When Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, envisioning regular marquee matchups between the Cornhuskers and Ohio State was easy.
Not only are both programs among the best in major-college history, Ohio State alumnus Bo Pelini had Nebraska on the upswing at that time after the disappointing Bill Callahan era.
Fast forward eight years, though, and the world is still waiting for any sort of rivalry to blossom.
The teams’ not playing from 2013-15 did not help matters, but the larger issue has been a lack of competitiveness in the series.
Ohio State has won the last four meetings, and only last year’s 36-31 decision in Columbus had a final point spread of less than 25.
In 2016-17, the Buckeyes pasted Nebraska by a combined score of 118-17, helping usher out Mike Riley as coach and eventually leading to the hiring of former Cornhuskers quarterback Scott Frost.
Frost led his alma mater to its 900th win last week, but this is still a program that hasn’t finished higher than 24th in the Associated Press poll since joining the Big Ten and last finished in the top 10 almost 20 years ago (2001 under coach Frank Solich).
The name Nebraska still stands out to many hard-core college football fans, though, and a pair of Buckeyes said that is also the case with players of their generation.
“I believe so,” senior offensive lineman Jonah Jackson, who transferred to Ohio State from Rutgers over the summer, said when asked if the Huskers still have a mystique. “They still have a well-decorated history and I was actually in Lincoln two years ago with my former school and that’s a great place, great people. Crazy environment.”
Senior receiver Austin Mack agreed.
“I would say yes. It’s an intimidating atmosphere,” Mack said. “They’re a good team. We had trouble with them last year. We’re taking this game very seriously. They’re a good opponent, so… It’s Big Ten play.”
Here are three more things to know about the game:
1. The Buckeyes could be without important starter at Nebraska.
An Ohio State offensive line that is off to a strong start to the 2019 season could be down a starter Saturday night at Nebraska.
Right tackle Branden Bowen is a game-time decision according to the status report published by the team Friday morning.
A fifth-year senior who returned from missing more than a year because of a broken leg, Bowen won a preseason competition with redshirt freshman Nicholas Petit-Frere to be the starter, though line coach Greg Studrawa said it was a close decision.
2. On the other side of the ball, Ohio State appears to be getting healthier.
Two of the four scholarship defensive linemen who missed last week’s 76-5 win over Miami (Ohio) are expected to suit up this week, including senior captain Jonathon Cooper.
A 6-foot-4, 257-pound end from Gahanna Lincoln outside Columbus, he suffered a leg injury in the preseason and missed the first four games this season.
Expected to bring both pass-rush ability and leadership, Cooper is listed alongside sophomore Tyler Friday as the potential starter at the end spot opposite standout Chase Young.
Cooper started all 13 games last season and tallied 6.5 of his 10.5 career tackles for loss, including three sacks.
Friday started two of the games Cooper missed and has three tackles, including two for loss and a sack, on the season.
Also set to return to the defense this week is Robert “B.B.” Landers, a fifth-year senior tackle from Wayne who sat out last week with an unidentified injury.
Landers has been a member of the rotation for four years and has 18 career tackles for loss. He is part of a three-man rotation at nose tackle with fellow senior Davon Hamilton and sophomore Tommy Togiai.
The other two scholarship defensive linemen who missed last week remain out this week — end Tyreke Smith and tackle Taron Vincent.
Also listed as unavailable are receivers C.J. Saunders and Kamryn Babb, walk-on defensive tackle Noah Donald, safety Ronnie Hickman and linebacker Teradja Mitchell.
Mitchell is a sophomore who was among the offseason’s most-talked-about players. He has eight tackles as a reserve and on special teams.
3. The Buckeyes will be playing under the lights for the first time this season.
That of course means a change in routine from the first four Saturdays of the season, which included three noon games and a 3:30 kickoff.
“I think it’s significant when it’s like a difference between a noon game and a night game,” Day said. “Noon game you’ve got to get up fast, you’ve got to get up early. It’s like Full Metal Jacket as you get going, but in a night game, you have to kind of build up to it. 3:30 is somewhere in between.”
The game at Nebraska will be Ohio State’s 36th night game since 2012 and the 26th on the road .
They have gone 28-7 in prime time in that time span, including 20-5 under someone else’s lights.
“We’re still going to have our pregame meal four hours before,” Day said. “We’ll do our walk-throughs and meetings in the morning, try to keep those guys moving. We don’t want them in their rooms sleeping all day and getting lethargic, so we’ll kind of get them up and do a walk-through, different things like that, but it’s certainly a gradual momentum builder towards kickoff.
“You can’t go win the game at 10:30 in the morning, get them all jacked up because you’re not playing the game then. There is an art to it, but a lot of our guys have played night games, so there’s experience to build on there.”
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