When Nebraska's baseball season ended on Saturday, that also closed the book on Nebraska's time in the Big XII. Technically, the Huskers remain a conference member through the end of June, but with the regular season for all spring sports now over, there are no more conference matchups this season. So while we look forward to our new home in the Big Ten, it's time to also look back and pay proper respects to the schools we've left behind. We start with Oklahoma State, who became the Big Eight's eighth school when they joined in 1958.
While Oklahoma State never seemed to win a lot of conference championships, they seemed to be a competitive foe no matter what the sport. Gary Ward's baseball teams more often than not ended their season in Omaha, earning College World Series berths 10 out of 19 years, including an incredible seven years consecutively in the 1980's. Major league stars Robin Ventura and Pete Incaviglia honed their skills under Ward in Stillwater.Oklahoma State basketball is best known for two coaching icons: Hank Iba and Eddie Sutton. Iba coached Oklahoma State for 36 seasons, including national championships in 1945 and 1946. His son Moe later coached the Husker basketball team from 1980 through 1986. Sutton coached the Cowboys from 1990 through 2006, reaching the NCAA tournament 13 times, including two Final Fours.
Oklahoma State football only has one shared Big Eight championship trophy since 1958, but the Cowboys have a number of memorable moments to remember. Jimmy Johnson started his remarkable head coaching career in Stillwater, going 29-25-3 in five seasons. But Oklahoma State's most talented teams might have been in the late 1980's when the combination of quarterback Mike Gundy, wide receiver Hart Lee Dykes, and running backs Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders were breaking records in Stillwater. Stop and think about it: Barry Sanders as the second string running back? It was true.
One of the more bizarre games I remember was the 1988 game between the Cowboys and Huskers, where both teams pretended to be WAC teams scoring at will. Nebraska dominated the game in the first quarter, with Ken Clark scoring on a 73 yard run, then Charles Fryar returning an interception 86 yards in the opening minutes of the game. Everybody had anticipated a battle between star running backs Sanders and Clark, but early in the second quarter, it was one sided as the Huskers found themselves up 42-0. But Sanders and the Cowboys still made a game of it. The two teams combined for over 1000 yards in an amazing 63-42 game. Sanders had a fine game, rushing for 189 yards, but Clark was better, rushing for 256.
In the Big XII era, the Huskers and Cowboys have only played off and on with some memorable games. In 1998, the Cowboys moved their home game to Arrowhead Stadium, and the Blackshirts held on a goal line stand as time expired to preserve a Husker victory. In 2003, Bo Pelini unveiled his defensive skills on the Cowboys in his initial game in Lincoln, impressing then-Cowboy head coach Les Miles so much that Miles would go on to hire Pelini two years later as his defensive coordinator at LSU. Bill Callahan's Clusterfool was especially hapless against Oklahoma State. The 2007 game sealed Steve Pederson's fate (he was fired less than 48 hours later) when Nebraska came out completely lifeless and found themselves down 38-0 at halftime.
Last season's Husker victory in Stillwater ended the series for the forseeable future. We'll probably see the Huskers and Cowboys meet up on the baseball field at some point down the line, but it'll probably be the postseason before we see a football or basketball matchup again. (We can hope for basketball, can't we?)
CN will salute and say farewell to our Big Eight conference partners over the next few weeks.