Buckeyes could push Cornhuskers over the edge


This is the 25th football season since the Big Ten first expanded beyond 10 teams but held on to its traditional name by bringing Penn State into the conference for the 1993 season.

The Big Ten became larger and even more numerically inaccurate when Nebraska joined in 2011 and Maryland and Rutgers were added in 2014.

There is no doubt Penn State and Nebraska were the crown jewels of Big Ten expansion.

Between them those two football giants won seven national championships from 1970 to 1997. Five of those belonged to Nebraska, including three in four years in 1994, 1995 and 1997.

For most people, the reaction to adding Penn State and Nebraska to the Big Ten was something like, “Wow.”

But one of the crown jewels seems to have made the transition to being a Big Ten member a little more smoothly than the other, at least on the field.

Penn State averaged 10 wins a season in its first seven years in the Big Ten, including being ranked No. 2 in 1994 when it had one of the best offensive teams in Big Ten history.

On the other hand, Nebraska has struggled. Or, at least, it has struggled to accept that the 1990s are gone and that the present day Big Ten offers fewer automatic wins than the Big 12 it left when it joined the Big Ten.

Actually, it’s a struggle that began more than a decade before the Cornhuskers – who play Ohio State in Lincoln, Neb., tonight — became part of the Big Ten.

When Nebraska legend Tom Osborne retired from coaching after the 1997 national championship, 25-year assistant Frank Solich was promoted.

His teams won 75 percent of their games (58-19 record) but that wasn’t good enough. He was fired after the last regular season game in 2003.

Former NFL coach Bill Callahan was the next coach and he produced the only two losing seasons at Nebraska between 1962 and 2007 before he was fired after four seasons

Bo Pelini’s teams never won fewer than nine games in his seven seasons and he was fired after the 2014 season, probably as much or more for his personality than what happened on the field.

Current coach Mike Riley is the fourth Nebraska coach in a row to be on the hot seat. His teams were 6-7 and 9-4 his first two seasons and the Cornhuskers are 3-3 going into tonight’s game.

Nebraska’s three wins have been over Arkansas State, Rutgers and Illinois. Its losses have been to Oregon, Northern Illinois and Wisconsin.

Some of the Cornhuskers’ best football might have been played in losses.

After falling behind Oregon by 28 points at halftime, it outscored the Ducks 21-0 in the final two quarters. And they led Wisconsin 17-10 at halftime last Saturday night before being outscored 28-0 in the final two quarters.

It could be a big night for Ohio State on Saturday. It is a three-touchdown favorite and has won 24 of its last 25 games on an opponent’s home field.

Here are three reasons Ohio State might win by a score that big:

1. The Buckeyes should be able to run the ball against a Nebraska defense that gave up 249 yards to Wisconsin freshman Jonathan Taylor last week.

2. OSU’s pass defense could have a huge game against Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee, who has thrown 11 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions this season.

3. Ohio State’s defensive line should be able to pressure Lee and dominate a Nebraska running game which ranks tenth in the Big Ten and is expected to be without its leading rusher Tre Bryant.

Here are three reasons it might be closer:

1. Desperation. The season could go in an even worse direction for Nebraska and Riley with another loss. And the Cornhuskers will be playing in front of a home crowd hungry for a big win.

2. If Lee can avoid interceptions he can be effective. Only three quarterbacks in the Big Ten have thrown for more yards this season – Penn State’s Trace McSorley, OSU’s J.T. Barrett and Northwestern Clayton Thorson.

3. Ohio State has improved over the last four games but it’s still not clear how much because of the level of competition in those games.

The prediction: Ohio State 35, Nebraska 17

Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.

By Jim Naveau

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