Eric Francis/Getty Images
And now we come down to it. The game that looms largest on the Big Ten schedule.
This game isn't just important for each team in the game, it's important for the conference as a whole.
Nebraska, the new kid on the block, will face the team that has won at least a share of the last seven Big Ten championships. Nebraska will be faced with the best of the best from the Big Ten, and winning this game would go a long, long way towards announcing to the rest of the conference that the Cornhuskers are here to play for championships. Ohio State, for their part, will need to tell the conference, and the nation, that Ohio State is still Ohio State. This game will be the first game for the “Tattoo Four” as they will have finished their suspensions in time for the trip to Lincoln.
While Ohio State will likely be playing for nothing more than pride this season, there is an awful lot of Buckeye pride in Columbus. It's hard to imagine too many things that would give Ohio State fans more pride that showing Nebraska the Big Ten ropes, and welcoming the Huskers to the conference with a loss on their home field.
This game could also provide an opening to other Legends Division teams—particularly Michigan State—as Ohio State wins won't count for much, but losses to Ohio State will. MSU had the advantage of playing this cross-divisional foe prior to the return of the suspended players.
Nebraska has thirteen returning starters from 2010, none more important than Taylor Martinez. His talent is unquestionable, and his Big Ten quarterback stock jumped when Terrelle Pryor backed out of his promise to stay at Ohio State for 2011. Martinez can probably now count himself among the top three quarterbacks in the conference.
Ohio State is only returning eight total starters from a season ago, but that doesn't include the suspended players. When those four return, Ohio State will have the added services of three additional starters. The obvious question will be whether or not these players will be able to keep up with their Nebraska counterparts, who should be in midseason form by October 8.
Because of the storyline and commentary surrounding Ohio State and the fact that a Nebraska loss could really open up the Legends Division, the October 8, 2011 meeting between Ohio State and Nebraska tops our list of Big Ten's 10 Most Important Showdowns.