Saturday Bo Pelini will lead his team onto his old stomping grounds.
On Saturday night Ohio State will welcome Nebraska to the Horseshoe for the third time ever—the first time as Big Ten conference foes. This will be the first matchup between Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini as head coaches.
The winner of the game Saturday night won't receive a trophy, or bragging rights over a sworn rival. It won't give the winner an inside track on a division crown. This game can't even be a preview of the Big Ten title game to be played in December—thanks to misdeeds by people formerly involved with the Ohio State football program. Nonetheless, it is a battle between the two highest ranked—and hottest—teams in the conference.
Ohio State fans and Ohio Stadium have a reputation for being quiet. A critique that largely stems from noon kickoffs against inferior opponents. However, the critique does not stand in regards to night games—USC QB Matt Barkley is on record as saying Ohio Stadium was loudest he played in during his freshman season, louder than Oregon's Autzen Stadium, which is no small task.
The stadium will look a lot like home for the Cornhuskers—that is until they line up for their first third down of the game. Then QB Taylor Martinez will realize he's not it Nebraska anymore—oops, wrong mid-western state, my apologies to Dorothy.
This will be the third time that Nebraska will play in Columbus, Ohio. The previous two were won by the Buckeyes in 1955 and 1956. In those days Ohio Stadium held under 80,000 fans. Expect about 25,000 more screaming Buck-nuts in Ohio Stadium this time around.
This is the 12th night game in Ohio Stadium history. Ohio State is 8-3 in those games with all three loses coming to teams that were ranked in the top five in the country—Nebraska comes in ranked 21st.
And I almost forgot to mention the bright lights of ABC's national broadcast and the presence of "Big Game" Brent Musburger and former Buckeye Kirk Herbstreit will also add to the tension and emotion in the stadium.
Bragging rights are up for grabs in the Big Ten
These are two of the proudest and most storied college football programs in the nation. This matchup is bigger than just this season. It is a chance for Nebraska to tie the all-time series at 2-2, but more than that, it provides a chance to sweep Ohio State in the schools' first two meetings as conference foes—a series that won't be renewed until 2017 because these two programs are in different divisions within the Big Ten.
For the Buckeyes, this is a chance to continue to prove to themselves that they are the best team in the conference even if they can't officially win the conference championship.
Likewise, Ohio State has been the team to carry the Big Ten conference for the past decade. After losing their grip on conference supremacy due to a 3-5 conference record in 2011, Ohio State could climb right back to the top by defeating newcomer Nebraska and in the process make a statement to the rest of the conference that the Big Ten crown still goes through Columbus, Ohio.
Pelini's fellow Youngstown Cardinal Mooney High School Alum Braylon Heard (#5)
Nebraska is the new kid on the block in the Big Ten and is looking for their first title in their new conference. Winning on the road against Ohio State would go a long way towards achieving that goal.
A win against the Buckeyes won't count towards the Cornhuskers division record, but it will allow them to move to 2-0 in the conference against arguably the two best teams in the Leaders Division—as well as continuing to build momentum heading into divisional play. Momentum that will be greatly needed.
Following their trip to Columbus, Ohio, the Cornhuskers will take their bye week and gear up to play their three biggest competitors for the Legends Division crown in the following three weeks—at Northwestern Oct. 20, Michigan Oct. 27 and at Michigan State Nov. 3.
Not only will this game have great meaning on the field, it will also carry weight off it. Bo Pelini has recruited well in Ohio—especially in the Youngstown area. In order to continue to do that he will have to use this game in his home state—his only game in Ohio until 2018—to impress possible recruits.
Head coach Urban Meyer leads the celebration of revenge against the Spartans on Sept. 29
Last season Ohio State went into Nebraska in need of a win and seemed to be well on their way with a 27-6 lead in the third quarter. But then all their hopes of pulling the upset in Lincoln, Nebraska collapsed to the turf with QB Braxton Miller and his sprained right ankle.
Ohio State never recovered and seemed to just lie down and take their beating after Miller's injury. Nebraska took advantage of a suddenly uninspired Buckeye defense and inept offense to the tune of 28 unanswered points. The result: the biggest comeback in school history and a 34-27 win.
Ohio State has not lost back-to-back games to a conference opponent since the Wisconsin Badgers defeated Ohio State two season in a row in '03-'04. Since then, the Buckeyes have avenged all of their nine of their conference losses—which includes last week's win over Michigan State.
From the looks of the celebration last Saturday in East Lansing, Michigan, revenge is one of the tools Urban Meyer is using to drive his team—a team without a championship for which to play.
Bo Pelini and Urban Meyer grew up a mere 60 miles away from each other—Pelini in Youngstown, Ohio and Meyer an hour north in Ashtabula, Ohio. And Saturday night will not be the first time the two have crossed paths.
In 1987, Meyer was entering his second season as a graduate assistant on Earl Bruce's Ohio State coaching staff, while Pelini was entering his first season as a safety on the Ohio State football team.
Meyer left following the 1987 season to further his coaching career. Meanwhile, Pelini went on to start his final two seasons and become a captain on the 1990 Ohio State team. After his playing day were over at Ohio State, Pelini started his own coaching career.
In 2005, both the two coaches landed in each others' paths, but this time they were not on the same side—Meyer was the head coach at Florida; Pelini the defensive coordinator for LSU. In their first meeting Pelini got the better of Meyer when LSU held the Gators to just 206 yards and 17 points.
However, the next season Meyer had his ace-in-the-hole. Even though Chris Leak was the QB for Florida, it was a freshman named Tim Tebow that was responsible for all three of Florida's TDs in their 23-10 win over LSU—a win that helped catapult the Gators to a BCS National Championship Game win over Ohio State.
In their final showdown in the SEC, Pelini's defense held down Tebow and the Gators just enough to allow the offense to steal a thrilling victory in the closing minutes.
Unfortunately for Ohio State fans, that game once again catapulted its winner into the BCS National Championship Game where once again the Florida/LSU winner beat the Buckeyes to claim the crystal ball.
Taylor Martinez in Nebraksa's throwbacks worn against Wisconsin Sept. 29
Quarterback is the most important position in football and the two that will take the field in this game are two of the best in the Big Ten—and the country for that matter. Neither Braxton Miller or Taylor Martinez are your prototypical NFL pocket passers. Both are dual-threat QBs who are comfortable running their respective offenses—and boy are they exciting.
Martinez, a redshirt junior, leads the conference in passing efficiency (169.6 QB rating) and TD passes (11). Miller is second in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards (302 per game) and is responsible for a conference-high 15 TDs—eight passing and seven rushing.
Both QBs have been criticized for the inconsistent passing, but Martinez has improved greatly this season and Miller has also shown glimpses of improvement. But both are clearly at their best once they tuck the ball and take off.
Martinez is more of a straight-line runner—if you give him a seam he can cover 70 yards in the blink of an eye. Miller doesn't have the same top-end speed, but he would be hard to tackle in a phone booth and his open-field moves are so good he sometimes breaks his own ankles—I'm only partially joking.
In the game last season both defenses had trouble with the opposing QB. Martinez went 16-of-22 for 191 yards and two TDs along with 17 carries for 102 yards and another TD. Miller was 5-of-8 passing for 95 yards and a TD to go with 10 carries for 91 yards in a little over two quarters of action.
Expect impressive numbers from both QBs and expect the game to be determined by which QB doesn't make the big mistake, something that might worry Ohio State's coaches and fans due to Miller's three-turnover game last week.
With all due respect to the other members of the Big Ten—mainly Michigan State, Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue—through five weeks the best two teams are Ohio State and Nebraska.
Sure, Ohio State hasn't looked great in their five wins and Nebraska lost to an average UCLA team on the road. But in a highly flawed conference these seem to be the two teams with the least flaws and the two teams that should finish with the best record in their respective divisions.
Unfortunately, the Big Ten won't be able to feature this matchup in the conference championship in December, but that is all the more reason to enjoy it this time around.
The Buckeyes have a powerful defensive line led by Johnathon Hankins that controlled the line of scrimmage against Michigan State and stuffed Le'Veon Bell. But the back seven has struggled to defend in space against teams like Cal, UCF, Miami of Ohio and UAB.
Now, with Taylor Martinez at QB, Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah at RB and Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner at WR, it is safe to say the "Silver Bullet's" defense will be facing their toughest task to date.
But judging by the way UCLA's multi-dimensional offense piled up yards and points on the "Blackshirt's" defense, Braxton Miller and company should be able to keep pace on the scoreboard.
Last week both teams showed ability to come back and that neither team is likely to ease up in a game this season. So, expect another classic, hard-hitting Big Ten battle—but with a few more points on the board than normal.