ARLINGTON, Texas — Nebraska is leaving the Big 12 a runner-up. And the Cornhuskers have only themselves to blame.
The 13th-ranked Cornhuskers had four turnovers, failed to score after halftime for the first time all season and lost 23-20 to No. 10 Oklahoma on Saturday night in the conference's last scheduled championship game.
All after Nebraska built an early 17-0 lead and was seemingly ready to grab the league's automatic BCS berth and take a Big 12 championship trophy with them to the Big Ten — the league the Cornhuskers are headed to next season.
After falling behind for the first time midway through the fourth quarter, Nebraska (10-3) snapped the ball on what was going to be a fake punt from its own 37. But Oklahoma called timeout, leaving coach Bo Pelini visibly upset on the sideline.
"I'm not talking about that," Pelini said. "Next question."
The Huskers then punted, but had another chance.
They had fourth-and-4 from their 47 with about a minute to go while trying to get in position to at least try a game-tying field goal — Alex Henery already had a 53-yard field goal. They were stopped short, but that play didn't count because Nebraska coaches had called timeout from the sideline. Freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez then threw an incompletion and the Sooners ran out the final 63 seconds.
After missing the regular season finale against Colorado a week earlier because of injuries to his right ankle and left foot, Martinez was 12 of 24 passing for 143 yards with an interception. He was sacked seven times and had three fumbles, though only one was lost.
Martinez wasn't made available for postgame interviews.
"We just did too many things out there to overcome it and beat a good football team," Pelini said. "It's pretty obvious what the level of disappointment is. We came in here to win the Big 12 championship. We didn't get it done. The kids are hurting."
There were no false celebrations for the Huskers this time. Only bitter disappointment.
In last year's Big 12 championship game at Cowboys Stadium, Nebraska had already stormed the field in celebration, having appeared to pull off a BCS-changing upset over Texas.
The clock showed no time left after Texas quarterback Colt McCoy scrambled and threw the ball out of bounds. But while Nebraska players celebrated and ran onto the field, officials waved their arms trying to gain control of what proved to be a premature celebration.
A second was put on the clock after the play was reviewed, and the Longhorns made a 46-yard field goal for a 13-12 victory that sent them to the BCS national championship game.
With Nebraska headed to the Big Ten and Colorado going to expanded Pac-12, the Big 12 is moving forward next year as a 10-team league without a championship game.
The Huskers lost the first Big 12 championship game to Texas in 1996, then won titles over Texas A&M in 1997 and the Longhorns in 1999. They also lost to Oklahoma in 2006.
The latest title game loss comes two weeks after the Huskers lost 9-6 at Texas A&M, when they were penalized 16 times for 145 yards, both school records.
Pelini's sideline tirades against officials and Martinez became such an issue afterward that the coach apologized the following week for what went on during that game.
Nebraska fans hinted at a conspiracy by Big 12 officials because of the pending departure of the Huskers.
When asked before Saturday's game about that possibility, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe scoffed at that idea.
"It's a silly notion to think that there's some conspiracy going on with officiating because if that's the case, it could be easily done where they'd lose a lot more games — anybody in any sport," Beebe said.
Actually, Nebraska got a favorable ruling with an overturned call early in the second quarter.
Courtney Osborne intercepted a pass and returned it 33 yards to the Oklahoma 12, though receiver Ryan Broyles stripped the ball away as Osborne was going down.
Officials initially ruled that it was a fumble and Oklahoma had already snapped the ball before whistles blew and the play was reviewed. It was then determined that Osborne's knee hit the ground before the ball came loose — and two plays later running back Rex Burkhead took the snap and threw a 5-yard TD to Kyler Reed for a 17-0 lead.
Then things started going wrong for Nebraska.
"We just didn't finish," Burkhead said.Comment on this story
The Sooners scored 17 consecutive points. Travis Lewis had an interception and fumble recovery to set up 10 points.
Roy Helu Jr. got Nebraska started with a 66-yard TD run, but his fumble was recovered by Lewis at the Huskers' 31, setting up an Oklahoma touchdown with 1:37 left in the half.
Nebraska managed to regain the lead before halftime on Henery's 42-yard field goal, but lost two fumbles, five punts and the final failed fourth-down conversion on their eight drives in the second half.
"You really put yourself in a handicap and we had some ball-handling issues that you just can't have," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "That's the way it is. It's that simple."