Oklahoma football: Sooner snapshot of the legendary 1971 season

On Sept. 18, the Oklahoma football program will renew its longtime rivalry with the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

The two former conference rivals have played against each other on the gridiron a total of 86 times in the last 109 years and were members of the same conference for 90 seasons until Nebraska left the Big 12 in 2011 to become part of the Big Ten Conference.

Oklahoma and Nebraska have not played since 2010, when they faced off in the Big 12 Championship in Arlington, Texas. OU overcame an early 17-0 deficit to win that game, 23-20.

When the Sooners and Huskers meet on Sept. 18 in Norman this season, it will mark the 50th anniversary of the famed “Game of the Century,” staged on Thanksgiving Day in 1971, a back-and forth affair eventually won by Nebraska 35-31.

The all-time series between Oklahoma and Nebraska is a relatively close one. In the 86 games between the two teams, the Sooners have won 45, Nebraska 38 and there have been three tie games. In the 90 seasons they were members of the same conference, beginning with the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1921, OU and Nebraska won 74 conference championships between them

The 1971 college football season was an epic one for the  then Big Eight conference, but not just because of the Game of the Century..

When Nebraska played Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma, in late November 1971, the two teams ranked No. 1 and No.2, respectively in the Associated Press Poll. That is also the way they would finish in the Big Eight standings that season, with Colorado claiming the third spot.

The top four teams in the Associated Press Top 25 entering the 1971 postseason  were No.1 and undefeated Nebraska, followed by No. 2 and also undefeated Alabama, Oklahoma and Michigan. The Sooners, at 10-1, were the only team among that group with a loss.

In the New Year’s bowl games that season, Nebraska thrashed Alabama 38-6 and Oklahoma easily handled Auburn, the SEC runner-up, by a score of 40-22 in the Sugar Bowl. Meanwhile, Michigan suffered its first loss of the season, losing 13-12 to Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

With OU and Nebraska both winning their bowl games and with the Huskers knocking off then-No. 2 Alabama, Nebraska and the Sooners finished 1 and 2 in the final AP poll for the 1971 season.

But the icing on the cake, so far as the Big Eight was concerned was, with all the postseason bowl chaos at the top of the rankings, 10-2 Colorado was able to slide into the No. 3 spot in the final AP poll, giving the Big Eight an unprecedented sweep of the top three spots in the final rankings.

Nebraska finished the season  a perfect 13-0. Oklahoma, whose only loss was to Nebraska, was 11-1, and Colorado’s two losses were to Nebraska and the Sooners.

All that happened 50 years ago this season, and it remains firmly fixed in college football history as one like no other.