Big Ten football is finally back.
After more than 300 days without Buckeye football, Ohio State opens the 2020 season on Saturday as the Nebraska Cornhuskers come to Ohio Stadium.
Oddly enough, the Buckeyes play Nebraska for the fifth consecutive year. Considering that it's a crossover game, it's a little strange that they would meet so frequently. But Coach Day mentioned late last week that both teams "have a book" on each other and are certainly familiar with personnel and schemes that their opponent runs.
It's also ironic that Ohio State and Nebraska would open the season against one another, because they were easily the two Big Ten programs that pushed hardest for the season to be reinstated.
With that in mind, here are four things to know about Nebraska as the Buckeyes prepare for Saturday:
Nebraska is a Frustrated Fan Base at the Moment
There might not be a team in the Big Ten right now (certainly not one in the West Division) that has failed to live up to the hype more than Nebraska. Memories of the glory days from more than two decades ago have Husker fans anxious these days. After leading UCF to an undefeated season in 2017, Nebraska hired one of their own in Scott Frost to resurrect the program.
So far, that hasn't gone according to plan.
In 2018, they started 0-6 before salvaging a 4-8 season. Last year was supposed to be the year things turned around with Adrian Martinez primed for a big season at quarterback. They got off to a better start at 4-2 (including a blowout loss to the Buckeyes), but the bottom fell out of the second half of the season. Nebraska finished last year 5-7 and failed to become bowl eligible.
Frost is not on the hot seat though. In fact, he actually received a 2-year contract extension last year. Nine of the 15 losses under his watch have come by a touchdown or less, so it's not like they aren't competitive. But considering the program has endured three consecutive losing seasons and this year's shortened schedule includes cross-over games against Ohio State and Penn State, the most vocal team in the fight for the Big Ten to come back this fall has one of the toughest schedules anywhere across the league.
Adrian Martinez Hasn't Been Named Starting QB Quite Yet
Speaking of Adrian Martinez, there is perhaps a little doubt creeping in on whether he will be able to help the Huskers back to relevancy. Coach Day knows Martinez well after recruiting him in 2018, but the Buckeyes instead offered Matthew Baldwin. Martinez has an impressive skillset and he can move quite well. But his sophomore season with Nebraska was a bit disappointing and the team has not yet officially named a starting quarterback for this weekend.
Last year, Martinez threw for 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions, completing 59.4 percent of his passes for 1,956 yards. Those numbers aren't horrendous, but they certainly haven't lived up to the hype surrounding him.
Enter Luke McCaffrey - the younger brother of Carolina Panthers star Christian McCaffrey and former Michigan quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, and the son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey. Luke is a redshirt freshman at Nebraska and has reportedly been pushing for the starting job.
I'd be a little surprised if Martinez doesn't start on Saturday, particularly because he was named a captain this offseason. But I also expect that McCaffrey will get in the game somewhere along the way.
New Offensive Coordinator Matt Lubick
Even beyond Martinez's inefficiencies, the Cornhuskers offense the last few years hasn't been quite as good as they'd expect. Consider these offensive numbers: 415.8 yards per game (55th nationally), 203.3 rushing yards per game (30th), 212.6 passing yards per game (82nd), 28.0 points per game (72nd). Scott Frost felt it was time for a change, so the program mutually parted ways with Troy Walters in January and brought in Matt Lubick.
Lubick worked with Frost at Oregon and was most recently the Co-Offensive Coordinator at Washington. Lubick's father, Sonny, is the head coach at Colorado State. After spending the 2018 season with Washington, Matt Lubick left the coaching ranks and moved back to Colorado to live and work closer to his family. But he elected to jump back into coaching when Frost presented him with the opportunity he now has at Nebraska.
In his two years at Washington, the Huskies had double-digit wins despite a lackluster offense. Each season, the team failed to crack the top-50 nationally in total offense. Lubick's last game at Washington was the 2019 Rose Bowl, a game in which the Buckeyes beat the Huskies, 28-23.
Ohio State Has Dominated the All-Time Series
Ohio State and Nebraska have played every year since 2016 and they also met in 2011 and 2012. Nebraska joined the Big Ten in the summer of 2010 and their membership officially became effective July 1, 2011. Ohio State has won each of those matchups, except for a 34-27 loss in 2011.
Ohio State also beat the Cornhuskers back in 2955 and 1956, so the Buckeyes lead the all-time series 7-1. Since losing in 2011, the Buckeyes have won five straight vs. Nebraska by an average of 34.4 points - and that includes a 5-point victory two years ago when Adrian Martinez and company gave the Buckeyes a scare at the 'Shoe.