On Tuesday, the College Football Playoff Committee released the first rankings of 2016, confirming for Buckeyes around the world that the Scarlet and Gray are very much alive in their quest for a playoff spot. No. 6 Ohio State (7-1, 4-1 B1G) will host newly minted No. 10 Nebraska (7-1, 4-1) this weekend in what figures to be a pivotal game for both schools.
Saturday marks the first matchup between Ohio State and Nebraska since 2012, and only the third time they will clash since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten in 2011. OSU leads the all-time series 3-1 with victories in 1955, 1956, and 2012. Nebraska secured their lone ‘W’ in 2011 as Ohio State sleepwalked through a Jim Tressel-less tattoo-fueled nightmare. The 2012 victory was the football equivalent of a “welcome to the Big Ten” swirly. Ohio State won 63-38 in prime time and made a statement to the whole country that Urban Meyer would be a force to be reckoned with in Columbus.
Through both Leaders/Legends and East/West configurations Ohio State and Nebraska have consistently been on the opposite side of the table. That is a shame, because both schools have long histories of excellence. The Buckeyes have 882 wins, the Cornhuskers have 887. The Bucks have eight national titles to their guests’ five. From conference championships to bowl wins these clubs have been running parallel tracks that joyfully merged five years ago.
The 2016 Huskers have been one of the biggest surprises in the Big Ten. Last season Nebraska finished the regular season 5-7, falling ass-backwards into the Fosters Farms Bowl which they managed to win 37-29 over UCLA. This year Nebraska opened with non-conference wins over Fresno State, Wyoming, and then-No. 22 Oregon (remember when we thought UO was good?). The Big Ten portion of the schedule continued NU’s success against Northwestern, Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue. Their biggest test of the year came last week in Madison. Nebraska failed, dropping an overtime decision to the Badgers 23-17. Despite that defeat, Nebraska has only one conference loss and holds a one game lead in the Big Ten West.
Here’s an interesting wrinkle. Nebraska controls its conference destiny. If the Huskers win out then they will win the West outright and punch their ticket to Indianapolis for the first time since 2012. However, if Ohio State can defeat them this weekend and Wisconsin wins out then the Badgers would represent the West in the Big Ten Title Game. Minnesota is lurking as well, but let’s not get bogged down in all the permutations. The same Badger fans who were despising Ohio State two short weeks ago are now pulling for them to defeat Nebraska. Football is a funny game.
Program of the Week:
Usually we go back decades in this segment to reflect on art styles gone by and marvel at what people wore. This week I want to lend a critical eye to a more recent time, 2011, and the program sold at Nebraska when the Buckeyes came to Lincoln. The Big Ten Home Opener logo is a wonderful time stamp (I had forgotten OSU was the first conference opponent the Huskers faced at home) and the cover acknowledges the similar color schemes the schools exhibit. The Buckeye leaves and Scarlet “N” both call helmets to mind and underlie the conflict between the two – akin to classic photos of linemen squaring off before a snap. It’s quick, simple, and says it all. This one is not as whimsical as programs from the 50’s, but it gets right to the point: Let’s play football.
Nebraska’s offense begins and ends with Tommy Armstrong Jr. The senior quarterback is having a very fine season with 115-for-217 passing for 1764 yards, eleven touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He is equally dangerous on his feet and has rushed for 419 yards and seven touchdowns. He keeps his composure in the pocket, but can gash a defense for long runs if there is room in the middle. Armstrong only needs 53 yards on Saturday to become the Nebraska all-time leader in total offense. It’s a near certainty to happen this weekend, and is a well-deserved honor. The primary tailback, Terrell Newby, is no slouch either with 588 yards and four scores. Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp has pulled down four touchdowns and 290 yards.
It’s no secret that Ohio State’s offense scuffled against Penn State. Even though the Bucks rebounded with a win against Northwestern the following week, the offense still struggled to score 24 points. One bright spot on that side of the ball has been junior Curtis Samuel. As both a receiver and H-Back, Samuel seems to explode forward every time he touches the ball. The man is fast and can devastate opposing defenses. In 2016 he has 558 rushing yards on 71 attempts (7.9 yards/attempt), five rushing touchdowns, 44 receptions, 539 receiving yards (12.2 yards/catch), and three receiving scores. That’s a total of 1,097 yards and eight touchdowns. When the offense looks as if it has the flu the best medicine seems to be getting Samuel into the game.
Saturday’s game does not come at a great time. Ohio State hardly resembles the well-oiled machine that demolished Oklahoma in September. The lights will be illuminated above Ohio Stadium as two top ten teams meet, both with their chance at a division title in the balance. Neither can afford to lose a game the rest of the way, but clearly someone needs to. Nebraska will be playing angry after last week’s loss, but it is no easy task to walk into the Shoe as an opponent and leave with a win. It’ll be close, perhaps even another overtime game, but Ohio State should have enough talent to ring the victory bell before midnight.