Ohio State is 7-1, with championship aspirations still within reach.
Nebraska is 2-6, with one of the victories coming against an FCS team.
Ohio State has dominated recent games against the Cornhuskers, routing them by a combined 118-17 margin the last two years.
But the vibe around each of the programs belies all of the above. Nebraska is feeling good about itself. Ohio State, well, we’ll see.
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Nebraska expected to struggle in its first year under Scott Frost. The Huskers, once the elite program in college football, hit bottom following the regimes of several miscast coaches. But in hiring Frost, the quarterback on Nebraska’s 1997 national title team before turning Central Florida into a power, the Huskers believe they have the right man for the future.
He was visibly disgusted at the Cornhuskers’ sloppiness during their 0-6 start. After wins the last two weeks over Minnesota and Bethune-Cookman, he and Nebraska fans see hope ahead.
“Probably the thing I’ll look back on from this season,” Frost said during this week’s Big Ten coaches teleconference, “is these guys continued to improve, haven’t even thought about quitting, came together tighter as a group, fixed the culture, fixed the locker room.
“Those things are tough to do when you’re struggling in the beginning of the year. I think that speaks to the character of a lot of our leaders.”
Ohio State, on the other hand, has waited two weeks to get past its 49-20 loss to Purdue. All of the Buckeyes’ deficiencies — a lackluster run game, trouble scoring touchdowns in the red zone, a propensity for costly penalties and the inability of their defense to stop big plays — were on display.
Not having a game last week was a blessing. The Buckeyes needed to heal physically and mentally, and they believe they have.
“It was a tough loss,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “We haven't had many bye weeks after losses. So it was a chance to get that bad taste out of your mouth, get some things fixed fast and try to get some guys healthy. We've been hit in the jaw before. Now it's time to rebound and get going."
Re-establishing the run game may be the top priority. The passing prowess of Dwayne Haskins Jr. and a deep group of talented receivers has caused Ohio State to become unbalanced offensively. The Buckeyes want to get J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber rolling.
On defense, Ohio State spent their off week on tackling and finding ways to minimize big plays. The Buckeyes have reason to be concerned about Nebraska’s talented true freshman quarterback, Adrian Martinez, and his two primary receivers, JD Spielman and Stanley Morgan Jr.
If the Buckeyes don’t do better against them than they did against Purdue quarterback David Blough and his receivers, especially Rondale Moore, this could become a far more interesting game than it appeared to be a few weeks ago.
Bettors appear to have questions, too. The Buckeyes opened as a 21-point favorite and were only 18-point favorites by Thursday.
The Buckeyes aren’t concerned about the point spread. They just want to show that they are the team that they believe they are.
“I’d say it was a wakeup call,” right tackle Isaiah Prince of the Purdue loss. “We aren’t ever going to come out here and win every single game and play perfect. That’s not reality. We got hit in the mouth and we lost. That’s life. We have to move forward and play harder.
“I just want to see the Buckeyes play angry and pissed off and let everybody know we’re still here and we still have that chip and that edge.”
Frost has never been to Ohio Stadium, and he worries that playing the Buckeyes there this week might not be opportunely timed.
“I know what we’re getting into going up there,” he said. “It’s probably the worst week of the year to play these guys. But our guys are excited to go up there and play.”
Meyer just wants his team to look like one that’s rebounded from the disaster in West Lafayette.
“I want to see the things we worked so hard on fixed,” he said.