KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Without a national title contender, a bit of the shine might be off the Big 12 title game, outside the conference, that is.
It still carries a significant payoff for the winner, though.
For #8 Oklahoma, the automatic BCS berth that goes with the conference championship would be a sweet reward for persevering through a season marked by controversy and the loss of several key players.
For #19 Nebraska, which hasn't played in the Big 12 title game since 1999, it would be a big step toward regaining the perennial national prominence the Cornhuskers, and their fans, once could take for granted.
``We're close. I don't think we're there yet,'' Nebraska coach Bill Callahan said Friday. ``I still think we have a lot of work to do yet. This is a key game, no question about that, to measure ourselves, to see where we're at in terms of our progress and our improvement and consistency.''
The winner of Saturday night's game at Arrowhead Stadium, the first neutral-site meeting between the Sooners and Cornhuskers since 1979, will play in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day. The loser will get a bid to the Cotton Bowl, also on New Year's Day.
``We came here to win, and we came to Nebraska to win championships,'' Callahan said. ``Our players have a championship mind-set.''
So do Oklahoma's, although the Sooners could have been forgiven for letting their visions of playing here waver from time to time this year.
Oklahoma (10-2) has withstood the preseason dismissal of quarterback Rhett Bomar and offensive lineman J.D. Quinn for taking improper payments from a booster, a blown call that led to a 34-33 loss at Oregon on September 16th and a broken collarbone that has sidelined running back Adrian Peterson for the last six games and will keep him out of Saturday night's title game.
Peterson's backup, Allen Patrick, missed two games with an injury.
The Sooners haven't lost, though, in the seven games since Texas beat them 28-10 in the Red River Showdown on October 7th. They are back in the championship game for the fifth time since 2000, when they won the first of their three Big 12 titles.
``Everybody wants to compliment and congratulate you, and our feeling is, 'Well, we really don't have what we're after yet,''' Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. ``The Big 12 championship is what's important.''
This one wouldn't be any sweeter than the Sooners' three previous titles, Stoops said.
``They're all special,'' he said. ``Any time you're winning a championship, it feels great. I don't know how to really put one in front of the other. Hopefully I'll have a chance to compare.''
After the Texas loss, Stoops said, he appealed to his team's pride and challenged the Sooners to get better every week and keep playing for the South Division title.
``We talked about, 'What if that possibility comes, and we haven't put ourselves in position?' It would have been wrong of us not to have done everything that we can,'' he said. ``Fortunately, week to week, our guys did a really good job.''
Nebraska (9-3) has had to do some regrouping of its own, after back to back losses to Texas and Oklahoma State in the middle of the conference season. The Huskers have won three straight since then, clinching the North title with a dramatic 28-27 victory at Texas A&M on November 11th.
``Our players never lost their focus in terms of what they needed to get accomplished,'' Callahan said. ``We stubbed our toe against a good Oklahoma State team, and we refocused pretty quickly to get into the position we are in today.''