It started with 29 teams that claimed a Big 12 conference championship. From there, there were some hotly contested matchups in the sweet sixteen and the elite eight. But now, the cream has risen to the top. Three of the four teams remaining also won a national championship the year they won their Big 12 title. Without further ado, which of the four remaining teams will claim the greatest big 12 champion title once and for all?
The Greatest Big 12 Champion Final Four
1) 2005 Texas Vs. 5) 2017 Oklahoma
Vegas would set this over/under total somewhere around 80 points. Both the Longhorns and Sooners possessed offenses that no one could figure out. Texas averaged a whopping 50.1 points per game. Don’t forget, this was also before the rule changed that gave way to the ultra-tempo teams that can now run. Oklahoma average just 45.1 points per game. Oklahoma’s offense included a Heisman-trophy-winning quarterback, the 2017 Mackey award winner, and the Big 12 offensive lineman of the year. Oh, and Baker Mayfield also had a pair of future first-round draft picks in CeeDee Lamb and Marquise Brown to throw the ball to on the outside.
What would a Texas defense do against a team with that much offensive firepower? Lucky for us, Texas went toe-to-toe with an offense that had just as much offensive talent as this 2017 Oklahoma squad. The ’05 Longhorn defense certainly would be gettable, they didn’t shut down USC in that famous rose bowl. But we do know that the ’17 Sooners’ defense was the weak link that kept them from winning in the playoffs against Georgia. In what would be an entertaining track meet, the defense lets the Sooners down again. 2005 Texas.
2) 2000 Oklahoma Vs. 3) 1997 Nebraska
On the other side of the bracket, we get a complete 180 contrast in offensive football. Both quarterbacks would be under center at least 95% of the time. Each of these teams had very similar resumes. Both of these teams went wire-to-wire as the top team in the country. Although 1997 Michigan might have something to say about that. Both of them went 13-0. The Sooners had three All-Americans while the Cornhuskers had five.
And while they do have a lot of similarities, there is one data point to suggest this game wouldn’t be very competitive. It is true that the 2000 Oklahoma team defeated then Number one Nebraska in 2000 by a score of 31-14. However, that ’97 Nebraska team defeated Peyton Manning’s third-ranked Tennessee Volunteers in the Orange Bowl in dominating fashion by the score of 42-17. So the Blackshirt defense would handle an offensive attack headlined by current Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel. 1997 Nebraska.
The Greatest Big 12 Champion Game Summary
1) 2005 Texas Vs. 3) 1997 Nebraska
“You are looking live,” as the Goodyear blimp gives college football fans the overhead view of beautiful Pasadena, California. And it wouldn’t be a Rose Bowl setting without a kickoff that is slated for 5:05 pm EST time. The Rose Bowl crowd looks very similar to the Cotton Bowl for this showdown as the stands are divided 50/50 with burnt orange and Cornhusker red. Texas is led on the field by their all-world quarterback Vince Young as they come out of the southeast tunnel. Almost simultaneously, Scott Frost and the Huskers come storming out of the southwest tunnel. Nebraska wins the coin toss and chooses to take receive as Texas defends the north endzone.
Texas knew that defending against the pass would be low on the priority when prepping for this option attack. After all, Kenny Cheatham was their leading receiver in the ’97 season with 14 receptions for 191 yards. But all of the Cornhusker’s opponents knew that and it still did not matter. The Nebraska offense averaged 47 points per game in the 1997 season. And the Longhorns would struggle on the opening drive as Nebraska went 80 yards in nine plays to take a 7-0 lead with 7:23 left in the first quarter. Mack Brown knew his offense would answer. Sure enough, Young got the Horns down the field in just 93 seconds to even the game at 7-7.
Each of these all-time squads spends back-to-back possessions trading punches before Texas’ defensive front finally raises up to force the first punt of the game. All four of the starters on the Horn’s defensive unit would be drafted either in the 2007 or 2008 NFL draft. Young would take a break from playing Superman. He let (then) freshman running back Jamaal Charles take a routine dive play 43 yards for a scamper and score with just 9 seconds remaining in the first half. Texas would 24-17 lead into halftime.
Thrilling Second Half
The middle eight of a football game would prove to be critical. Texas received the ball to start the second half and the Cornhuskers still struggled defensively. Although they held Texas to another field goal, the Horns still stretched their lead by two scores with 10:11 left in the third quarter. But Nebraska never backed down. Including Frost, Nebraska had three different players with over 100 carries in the ’97 season. Those fresh legs helped wear down the Texas defense. Even with four future NFL players in the secondary for Texas, they would struggle to tackle on the edges. Thanks to a pick-six thrown by Young right before halftime, Nebraska would close the gap to 30-27.
Now that the sun has set behind the San Gabriel Mountains, the tension is mounting in the crowd from the 90,123 in attendance. Texas coughs up the football again on a failed mesh point between Young and Charles. Nebraska secured the fumble on the Texas 43-yard line. Much like a boa constrictor slowly sucking the life out of its prey, Nebraska is able to sit on the ball for nearly seven minutes of game time before taking the lead 34-30.
The resilient Texas squad is able to answer but has to settle for a field goal with just 4:51 remaining in the game. With only one timeout remaining, Nebraska just needed two first downs to end the game. They pick up the first one, but on the very first play of the drive. The Cornhuskers continue to drive, but an errant option pitch bounces in favor of the Longhorns with just 1:55 remaining.
Stop me if you have heard this before; Young gets Texas down to the Nebraska eight-yard line with just 19 seconds left. Still having all three timeouts, Nebraska sends an extra rusher to try to push Texas back out of field goal range. But instead, tackle Justin Blalock collapses the extra rusher down and creates a clear running lane for Young. The Texas quarterback gallops into the endzone for the game-winning score as the 2005 Texas Longhorns secure the title of the greatest Big 12 champion of all time by the score of 40-34.