Those who figured that the Big 12 Conference title game rated on the national significance scale somewhere below USC-UCLA, Army-Navy and the canasta game at your local rotary club were proven correct.
But only because of that instant-replay official who may supplant Texas Coach Mack Brown as the most hated man in Oklahoma. It was the official, remember, who cost the Sooners a victory over Oregon in September when he botched the ruling on an onside kick.
Had Oklahoma prevailed against the Ducks, the eighth-ranked Sooners’ 21-7 victory over No. 19 Nebraska on Saturday night at Arrowhead Stadium might have propelled them into the Bowl Championship Series title game against Ohio State.
Instead, the Sooners (11-2) are bound for the Fiesta Bowl and a date with Boise State (12-0).
“We can’t do anything about it,” Coach Bob Stoops said. “For us to sit here and make an issue of it is not going to come off the right way. You guys call it what you want and we’re going to get ourselves ready to play the next game.”
Take away the Oregon debacle and the Sooners, winners of eight consecutive games, would have a pretty compelling case for playing the Buckeyes, considering they haven’t lost since a 28-10 setback to Texas on Oct. 7.
“I would like the challenge,” said sophomore receiver Malcolm Kelly, who set Big 12 title-game records with 10 receptions and 142 yards and also had two touchdowns. “I think that we could play them, but we don’t have a say so I try not to worry about things we can’t control.”
Kelly’s leaping, twisting three-yard touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone late in the third quarter pretty much stifled the hopes of Nebraska, which had 366 yards but committed five turnovers.
The Cornhuskers (9-4) are headed to the Cotton Bowl, where they probably will play Arkansas.
Nebraska fans, who comprised roughly three-fourths of the Big 12 title-game record crowd of 80,031, ratcheted up the decibel level late in the third quarter when they trailed only 14-7 and a punt pinned the Sooners at their one-yard line.
But on third and 10, quarterback Paul Thompson hooked up with tight end Jermaine Gresham for a 35-yard completion, the key play on a 99-yard drive that culminated in Kelly’s game-clinching touchdown.
Thompson, a fifth-year senior, asserted afterward that he was actually looking forward to playing in the Fiesta Bowl because it was the only BCS game in which he had not participated.