COLUMBUS — Eight-man football has become a popular choice for some small northwest Ohio high school programs struggling to find enough players to have a competitive team.
Danbury, Holgate, Stryker and Toledo Christian formed Ohio’s first 8-man football league, The Northern 8 Football Conference, this fall.
So, what does this have to do with Ohio State playing Nebraska on Saturday afternoon in its much-anticipated football opener?
Eight-man football has been popular for decades in many small towns in the West and Great Plains states, including Nebraska.
Nebraska is among 11 states which go even further and have high school teams which play 6-man football.
There are 275 high schools with football teams in Nebraska. Of those 275 teams, 109 are 8-man teams and 35 more play the 6-man version of the game.
Nebraska’s four national championships and its record of never winning fewer than nine games every season from 1969 through 2001 is even more amazing when you consider that only 48 percent of the high schools in its home state play 11-man football.
With a population of 1.9 million, Nebraska already offers a small recruiting base for the Cornhuskers.
Having so many schools playing 6-man and 8-man versions of the game shrinks it even more.
Former Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost, now in his third season as the head coach at his alma mater, might restore the Cornhuskers to prominence in the college football world.
But, after six losing seasons since 2007, including 4-8 and 5-7 in Frost’s first two seasons, it’s going to be a long, arduous climb. And there is no guarantee the glory days of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s can ever be replicated.
Ohio State has beaten Nebraska five times in a row and has scored 63, 62, 56, 36 and 48 points in those games.
Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez is a three-year starter but he had to fend off a preseason challenge from redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey after struggling much of last season, including throwing three interceptions against Ohio State.
The Cornhuskers have their leading rusher, Dedrick Mills, back. But he gained only 745 yards last season. Their leading returning receiver, Wan’Dale Robinson had 40 catches last season. And, like Martinez, he was hampered by injuries.
All five of Nebraska’s starting offensive linemen are back, but it wasn’t a great line last season. Defensively, the entire line has to be replaced.
Ohio State has questions of its own. Three first-round NFL draft choices have to be replaced on defense. A 2,000-yard rusher and four other starters are gone from last year’s offense.
But the talent level of the returning players and the first-year starters is obviously higher at Ohio State than at Nebraska.
Maybe someday the Cornhuskers can reinvent themselves the same way Stephen Epker, a teacher in the small town of Chester, Neb., reinvented football when he created the first 6-man football team in 1934. But don’t expect that to happen Saturday afternoon in Ohio Stadium.
The prediction: Ohio State 42, Nebraska 21.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0451.