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Oklahoma Football vs. Nebraska: Game preview, storylines & predictions

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One of college football’s most storied rivalries is set to be renewed for the first time in more than a decade.

NCAA Football: Fordham at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

To pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of 1971’s Game of the Century, the No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners (2-0) will face off against the Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-1) this weekend in a rivalry-renewing reunion at the Palace on the Prairie. Throughout this historic series, OU owns the all-time record over its former conference foe, 45-38-3, including a 23-20 victory in their last meeting for the 2010 Big 12 Championship.

In case you missed it, these commemorative helmet decals both teams will be wearing to celebrate the 50th anniversary are totally sweet. Let’s go!

Date, Time & TV: Saturday, Sept. 18 at 11 a.m. CT on FOX

Line: Oklahoma -22.5 (as of Friday at 3 p.m. CT)

O/U: 62.5

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Major Storylines

Oklahoma needs to deliver in the spotlight

With this being the premier game during the noon eastern slot, the eyes of the college football world will be fixed on Norman, Oklahoma. The chance for a national audience that doesn’t have to compete with other big games is rather uncommon, and given the nature of this contest — a top three ranked team hosting a storied rival for the first time in over a decade — the spotlight couldn’t be much greater for OU.

Amazingly enough, the Sooners actually stand to gain quite a bit if they can deliver a strong showing against the Cornhuskers. Sure, Nebraska is no longer the dominant power it once was under Tom Osborne, but doing what you’re supposed to do in a game that is sure to garner a ton of attention will go a long way toward reaching that next tier of college football’s elites.

Which OU team will show up on Saturday?

Two games are now officially in the books — the Tulane escape and the Western Carolina beatdown. Against the Green Wave, Oklahoma looked asleep, unfocused and vulnerable. After surviving that nail-biter, the Sooners flipped a switch against WCU, and in that contest, OU seemed hungry, determined and dialed-in. Logic says this team is closer to what they showed in Week Two versus Week One, but it’s still too early to call one way or another. Whatever the case ends up being, this weekend’s marquee matchup against the Huskers should bring clarity to this question.

What does Nebraska have to do to pull off the upset?

A lot will have to happen in favor of the Cornhuskers and to the detriment of the Sooners in order for Scott Frost’s team to leave Norman with a win, but if it is to happen, it will be because of these three things:

First, Nebraska will have to win the turnover battle by at least a +2 margin. Secondly, Oklahoma will have to lose the time of possession battle by at least seven minutes. Finally, the Huskers will have to keep from falling behind by more than two touchdowns through three quarters. If at any point the Sooners build a lead greater than 14, don’t expect a miraculous comeback. It wouldn’t be the craziest thing to ever happen in a football game, but I’m telling you now, it simply will not happen this time.

Is OU’s secondary health a concern?

At the beginning of this week, Lincoln Riley updated the team’s latest injury report and revealed that a couple key contributors from the Sooners’ secondary — CB Woodi Washington and NB Billy Bowman — could miss this weekend’s meeting with Nebraska. Of course, there’s a possibility one or both of these guys make a sudden return to the lineup, but if neither of them play, the task of defending veteran QB Adrian Martinez becomes that much more challenging.

How much of a factor will home field advantage be?

If you’ve walked around campus at all this week, or if you’re planning on coming to the game, you’ve probably already felt the electricity in the air. It’s an unusual feeling because these days it seems like OU rarely has a home game that generates this much buzz leading up to it. Throw in the fact that fans of all ages will have their own unique reasons why this particular opponent deserves a memorable, Crimson & Cream welcome from the heart, and I expect the atmosphere on Saturday to jump off the screen. In short, it will be fun, and it will be loud. How the environment ultimately affects Nebraska remains to be seen, but something tells me it will certainly play a part in the final result.

Prediction

I see OU starting a little slow in this one, with Nebraska proving its toughness for much of the first half. The Cornhuskers’ defense isn’t quite on the level of the old school ‘Blackshirts’, but they’ll be ready to contend with Lincoln Riley’s offensive plan at the point of attack. Defensively, Oklahoma’s front will periodically create pressure for Scott Frost’s offense, but when that doesn’t happen, some lapses in the middle of the field will cost Alex Grinch’s group a time or two. I wish I could predict a blowout, but something inside me tells me this contest will be slightly closer than Sooner fans are comfortable with. That is, until a late drive from Spencer Rattler and company leads to the game-sealing score.

Oklahoma 42, Nebraska 24

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