The Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry dates back 110 years. They’ve played 87 times during that period.
Playing careers have been catapulted into the spotlight from the Nebraska-Oklahoma game. Future Heisman winners Johnny Rodgers and Eric Crouch both had their electrifying moments against Oklahoma. The game’s also been the effective end of playing careers.
Enter Nebraska quarterback Casey Thompson and his complicated relationship with Oklahoma.
Charles Thompson was a fourth-round draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds out of high school before he won the starting quarterback job at Oklahoma as a redshirt freshman. He led the Sooners to a win over Nebraska in The Game Of The Century II. An arrest on drug charges and subsequent prison time ended professional hopes.
Charles’ oldest son, Kendal, enrolled at Oklahoma early to make his own name. He never won the starting spot. In 2014, as a graduate student, he transferred to Utah. He came off the bench for impressive moments before a season-ending ACL injury.
Casey’s college decision was different. He committed to the University of Texas. Then, according to reports out of Oklahoma (including one account from Charles), Casey considered the Sooners. Casey wanted assurance from then-offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley that Riley would remain in that position all four of Casey’s years, according to Charles. When Riley couldn’t make that guarantee, Casey stayed at Texas.
He remained on the sidelines, waiting for his opportunity. He prepared as if he was the starter. Then he started in 10 of 12 games last year. He took the field just in time for the Oct. 9 Red River Shootout against Oklahoma.
“That was probably the most relaxed I was for a game. It was a different experience,” Thompson told media before the Northwestern game this season, of that Red River game. “I do not know how to explain it, but I get really relaxed before games and in warmups.”
He threw for 388 yards and five touchdowns against Oklahoma. He led an offense that gained 516 yards. Texas lost 55-48.
Thompson entered the transfer portal after last season. Among the moving pieces was the possibility of finishing his career at Oklahoma. But he chose Nebraska. And now he gets another crack at the Sooners.
He’s said he never grew up hating Oklahoma. He just wanted to be the top guy. And he saw that path at Texas. There’s some playful trash talk whenever Oklahoma gets thrown in. In the circles of Norman, Oklahoma, Charles is still remembered for leading the Sooners to the 1987 National Championship. The ultimate game that season, a 20-14 loss to Miami, has underwent Casey’s intensive film study over 30 years later.
“Sometimes in the offseason, when I’m bored, I’ll turn on a game and watch start to finish,” Casey told CBS Dennis Dodd last year. “I’ll write down throws and say, ‘You missed this throw. You missed this read.'”
In his first year at Nebraska, while learning an offensive system entirely new to the whole team, he’s been a student. He’s ran through drives, plays, opposing schemes while speaking to the media.
So far Thompson is 62-of-97 for 866 yards. He has four touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s also ran for four touchdowns. Against Georgia Southern, the most recent game, he threw for 318 yards without an interception. As deflating as that game was, and how it was the final straw in the tenure of a former Husker, Thompson wanted to keep his cool and helm the offense.
“In the Big 12 last year I was in a lot of shootouts,” Thompson said after the Georgia Southern game. “It gave me a little bit of comfort and peace knowing I’ve been in those situations before and having experience helps a lot.”
Should the latest installment of a historic rivalry be a track meet, he’s ready. It’s never been about hating Oklahoma, though many in Nebraska do. A duplicate performance against the Sooners, however, could land him a spot in the rivalry’s lore.