COLUMBUS — Nebraska could be the best team No. 5 Ohio State has faced this season or it could be the sports version of what former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan used to call irrational exuberance.
Despite coming off a 4-8 season last fall, the Cornhuskers were given the nod as the favorite in the Big Ten’s West Division by more than a few people in the preseason.
Anyone who watched Wisconsin’s destruction of Michigan last Saturday might want a chance to revisit that prediction.
But the Cornhuskers (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) probably are the best team to appear on the schedule so far for Ohio State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten). And last year Ohio State won by only five points, 36-31, when the two teams played in Ohio Stadium.
“We’ve got a real big challenge ahead of us this week, by far the best team that we’ve played. Not only just talent and coaching but also the environment we’re going to be walking into. Scott (Nebraska coach Scott Frost) has done a great job here of building this team up. He’s increased the talent, picked up some really good players, both sides of the ball,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday.
“They do a really good job of stretching you horizontally and get you with tempo on offense, and then on defense a lot of different looks and they’re very well-coached. This is going to be by far the biggest challenge of the year for us, going on the road, night game at one of the toughest places to play in the conference,” he said.
Ohio State is coming off a 76-5 win over Miami (Ohio) last Saturday. Nebraska won its Big Ten opener 42-38 at Illinois last Saturday after falling behind the Illini 14-0 early in the game.
Quarterback Adrian Martinez, who Ohio State recruited, leads the Cornhuskers. He has thrown for 1,052 yards and seven touchdowns this season after passing for 2,617 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.
Day said OSU came close to offering Martinez a scholarship but hesitated because he missed his senior season in high school in Fresno, Calif.
“It was very close, yeah,” Day said. “Adrian didn’t play his senior year and he was dealing with a shoulder injury. I loved him. He came for – I forget exactly what game it was – but he visited with his family. Fell in love with him, great kid. It was just hard for us because there was no senior film and at the end of the day we just weren’t sure.
“But I had a feeling he was going to be a special player and so hats off to him. He is a special player and he’s everything he said he was going go be and we thought he would be. He’s going to have a bright future in college and then beyond.”
Shocking road losses at Iowa and Purdue the last two seasons have kept Ohio State out of the College Football Playoff. Obviously, those games have been mentioned going into Saturday night’s game, Day said.
“Yeah, for sure, we talk about it in the off-season, we talk about it in the preseason, we talk about it now. And I think one of the things that we have to continually do, which has been our mantra all along, is when you’re a prize fighter, no matter what match you’re into or what fight you’re going into, someone is going to try to take you out, and you have to be ready for that,” he said.
“If you ever let your guard down, you’re going to get knocked out. So that’s been something that we’ve talked about in winter workouts, we’ve talked about it in the preseason, bringing it every single day so that something like that doesn’t happen. So again, you talk about it, you address it, you just keep following up with it, and you just keep hammering away at it.”