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Oklahoma, Ole Miss must put aside history for Saturday's games

The Sooners and Rebels historically haven't fared well in battles against Notre Dame and Alabama, respectively.

September 27, 2013|Chris Dufresne
  • Notre Dame defensive linemen Prince Shembo, left, and Stephon Tuitt celebrate a sack in a win over Michigan State last week. Will the Fighting Irish pull off a win Saturday against Oklahoma?
Notre Dame defensive linemen Prince Shembo, left, and Stephon Tuitt celebrate… (Michael Conroy / Associated…)

It's time to get ready-set-hut for two of Saturday's marquee games: Oklahoma at Notre Dame and Mississippi at Alabama.

Both are intriguing and consequential, with all four schools dripping with pedigree. The teams enter with an average Associated Press ranking of 14.5 and a combined 12-1 record.

You just can't call either game a "rivalry," because that implies competition that goes back and forth.

This is not Ali versus Frazier.

There's a chance historical momentum can get shifted between now and Saturday's sunset, but for now the story lines all lean toward lopsided.

The strangest stranglehold belongs to Notre Dame over Oklahoma.

In every other measure, these programs are historical mirrors of excellence. Notre Dame has 868 all-time wins; Oklahoma has 834. Notre Dame claims 11 national championships; Oklahoma has seven, all of them after 1950. Notre Dame has seven Heisman Trophy winners; Oklahoma has five. The NCAA Football Records Book acknowledges 12 major dynasties since 1900, with Notre Dame and Oklahoma owning two apiece.

However, Notre Dame has won nine of the 10 games played.

Oklahoma went 93-10-2 in the 1950s under legendary coach Bud Wilkinson. Notre Dame dealt three of those losses.

Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak stands as the longest in major college football history. Notre Dame was the last team to defeat Oklahoma before the streak started and the team that snapped the streak.

Oklahoma sneaked in its only win in 1956, 40-0, at South Bend on its way to 10-0 and the national championship. Notre Dame was overmatched and depleted and finished the year 2-8, but Irish star Paul Hornung won the Heisman Trophy.

Ara Parseghian was not only 4-0 as Notre Dame's coach against Oklahoma, but he also defeated the Sooners twice — in 1959 and 1960 — while coaching at Northwestern.

Notre Dame's .900 win percentage over Oklahoma is the school's best over an opponent it has met at least 10 times.

It couldn't be a curse, could it?

In 1999, Oklahoma had a 30-14 third-quarter lead at South Bend and lost, 34-30.

Last year, at Norman, a 10-6 game entering the fourth quarter ended up a 30-13 win for Notre Dame. The victory legitimized the Irish as a national title contender and left Oklahomans scratching their heads.

"It wasn't like they ran the football up and down the field all day," Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops lamented recently about that loss. "It was a tight game and they made some critical plays down the stretch when we didn't."

Notre Dame has already lost this year, to Michigan, but Oklahoma is 3-0, with the Irish standing in the way again.

Mississippi's struggles against Alabama are more understandable.

"Alabama has been the standard to which you measure yourself in this conference," Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze said. "That hasn't changed."

Alabama leads the series, 46-9-2, but a more daunting statistic this week is that the Crimson Tide owns a 24-1 record in Tuscaloosa. Ole Miss' only win was a 22-12 upset in 1988 on homecoming. Alabama, coached by Bill Curry, did not complete a pass in 11 attempts.

Mississippi wants to change the narrative. The Rebels are 3-0 for the first time since 1988 and look to go 4-0 for the first time since 1970. Ole Miss is a sudden riser in the Southeastern Conference West and one of the last real threats to stop Alabama's quest for a third straight national title.

Mississippi's most memorable game against Alabama to date was a 1969 loss in which quarterback Archie Manning heroically amassed 540 total yards in a one-point defeat.

Freeze said he isn't sure his current players are aware how much on the short end the Rebels have been. "We won't talk about Ole Miss winning just once there," he said. "That really doesn't matter to these kids. They don't care. Our coaches probably don't even know that."

Oklahoma and Ole Miss need to put aside the fact they don't have history on their side.

What they have Saturday will have to be enough.

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