both backed up Kyler Murray for the 2018 Oklahoma Sooners. Kendall transferred to West Virginia the next season and now starts at QB for Louisiana Tech; Mordecai was a true freshman on that team, stuck it out two more years and then hopped I-35 south to Dallas. Mordecai beat out SMU's highest-rated quarterback recruit ever in Preston Stone to win the QB1 job and threw for seven touchdowns in his first start for the Ponies.
-- Florida State at Wake Forest (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Florida State is 0-2 after snatching defeat from the jaws of victory last Saturday night. The last time the 'Noles started 0-3: 1976, Bobby Bowden's first season. The last time FSU and Wake played, Oct. 19, 2019 in Winston-Salem: Deacons 22, Seminoles 20.
-- Delaware at Rutgers (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN): On the flip side, Rutgers is looking for its first 3-0 start since 2012.
-- Baylor at Kansas (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+): KU's longest Big 12 losing streak is 21 games, from midway through the 2010 season through the end of 2012. Les Miles left behind a 12-game Big 12 losing skid and this game, against a Baylor program still finding its footing under Dave Aranda, at home, may be Lance Leipold's best opportunity to avoid matching that 21-gamer.
-- Kent State at No. 5 Iowa (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN): No one has endured Scheduling Whiplash quite like Kent State. The Flashes opened with a 41-10 loss to No. 6 Texas A&M, thrashed VMI 60-10 last week, and now get the No. 5 team in the country. A trip to Maryland follows this one before opening MAC play with Bowling Green.
Watch the skies in this one. The only team with more interceptions than Iowa's six happens to be Kent State (eight).
-- No. 22 Auburn at No. 10 Penn State (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): These two have met twice previously, both in bowl games. Furthermore, it's just the 10th time an SEC team has trekked into Happy Valley, the first since 2011, and the second since 1989. Even more astonishing, it's Auburn's first game inside a Big Ten stadium since playing Wisconsin to a 7-7 draw on Oct. 10, 1931.
The SEC won both prior games.
-- Virginia at No. 21 North Carolina (7:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network): Dubbed the South's Oldest Rivalry, UVa won the first meeting in 1892 and has taken the last four, including a 44-41 shootout last Halloween.
Wisconsin-Minnesota is the only FBS series older than this one. UNC leads 64-58-4. A loss would potentially bury the preseason-top-10 Heels at 0-2 in ACC play.
-- Tulane at No. 17 Ole Miss (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2): This series, not played since 2012, dates back to 1893. And though the Wave hasn't drowned the Rebels since 1988, the all-time ledger isn't as lopsided as you might think: 41-28 Ole Miss. The SEC title ledger isn't that lopsided, either, since Tulane reminded us all of its three conference titles to Ole Miss's six.
-- Rice at Texas (8 p.m. ET, LHN): Arkansas has already won this triumvirate (the Hogs opened with a 38-17 win over the Owls), but Texas has won 15 in a row and sits at 43-1 since 1966. Needless to say, this would be a bad time for Sark to let that mark become 43-2.
-- Northwestern at Duke (4 p.m. ET, ACC Network)
-- Stanford at Vanderbilt (8 p.m. ET, ESPNU): Nothing really to say here, just happy these games are happening. Maybe each team can exchange TI-83s after both games.
-- Oklahoma State at Boise State (9 p.m. ET, FS1): Perhaps no 2-0 team has been less impressive in getting to 2-0 than Oklahoma State. The Cowboys opened the year No. 1 among the Others Receiving Votes crowd with 107 votes; they slipped to 27 on Sunday after beating Missouri State by seven and Tulsa by five. That can change here.
The Broncos are 6-1 on the blue turf against Power 5 opponents since 2004.
-- Fresno State at No. 13 UCLA (10:45 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network): The national champions of Week 1 return to action after a week off. This is the 10th meeting between these California neighbors, all but one have or will be in LA or Pasadena. Lack of home field hasn't stopped the Bulldogs from winning the last three, the most recent a 38-14 of Chip Kelly's 2018 team.