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OSU’s Urban Meyer and Nebraska’s Bo Pellini face off for Ohio bragging rights

3-9-07 Staff mug shot Herb Gould. phoby Jean Lachat/Sun-Times

3-9-07 Staff mug shot of Herb Gould. photo by Jean Lachat/Sun-Times

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Updated: November 6, 2012 6:15AM

They’re just two buttoned-down northeast Ohio guys, running two of the most historic programs in college football.

And Saturday night, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, from Ashtabula, and Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, from Youngstown, will meet on the hallowed ground of the Horseshoe, with the winner earning the right to call itself the best team in the Big Ten until somebody else proves otherwise.

Why is northeast Ohio such a cradle for coaches?

“It’s beyond just by chance,’’ Meyer said. “You’re born into the game of football. It’s just a great high school football atmosphere. That’s all I knew growing up was the Cleveland Browns and the Buckeyes and high school football. Coach [Woody] Hayes and Paul Brown and Chuck Noll.’’

Pelini — who was a two-year starter at safety for Ohio State in the late ’80s — downplayed his homecoming.

“I do have pride in where I went to school and my career there,’’ he said. “That has nothing to do with Saturday. It doesn’t really make any difference what happened back in ’86 to ’90. That’s a different time in my life.’’

The Cornhuskers know what’s going on, though.

“He grew up there,’’ running back Rex Burkhead said. “It would be a special win for him. It was a big win for him last year. At the same time, we have to approach it like another game.’’

While the Buckeyes are barred from the Big Ten championship game, Nebraska is a solid contender. But in a division in which Michigan, Michigan State and surprising Northwestern have designs, every win will count.

And for all the hoopla surrounding their entry into the Big Ten, the Cornhuskers haven’t asserted themselves yet. Last week’s comeback win vs. Wisconsin was a good one, as was the rally that beat Ohio State last year.

For Nebraska — which lost its two biggest road tests, at Wisconsin and Michigan last year — a win Saturday would take things to another level.

The key question is whether Nebraska’s offense is up to the challenge of limiting Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller.

“We’ll find out Saturday,’’ Pelini said. “It’s a good offense, and Braxton Miller does a really good job. He’s a real threat to run and pass, and they do a lot of things to feature him. And let’s face it. They have a lot of good pieces around him. He’s not playing by himself. It’s a team game.’’

Meyer was pleased to see the Buckeyes take a big step in that direction when they won at Michigan State 17-16 last week.

“Relationships with players take a while,’’ the first-year Ohio State coach said. “When you go on the road, you see them in very adverse situations. I saw a team kind of open their hearts up and say, ‘Let’s go do this together.’ I was very impressed.’’

Even though Meyer built his reputation while winning two national championships at flashy Florida, his intense, no-nonsense approach seems a better fit in Columbus.

“It doesn’t concern me at all,’’ he said tersely when asked if he thought a flap over Ohio State allegedly sending doctored game tape to Michigan State would damage his reputation.

Similarly, Pelini wouldn’t delve into discussions about why Nebraska hasn’t stepped up on the road.

“It’s not necessarily where you are,’’ the Cornhuskers coach said. “It’s how you play.’’

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