Before kicking off a Big Ten season delayed and truncated by the coronavirus pandemic Saturday, Ohio State and Nebraska praised each other for their efforts in making the game possible.
Here are five things to know about the game:
1. It might not be happening if not for the work of a Miami Valley native.
Nebraska coach Scott Frost joined the chorus of people praising Ohio State team doctor Jim Borchers, an Alter High School grad who chaired the medical subcommittee of the Big Ten’s Return to Competition Task Force.
“I don’t think it would have got done without their doctor taking the lead, figuring out a way to present it to the presidents to get football back,” Frost said Monday. “Dr. Borchers deserves a lot of credit for this. I think they did a good job at Ohio State kind of bringing it all together and presenting a plan that allowed us to get back to doing what we probably should have been doing all the time.”
Frost went so far as to say he will be rooting for Ohio State the rest of the season after the two schools were seen as the primary drivers of the movement to play this fall rather than wait until after Thanksgiving or later.
While a group of Nebraska players filed suit against the Big Ten to seek more information on the decision to cancel, a group of Ohio State football player parents organized to share its frustrations, a movement that soon spread to other fanbases.
"I’m grateful to them for going shoulder and shoulder and fighting to get (Big Ten football) back. Our kids are excited to play, we’re excited to play, and there’s been a lot of moments where I didn’t think we’d get here.”
2. Ryan Day says he is more worried about going 1-0 than 9-0.
The head coach of the Buckeyes has gone on record saying this could be a special team, but he wants national championship talk put on the back burner now.
“The teams that focus on what’s going on down the road, they get upset,” Day said. "It goes sideways fast, so we cannot do that. We have to stay disciplined and just focus in on the first drive on Saturday and then take it with the second drive and go from there and find a way to go 1-0.
“And then as the season goes on, if we can put a couple wins under our belt, then we could start saying, ‘OK, where is this thing headed?’ but right now we’ve got to find a way to win this first game.”
3. The environment will probably be weird.
Last season, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields noted the Nebraska crowd presented an extra obstacle for the Buckeyes, who rolled to a 48-7 win in Lincoln.
That won’t be the case this season in Columbus or anywhere else in the Big Ten as only families of players and coaches will be allowed to attend, but the conference provided each school with crowd noise to pump in.
“it’s not just silent, but it is not going to be nearly as loud as it typically would be for a game during the snap count, in between plays,” Day said. "However, it actually is very loud. At times I think it’s actually louder than it would be during the game because the noise coming out of the speakers, it’s not comprehensive. There’s nobody in the stadium, so that noise kind of bangs around in the stadium.
“So it’s an interesting dynamic, something that we haven’t experienced before, but certainly you know when the decibel level’s at 70 during the play, it’s very manageable.”
4. Ohio State should be close to full strength.
Senior linebacker Justin Hilliard is listed as a game-time decision (unidentified injury) on the pregame status report the school released Friday morning.
He was the team’s fourth linebacker last season and part of sub packages, including a 4-4 alignment the Buckeyes rolled out against Wisconsin.
This season he is expected to share the No. 1 SAM role with Baron Browning, a fellow senior who was also a five-star recruit who has not broken through and found a full-time spot on the defense yet.
Browning moved outside this offseason while last year’s primary SAM, Pete Werner, has moved inside to the WILL position.
Jaden McKenzie, a redshirt freshman defensive lineman who could earn a spot in the rotation but isn’t expected to be a starter, is also a game-time decision.
Ohio State did not release a depth chart, as it did on Fridays last season, but the absence of some names from the status report could be a good sign for several players who were not 100 percent entering the preseason — most notably that would be defensive tackles Taron Vincent and Haskell Garrett, who are expected to be part of coach Larry Johnson’s rotation if healthy.
5. Wan’Dale Robinson could be an X-factor for Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers return quarterback Adrian Martinez, leading rusher Dedrick Mills and all five starters on the offensive line but lost two starting receivers.
That likely makes Wan’Dale Robinson, a sophomore who played running back and receiver last season, a key player for Frost’s offense.
“You never know when you have an opening game what somebody is going to do,” Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. “So you really want to make sure you try to cover every base, but the fact that that they did a lot last year with him, and they did a lot of things with him throughout the season (means) we have really tried to make sure we covered every base and really had a lot of walkthroughs with a lot of different periods of practice to make sure we were charged with all those those different things (he could do).”