LINCOLN, Neb. — Ohio State and Nebraska are among the five programs with the most major college football wins in history, but the teams are in different places entering tonight’s game at Memorial Stadium.
The ninth-ranked Buckeyes (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten) beat Nebraska by 59 points last year in Columbus and have dominated four straight opponents since their loss at home to Oklahoma. They’re bidding for a third appearance in the College Football Playoff in four years.
The Cornhuskers (3-3, 2-1) are just another team behind Wisconsin in the Big Ten West these days. They’ve lost to Northern Illinois, and Wisconsin beat them by three touchdowns.
With a university administration and fan base desperate for a return to glory, third-year coach Mike Riley is under increasing pressure.
The stadium will be sold out for the 359th consecutive game since 1962, but with the Huskers 24-point underdogs, tickets were available for as little as $17 on the secondary market Thursday night.
“It’s very tradition rich, the fans are very prideful and it’s a great opportunity for us to go into a big-time atmosphere and be able to showcase our skills,” Buckeyes center Billy Price said.
Those skills have been showcased a lot recently. The Buckeyes have amassed 2,462 yards of offense the last four games, the most ever over a four-game span for the program, and have scored 54 or more points in three straight.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett, who hasn’t had to play in the fourth quarter in three straight games, has thrown 16 touchdowns against one interception.
“I think J.T. and the receivers are playing very well together,” coach Urban Meyer said. “I can’t ask for more out of them as far as working and trying to get better. We still have a long ways to go. He’s doing a very nice job.”
Devine Ozigbo has run for 100 yards in three straight games for the Huskers, but quarterback Tanner Lee has been inconsistent and prone to throwing interceptions.
“I think we’ll be fine, whoever we play,” Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa said. “We’re good enough to handle any offensive line. I think it’s going to be more the environment, the fact that they’re at home and it’s probably the biggest game of their season, so they’ll probably give it everything they have.”
Riley said Ohio State’s run of success under Meyer — he’s 38-2 in Big Ten games in six seasons — reminds him of his time at Oregon State when Pete Carroll turned Southern California into the Pac-12’s standard-bearer.
“As one team rises like that, you take a look and you either get better or you get left in the dust,” Riley said. “SC did that when Pete went in there and changed that landscape like that, and I think it made the whole conference stronger, and I think you’re seeing that in this league.”
Ohio State can tie Nebraska for fourth on the Football Bowl Subdivision all-time wins list. Nebraska has 892 wins and Ohio State has 891, each in 128 seasons. Michigan, Notre Dame and Texas are 1-2-3 in wins.
For Ohio State, defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones (cut leg) will return after missing two games and offensive lineman Branden Bowen is out for the season after breaking his leg against Maryland. Also, defensive tackle Mike Hill returns from suspension.
Nebraska running back Mikale Wilbon (ankle) will play after missing last week’s game, while running back Tre Bryant (knee) will miss his fifth straight game. Wide receiver Bryan Reimers (ankle) and safety Antonio Reed (knee) are out. Safety Aaron Williams (neck) is questionable.
Slipping special teams
The Buckeyes are looking for vast improvement from their special teams. Against Maryland last week, the Buckeyes gave up a 100-yard kickoff return, had a field goal blocked, had a kickoff go out of bounds, incurred a delay-of-game penalty on a kickoff, shanked a punt, missed an extra point because of a high snap that was fumbled and had a long punt return negated by a block in the back.
Ozigbo, with 112 yards last week, was the first player to run for 100 yards against Wisconsin since LSU’s Leonard Fournette in the 2016 opener. Ozigbo is the first Husker since Ameer Abdullah in 2014 to have three straight 100-yard games.
Plagued by penalties
Ohio State continues to be one of the most penalized teams in the country, tied for 13th out of 129 teams in most average penalty yards per game (78). The Buckeyes were flagged eight times for 85 yards against Maryland last week.
AP sportswriter Mitch Stacy in Columbus contributed to this report.