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Ohio State’s season close to falling off rails

Ohio State interim coach Luke Fickell (talking with an official last week) turned words late John Wooden for inspiration. |

Ohio State interim coach Luke Fickell (talking with an official last week) turned to the words of the late John Wooden for inspiration. | Getty Images

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Updated: January 23, 2012 3:46AM

Nebraska merely lost a football game; Ohio State has lost its way.

Ohio State traveling to Lincoln for Nebraska’s first Big Ten home game was supposed to be a celebration. Instead, it’s another reminder that a monstrous mop and pail will be needed to clean up the mess the Buckeyes are in.

This is shaping up as the Big Ten’s worst nightmare since Leaders and Legends.

Two already-suspended Ohio State starters (running back Daniel Herron and receiver DeVier Posey) and a third starter (right guard Marcus Hall) won’t make the trip because they were overpaid for part-time work at Independence Excavating, a Cleveland-area company owned by booster Robert DiGeronimo.

‘‘These failures are individual failures,’’ athletic director Gene Smith said Monday in announcing the latest puddle of scarlet-and-gray goo. ‘‘Failures of individual athletes and, as you know, unfortunately, a previous coach and a booster. So it’s not a systemic failure of compliance.’’

Maybe this hair-splitting will make a difference to the NCAA, but it’s not flying with the Buckeyes’ faithful, who are weary of Smith’s pronouncements.

‘‘Hey, Geno, ‘Move on’ sounds good — as long as it’s YOU!!!’’ one of the many comments on the Columbus Dispatch website says.

‘‘Who selects the companies these student-athletes work for?’’ another reader asked. ‘‘We are blaming the student-athletes for the trangressions of the athletic department. Mr. Smith has to go!’’

Things aren’t very good, either, on the football field, where Ohio State didn’t score until only 10 seconds remained in its 10-7 home loss Saturday to Michigan State.

Interim coach Luke Fickell’s advice to his eligible players amid the latest setbacks?

‘‘We went with our three points of wisdom from John Wooden,’’ Fickell said. ‘‘  ‘Don’t whine. Don’t complain. Don’t make excuses.’ That’s what we’ve got to be able to do, and it starts from the top down with all of us coaches. We’re going to focus on moving forward.’’

On the plus side, the Buckeyes will welcome back standout left tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas. Adams and Thomas have completed their five-game suspensions in the initial memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal that brought down coach Jim Tressel.

The trouble is, for all of its considerable talent, Ohio State is showing its flaws and inexperience in key places. And the scandal must weigh heavily, no matter how Fickell tries to minimize it.

By comparison, Nebraska’s problems seem small. The Cornhuskers, who still might be the second-best team in the Big Ten, need to dust themselves off after being hammered 48-17 on Saturday in Madison, Wis.

But they’re in one piece. And they’re intent on making a better showing in their second consecutive nationally televised prime-time appearance.

‘‘This team has character,’’ coach Bo Pelini, a 1990 Ohio State graduate, said without a hint of irony. ‘‘Those guys were hurting after the game. Nobody wants to win like they do. We have a confident team. We are very black-and-white as to how things happen. We talk about us and fixing the things that need fixing.’’

Quarterback Taylor Martinez can’t throw three interceptions the way he did in frenzied Camp Randall Stadium. But the Cornhuskers, who were in a tight battle with Wisconsin for most of the first half, are right to have faith in their running game and their defense.

‘‘There are going to be games like that,’’ said junior running back Rex Burkhead (96 yards on 18 carries), who came up four yards short of his third 100-yard game in a row. ‘‘What’s important is not getting caught up in it all. We just have to keep focused on fixing us. That’s the biggest thing — not worrying so much about your opponent, but what’s going on with us.’’

At Ohio State, that might not provide much relief, either.

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