The Buckeyes enter Saturday's season-opener with a national-championship-or-bust mentality. With a limited number of opportunities this year to make a good impression on the College Football Playoff selection committee, I expect Ohio State to take "passing the eye test" very seriously this year.
Nebraska comes to Columbus with perhaps the hardest or second hardest schedule of anyone across the conference. The 'Huskers have a lot to prove after a second consecutive disappointing season in which they failed to qualify for a bowl game under Scott Frost.
Here are my three keys to a Buckeye victory and a prediction for Saturday's game:
Play Fast on Both Sides of the Ball
In the first game of the season, there are bound to be a few mistakes here and there. But no matter what happens, you can always control your effort level and the speed at which you play. I think both teams will want to play with great tempo and I think the Buckeyes are suited better to handle it. The linebackers have a big responsibility tomorrow to try and keep Adrian Martinez in check, but I think if Ohio State's defense comes out and makes a big statement by playing fast tomorrow, Nebraska will wear down quickly.
Take Care of Special Teams
The easiest way for a team to creep back into a game is to take advantage of a special teams mistake. I don't expect any issues from kicker Blake Haubiel or punter Drue Chrisman, but with a new long-snapper this year and some different players on kickoff, punt coverage and punt return coverage, I think this can't be an area to be overlooked. Ohio State has plenty of talent to win this game. A stupid special teams mistake could give Nebraska some unnecessary life.
Nebraska's red zone defense was terrible last year. They were ranked 122 out of 130 in red zone defense. Plus, Ohio State had one of the best red zone offenses in college football last year. They also never stopped the Buckeyes in the red zone, as OSU punched in five touchdowns in five tries.
Nebraska's secondary is easily the strength of its defense, as they have to replace the entire defensive line and two linebackers from last fall. If the Buckeyes can remove all doubt and control the line of scrimmage inside the 20, they could put this one away early.
Prediction: Ohio State 52, Nebraska 10
Ohio State is certainly capable of running up a big number on the 'Huskers, but I think Nebraska's run-first mentality will keep the clock moving and perhaps limit Ohio State's number of possessions. Last year it was 38-0 at half time and the Buckeyes called the dogs off in the second half. This year, I don't think there will be any taking their foot off the gas.
It's not a major prediction to anticipate Justin Fields having a great day (which I think he will), but it might be a little more edgy to guess that the offensive line won't give up a sack. I think Ohio State rolls tomorrow at The Shoe.