Scott Frost dared the voters.
It was January 1998, and Frost was standing in front of a microphone on national television, moments after the boyish-looking quarterback had led Nebraska to a convincing victory over Tennessee in the Orange Bowl.
The national championship was at stake.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/groups/BuckeyeXtraFans and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
In an era before the BCS or the College Football Playoff, teams were crowned national champion through one of the traditional polls, including the collection of sportswriters that made up the Associated Press poll, or the coaches’ poll.
The Cornhuskers were in contention with Michigan, which had won the Rose Bowl the previous day by a narrower margin.
“If all the pollsters honestly think after watching the Rose Bowl and watching the Orange Bowl that Michigan could beat Nebraska,” Frost said, “then go ahead and vote Michigan, by all means.”
Cheers erupted from the Nebraska fans inside the stadium in south Florida. Awash in the triumph, they believed their team had made a convincing case.
The unbeaten teams ultimately split the national title. Michigan finished atop the AP poll; Nebraska was voted No. 1 by the coaches.
The scene captured the last time the Cornhuskers, one of college football’s historic programs, stood at the pinnacle of the sport.
It was, therefore, little surprise that Frost, who later began a successful career in coaching, was given the task of returning his alma mater to national prominence.
The returns in his first season were unconvincing. Nebraska went 4-8 last fall, the same record as it had the year before Frost arrived.
But this season began with heightened expectations. Frost saw a big jump from year one to year two at Central Florida, inviting optimism that a similar trajectory awaits the Cornhuskers. They were included in the preseason AP poll.
After a 3-1 start, no matchup will serve as a better barometer of where Nebraska fits into the landscape than a visit from fifth-ranked Ohio State on Saturday night.
“Everybody knows what type of team they are,” said Darrion Daniels, a senior defensive lineman for the Cornhuskers. “For a team like us trying to prove ourselves and a team like us to take the next step of being a decent team to a good team to an even better team, this is one of those opportunities where we've got to seize it and take full advantage of it.”
The Buckeyes are favored by more than two touchdowns, but curiosity remains whether Nebraska can measure up. It was more than competitive last season in Columbus, when the Cornhuskers led at halftime before the Buckeyes escaped with a 36-31 win.
ESPN’s popular “College GameDay” program will broadcast Saturday morning outside Memorial Stadium, the show’s first visit to Lincoln since 2007 and first since Nebraska moved to the Big Ten.
Frost took the arrival as a sign of progress.
“If we weren’t improving, getting better, going in a really good direction that was obvious to a lot of people,” Frost said Monday, “we wouldn’t have those guys coming into town.”
At one point, Frost referred to it as a “special time.”
Had it not been for surrendering a 17-0 halftime lead in its sole loss at Colorado, the Cornhuskers might be undefeated with the Buckeyes headed to town.
But they have been inconsistent too often. Even on Saturday at Illinois, they trailed by two touchdowns early in the third quarter before winning 42-38.
Sophomore Adrian Martinez, a dual-threat quarterback who was one of Frost's first recruits, helped spark the comeback. He threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns, with 118 more yards on the ground.
Martinez started as a true freshman last season, the first quarterback ever to do so at Nebraska, and the promise he showed furthered the sense of optimism surrounding the team.
The Cornhuskers have yet to emerge as a consistent contender in the Big Ten, much less the national championship picture.
They have not won the Big Ten West since the conference was split into East-West divisions in 2014, and only once appeared in the conference championship game, making an appearance in 2012 when they lost to Wisconsin 70-31.
If Nebraska is closing the gap on the top teams in the conference and in the nation, observers will see soon enough. Most of the Nebraska players who spoke with reporters Monday are eager to see, too.
"This is what you play for, right?" linebacker JoJo Domann said. "It’s a big game and a big stage."
Safety Pryor enters transfer portal
Ohio State safety Isaiah Pryor has entered his name in the NCAA’s transfer portal, the school confirmed Monday.
Pryor started seven games for the Buckeyes last season but has been a backup as a junior.
Players who are listed in the portal, an online database, are given permission to be contacted by other schools about the possibility of transferring.
Pryor has played sparingly in all four games this season, with three tackles. He can qualify for a redshirt season and transfer with two remaining seasons of eligibility if he does not return to the field this fall.