Nebraska, No. 5 Ohio St. traveled long road for season opener
It will be a victory for both programs on Saturday when Nebraska and No. 5 Ohio State enter a nearly empty Ohio Stadium in Columbus for the season opener.
The schools were two of the more vocal advocates in pushing for the Big Ten to reverse its Aug. 11 decision against playing football in the fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nebraska coach Scott Frost, his players and the school administration led the charge from the onset. Ohio State joined with its support, including key medical studies and proposed testing protocols from team physician Dr. Jim Borchers.
That the conference reversed course on Sept. 16 and allowed an eight-game, conference-only regular-season schedule (plus a ninth cross-division game to end the season based on seeding) would not have been possible without Saturday’s opponent, Frost said on Monday.
Frost credited Ohio State coach Ryan Day and OSU athletic director Gene Smith for their involvement.
“We’re grateful to Ohio State,” Frost said. “You know, it’s strange where you find allies in certain things, and I think we had an ally at Ohio State to try to get the season played. I don’t think it would have gotten done without Dr. Borchers there, without Ryan Day continuing to push it, Gene Smith continuing to push it.”
Frost and Day spoke frequently in the days leading to the reinstatement.
“I think we shared a lot of the same views on things,” Day said on Tuesday.
The Buckeyes are led by Heisman Trophy hopeful Justin Fields at quarterback. In his first season after transferring from Georgia, Fields threw for 41 touchdowns and three interceptions to help Ohio State to a 13-1 overall record and 9-0 mark in the conference.
The third pick is the one that motivates Fields, who led a social media campaign to get the Big Ten playing this fall. It came late in the College Football Playoff semifinal against Clemson, with the Buckeyes driving for a possible winning score in what would be a 29-23 loss.
“I know he feels like he has some unfinished business,” Day said.
Ohio State knows the pressure will be there to return to the playoffs, but Day has a more immediate concern.
“It’s all about beating Nebraska,” he said. “If you start focusing on things like that or compare ourselves to other teams, all that’s going to do is just distract us from playing the game on Saturday.”
As for Nebraska (5-7, 3-6 in 2019), Frost is going with incumbent quarterback Adrian Martinez after a spirited challenge by Luke McCaffrey.
The Cornhuskers, who lost 48-7 at home to Ohio State last season, may benefit by the conference mandate of only allowing family members to attend games. Therefore, they will be about 1,600 people and more than 100,000 empty seats in Ohio Stadium.
“It’ll be bizarre,” Martinez said. “But we’ve practiced, and I know other teams around the Big Ten have as well, in empty stadiums. I’m sure it’ll be a little bit of an adjustment at first during that game, but we’ll be ready to go either way.”
–Field Level Media