Lost somewhere in the shuffle of press conferences and upheaval within the Nebraska football program is game week.
The Huskers host historic rival No. 6 Oklahoma on Saturday. Television crews will beam live transmissions from Lincoln across the country. It’s the first top-10 opponent to play Nebraska in Memorial Stadium since No. 6 Ohio State in November last season. It will be the sixth straight meeting between the two programs where at least one is nationally ranked.
But, because of the hoopla, this game holds a different appearance. The two schools have played 87 times. The 88th will be the first to include an interim head coach.
Mickey Joseph will serve his first of nine games as Nebraska head coach following Scott Frost’s firing earlier in the week. The new ball coach isn’t a stranger to the rivalry.
Before Frost’s dismissal, Joseph was associate head coach, passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach. In addition to coaching history in his native Louisiana and adoptive home of Nebraska, Joseph coached in Oklahoma. He was the head coach at NAIA Langston University for two seasons and joined the staff at Central Oklahoma. As a Husker, Joseph was part of five different rivalry games with Oklahoma. The Huskers were 3-2 in those five games.
“Well I played in the Big Eight,” Joseph said during his press conference on Tuesday. “We had to face (Oklahoma) every year. And it was always a big game. I have friends over there. They are excited. It means a lot to see OU come here. When they went to the Big 12 it kind of split it a little bit. It is an exciting time. It brings back old memories.”
Former head coach Tom Osborne once described Joseph as the most highly publicized quarterback he recruited at Nebraska to that point in 1987. Joseph was a Parade Magazine and USA Today All-American and the Louisiana Player of The Year. He was also heavily recruited by Oklahoma. (Fun fact: one of Oklahoma’s quarterbacks at the time was Charles Thompson, father of current Nebraska quarterback Casey Thompson.)
Joseph earned his starting quarterback opportunity in 1990, leading the Huskers to a 8-0 start. During that year’s game against Oklahoma in Norman, he scrambled on a pass early in first quarter. He went out of bounds but sophomore linebacker Reggie Barnes slipped in pursuit and took Joseph out. The Huskers’ quarterback broke his leg colliding with an aluminum bench. Joseph’s career didn’t recover after the injury. He turned down a spot in the Canadian Football League to go into coaching and administration.
It was always Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado at the top of the Big Eight when Joseph played. And any game during his playing career among those programs was intense. Each one involved top-tier football teams. Now Joseph gets to helm one of those games, the first game decades in the making. And the Huskers get the chance to plant a flag after being bruised.
“You knew when Oklahoma week was. The fans let you know. The students let you know. You knew it was a big game and you knew they were going to come in and be just as talented as you,” Joseph said. “You were excited because you got to play a really good football team. This was your opportunity to come out and show the world that you were a really good football team.”
This all adds a little extra seasoning on the latest chapter of college football’s all-time fiercest rivalries.
Oklahoma has outscored opponents 78-16 through two games. Joseph reiterated that they’re really good on offense and defense, and good on special teams. All that under a first-year head coach. That doesn’t mean, however, the Huskers aren’t ready for a Memorial Stadium return after an eventful week.
“This is an opportunity that our kids welcome,” Joseph said. “We are going to prepare for OU and get a game plan together to try and beat them. We respect everything that they do. It’s a big opportunity for the players and I think they’re excited.”