COLUMBUS, Ohio — In a 36-season span between 1975 and 2010, Nebraska lost its Big Eight or Big 12 opener just twice, regularly feeding off the luxury of a 1-0 start in its pursuit of conference championships.
It wasn't so much a must-win as it was the avoidance of having to dig out of an unfamiliar 0-1 hole.
So Nebraska found out last season what it was like to go looking for a shovel after the 48-17 loss at Wisconsin in its first-ever Big Ten game, which also happened to send out some panic and shock waves because of the way it went down.
“One thing I noticed is we got right down to work last year,” NU tight end Ben Cotton said. “We got right down to the extreme details of things we needed to fix if we were going to bounce back and bounce back quickly from something like that, to make sure that it didn't affect anything in the future.”
The Huskers — and their fans — haven't had to live through the same kind of week this year thanks to the 30-27 come-from-behind victory last Saturday night over Wisconsin.
They haven't had to start another Big Ten season staring at that one-game difference in the standings that seems to last longer than a week. They haven't had to hear that only one Big Ten team in the last 10 years — Wisconsin in 2010 — was able to overcome an 0-1 start and reach the Rose Bowl.
But they also realize that all they did last week was begin the work on an eight-game project.
“It's never good to start on the wrong foot, but starting 1-0 is exactly what it is,” NU offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles said. “The race is not a sprint, it's a marathon. We've got a long ways to go. We have a long, tough conference schedule ahead of us.
“It's one week at a time. If Ohio State's standing in the way, then that's where we need to go and take care of business.”
Nebraska and Ohio State get together again Saturday night with situations vastly different from when they met a year ago in Lincoln.
Both had 0-1 Big Ten marks for that game, which NU won 34-27 behind a school-record comeback. Nebraska had just been rudely welcomed to the Big Ten by the Badgers. The Buckeyes were coming off a 10-7 home loss to Michigan State — dropping them to 3-2 overall in what would be a 6-7 season — and under the black cloud of the Jim Tressel fallout that ultimately would land them on probation.
Going into the 7 p.m. game at Ohio Stadium, the Huskers and Buckeyes are arguably the two best teams in the Big Ten, and both could have been unbeaten overall for this nationally televised matchup had Nebraska not stumbled at UCLA four weeks ago.
But for Nebraska, 4-1 overall and ranked Nos. 20 and 21, getting to 1-0 in the Big Ten did not come easily.
NU fell behind Wisconsin 20-3 last week. It looked headed for the same fate as Husker teams that started Big 12 play with losses in 2008 against Missouri and in 2002 at Iowa State.
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Whether NU were 1-0 or 0-1, though, senior guard Seung Hoon Choi said the Huskers would need to re-focus this week, anyway.
“We still got good teams ahead of us,” Choi said. “We shouldn't feel any different about ourselves. We just got to come out and get going and just grind.”
Getting to 2-0 will require getting off to a better start than a week ago, and taking better care of the football. Nebraska fumbled on three of its first six offensive snaps (losing one), and turnovers led directly to Wisconsin touchdowns in both halves.
“Am I concerned with the slow start? Yeah, I'm concerned with that,” NU coach Bo Pelini said. “But different time, different place. We'll need to be a better football team this Saturday than we were last Saturday, and that's always the case. The challenge is going to be to go out and execute for four quarters.”
After last year's loss at Wisconsin, the Huskers recovered to reach 3-1 in Big Ten play before eventually finishing 5-3 and third in the Legends Division.
The significance of being 0-1 a year ago? Besides hurting the Huskers in the standings, it bruised feelings for a team and state that had looked forward all September to the Big Ten debut.
“I remember it didn't feel good,” Sirles said. “It didn't feel good to be 0-1 in conference, our first Big Ten game ever. I think the team responded well last year, and that we need to find ways to handle prosperity well this year knowing that we did start well.
“We should approach every game like it's the first game. We just want to come out and play consistent every week.”
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