Twenty years ago, the Nebraska Cornhuskers finished 13-0 and won a national championship — in the coaches poll, at least. That is not the program the Buckeyes will see Saturday in Lincoln, Neb.
The Nebraska of 2017 lost to Northern Illinois last month. The Cornhuskers are 3-3. In their first six years in the Big Ten, they reached 10 victories once. They achieved their highest ranking since entering the conference in 2016, climbing to No. 7, only to lose to Wisconsin and Ohio State in their next two games, the latter by a 62-3 score.
However, historically, Nebraska is still one of the most famous college football programs, and it will put close to 90,000 people in the stands at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.
That’s what made Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa say “cool” in three consecutive sentences Tuesday.
“I’m excited,” Bosa said. “I love a good hostile enviornment. Even though we lost, Penn State was pretty cool last year. Wisconsin was really cool. It’s just cool seing so may fans wearing the same thing and going crazy.”
No. 9 Ohio State (5-1, 3-0) is a 22½-point favorite. That’s close to the margin Nebraska lost by last week at home to Wisconsin. A 38-17 defeat dropped Nebraska to 2-1 in the Big Ten.
Nebraska meets an Ohio State team that has outscored its last four opponents 210-42 since losing 31-16 to Oklahoma.
“They’re playing at a high level since that one loss,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley said. “They’re versatile and productive offensively in almost every category, near the top (nationally) in everything — same thing defensively. So it’s a major, major challenge for us. I know there will be a question about where our team is mentally, but I think this group will come back and work hard. We’re working to get this team better each day, and we’ll do that through the week, and they’ll be ready for their best on Saturday night.”
Turnovers have plagued Nebraska. Quarterback Tanner Lee leads the Big Ten with 10 interceptions. He threw a pick six in the first quarter against Wisconsin. It was the fourth interception thrown by Lee returned for a touchdown.
Lee started his career at Tulane, making 19 starts in 2014 and 2015. He sat out last season as a transfer, so he didn’t play in Columbus against the Buckeyes last season.
J.T. Barrett starred in that game with four touchdown passes. Ohio State outgained Nebraska 590-204. That film couldn’t have been fun for Nebraska to watch this week.
“There wasn’t a lot there that’s going to be real exciting where we say this is a good thing,” Riley said. “But we look at it. We look at it because they’ll look at it. And we review it. And basically see now we’re different a little bit offensively and defensively. So that part of it will not be as helpful as it once would have been.”
Ohio State at Nebraska, 7:30 p.m., FS1, 1410