The Sports Network
By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: It's fitting that the Nebraska Cornhuskers, in their final season in the Big 12 Conference, face one of their fiercest rivals in the league's championship game, as they battle the Oklahoma Sooners in Arlington, Texas on Saturday night.
Nebraska, which begins play in the Big Ten Conference next season, is making its sixth appearance in the Big 12 Championship Game, and has two titles to its credit (1997 and 1999). The Cornhuskers are coached by Bo Pelini, who has led the team to 10 wins for the second straight season -- the first time that has happened since 2000-01.
NU, champs of the Big 12 North, took care of Colorado last week at home in a 45-17 final. The Huskers have won five of their last six games, the lone setback coming in a 9-6 struggle with Texas A&M on November 20th.
As for Oklahoma, it is making its eighth appearance in the Big 12 title tilt, and the Sooners are seeking their seventh crown. This game is a rematch of the 2006 Big 12 Championship Game won by OU, 21-7, in Kansas City.
The Sooners, who are under the direction of head coach Bob Stoops, are 10-2 on the season, and won the Big 12 South Division with last week's 47-41 triumph over rival Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Oklahoma has won three in a row since suffering through a span of three games in which it lost twice. The Sooners have won three of the last four Big 12 titles, and this year marks their 31st season with at least 10 wins, which leads the nation.
This game represents the final meeting between these two teams as conference rivals, and Nebraska is seeking its second straight win in the series after posting a 10-3 victory last year in Lincoln. Overall, Oklahoma owns a 44-38-3 series advantage, which includes a 3-0-1 mark in neutral-site affairs.
Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez is the first Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year in the school's history, as he has thrown for 1,435 yards and nine TDs, while rushing for 974 yards and 12 scores. That latter figure ranks him sixth in the conference in rushing. When the ball is not in the rookie phenom's hands, it is typically found with RB Roy Helu Jr., who has rushed for 1,120 yards and 10 TDs, or with Rex Burkhead, who has 822 yards and seven scores. Brandon Kinnie and Niles Paul sit atop the NU receiving chart with a combined 79 catches, 971 yards and six TDs. Kyler Reed has six TD catches himself, and he averages a team-best 19 yards per reception.
The NU offense rolled up 265 rushing yards in last week's 28-point win over Colorado, riding Burkhead's 101-yard, one-TD effort. The RB also threw a pair of TD passes. Martinez sat out with an ankle injury, and his status for this contest is questionable. Paul was also held out with a foot injury and he is listed as questionable for this contest as well. Cody Green filled in for Martinez and while he threw for just 80 yards, two of his 10 completions went for scores. The Cornhuskers owned a near two-to-one edge in time of possession and they scored on all five of their visits to the red zone.
As a team, Nebraska ranks second in the Big 12 in scoring defense (16.8 ppg), and the Huskers have done an outstanding job against the pass (144.8 ypg), helping them rank atop the league in total defense (291.8 ypg). Prince Amukamara was recently named Nebraska's third Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, following the lead of former standouts Ndamukong Suh (2009) and Grant Winstrom (1996-97), and he is joined on the All-league First Team by teammates Pierre Allen, Jared Crick and Lavonte David. David has been an absolute beast this season, ranking second in the conference in total tackles with 128.
The Cornhuskers allowed Colorado just 99 rushing yards and 163 more passing last week, as Nebraska put a stop to the Buffaloes' recent run of success with a thorough beating. David led NU with eight stops, and he added a pair of PBUs to his stat line. The Huskers did not record a sack in the game, but came up with three turnovers.
Coach Pelini knows his defense will need to be at its best against the high- powered Sooners this week, "It's a good match up. They are pretty balanced. I think they run the ball fairly well at times and they have a lot of talent, a lot of good skill people on that side. They have a trigger man who can get the ball to everybody. They stretch the field on you. It's a good challenge for us."
The Oklahoma offense was honored earlier this week with three All-Big 12 First Team selections, among them RB DeMarco Murray and WR Ryan Broyles. Murray has rushed for 1,053 yards and 14 TDs, while Broyles has an eye-popping 115 receptions for 1,391 yards and 13 scores. QB Landry Jones earned honorable mention accolades after throwing for nearly 4,000 yards (328.9 ypg), 34 TDs and 10 INTs. With an abundance of firepower on offense, it's no wonder the Sooners average 37.5 points and 480.1 total ypg -- both of which rank the team second in the conference.
In last week's battle with Oklahoma State, the Sooners got 468 yards and four TDs from Jones, who wound up going 37-of-62 with three INTs. He was sacked twice by a Cowboy defense that allowed OU to convert 16-of-27 third-down chances and score on all seven of its trips to the red zone. Several drives stalled for the Sooners though, as they settled for four field goals from Jimmy Stevens.
Oklahoma is giving up 22.1 points and 369.8 total yards per contest this season. The touchdowns allowed are nearly split with 13 coming on the ground and 14 through the air. The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year wears an OU uniform, he being senior lineman Jeremy Beal, and DB Quinton Carter joins Beal on the All-league First Team. Tony Jefferson was tabbed as the conference's Defensive Freshman of the Year.
Travis Lewis, an All-Big Ten Second Team pick, leads the Sooners in tackles with 93, while honorable mention selection Jonathan Nelson is next with 87. Carter has 85, and he and Jamell Fleming each have four INTs. Beal has notched 8.5 sacks as part of his 18.5 TFLs.
The Sooners allowed the potent Oklahoma State offense 379 total yards last week, of which only 122 came on the ground. That was somewhat of a surprise considering the Pokes rank fourth in the Big 12 in rushing while the Sooners sit seventh in rushing defense. OSU moved the chains on just 5-of-15 third- down conversion attempts, and OU picked off three passes from the Big 12's top passer, Oklahoma State's Branden Weeden, two of which found the hands of Carter.
Coach Stoops spoke recently about what playing a team like Nebraska in such a big game means to his team, "One of the most special rivalries in all of football. It's really fitting that the last time we're in the conference together to have, I like to say, one more go at it. It's really kind of exciting for everybody."
These two teams are pretty evenly matched, as both have potent offenses and can also play stingy defense. Expect a physical game with blows being exchanged throughout. When the dust settles, the Sooners will be left standing as they claim yet another Big 12 title.