LINCOLN, Neb. — Ohio State has set the standard, Nebraska coach Mike Riley said Monday.
Winning the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014. Bringing in top recruiting classes every year. Being near the top of most Big Ten offensive and defensive statistical categories.
Despite Michigan currently being ranked No. 2 in the country, Ohio State is the team in the Big Ten, Riley said. And Nebraska, in this year of re-emerging relevance, is ready to compete for that title.
“You either rise up and compete or get left in the dust,” Riley said.
Every so often a coach comes into a conference and changes the dial, and no doubt Urban Meyer did that for Ohio State, Riley said.
He respects and admires what Meyer has done, from Utah to Florida to now at Ohio State. It reminds Riley of Pete Carroll’s USC teams in the early 2000s.
“They’ve got all the tools there and all the history and they’re just kind of kick-starting it once again,” Riley said.
When that happens, Riley said, conferences in general get better. And right now is a chance for Nebraska to rise to the height of Ohio State, like the Pac-12 did competing with those USC teams.
Coming off its first loss, Nebraska is a 15-point underdog going into Columbus on Saturday, and there is plenty to fix, Riley said.
The two-minute drill in the fourth quarter and overtime didn’t work. The run game wasn’t consistent. Three different times Riley said the missed opportunities against Wisconsin were “haunting.”
“In general, our whole offensive game needs to elevate,” Riley said.
Nebraska is still ahead in the Big Ten West but it is now a slippery slope. A Nebraska loss at Ohio State and a Wisconsin win at Northwestern would put Nebraska second in the West, with Wisconsin holding a tiebreaker over Nebraska.
“As we head into these last ballgames the standings become more real,” Riley said. “It’s better to be where we are with a lead. And we have to fight like crazy to keep it.”