A best friend, for one week a year now, becomes an adversary.

"We hate each other now," Mike Riley said Monday, which would be some kind of quote about Paul Chryst if Riley weren't completely joking.

It's actually the 25-year anniversary of when Riley hired Chryst to coach for him with the San Antonio Riders of the World League of American Football. There were only six coaches on staff. Chryst coached wide receivers, tight ends and running backs.

Fun days, those.

"We watched a lot of film and ate a lot of popcorn," Riley told reporters at Big Ten Media Days a summer ago. "That was one thing we could get at that time (as a sponsor) ... to get some company that would give us all the popcorn we wanted."

So the Riders would practice in the morning, Riley and Chryst would go for a run, then eat popcorn while watching film. They had to draw plays on mirrors because there were no greaseboards.

As good fortune would have it, there are plenty of greaseboards in supply at the University of Nebraska and University of Wisconsin.

With both in their second years at those schools, the friendship of the two coaches isn't exactly breaking news. Chryst was also an offensive coordinator for Riley at Oregon State and his tight ends coach with the San Diego Chargers.

Their link came up last year when the two coached against each other in a game Wisconsin won 23-21 in Lincoln with a field goal in the final seconds. Nebraska was 2-3 heading into that game. Not on the national radar.

This time, Saturday night, the two old friends meet in a nationally televised game that should have a very large say in who wins the Big Ten West Division.

Riley brings a 7-0 team ranked No. 7 in the country into Camp Randall Stadium to face Chryst's 11th-ranked Badgers.

"Our backs are kind of going to be against the wall, but we're excited for it," said Husker senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong. "This team actually needs something like this. We're ready for it."

Riley seems eager for the opportunity, too. When he talks about Wisconsin's offense, the Husker coach speaks with a certain amount of expertise about it.

Coach together as long as Riley and Chryst did and there are going to be enough things that are going to look as familiar as your left hand when watching the other team's film.

"Certainly, there are plays in his offense and in our offense that are called the same thing, for sure," Riley said.

Both coaches, however, have tweaked their offenses to their personnel enough for there to also be clear differences.

"As you can tell, our approach to football has changed because of our quarterback and what we're doing, and so has his in some fashion. And we laughed about it this morning, as a matter of fact," Riley said. "It's not Paul against Mike, it's the Badgers against the Huskers. And that's the way it should be. So we just happen to be good friends and know each other."

And while each coach may have a general sense of what the other coach probably has cooked up, the in-game chess match will play out similar to every other Saturday.

"I know the patterns and what they probably have in their arsenal just from watching film and knowing Paul," Riley said. "But that doesn't help you when you're out there on the field and the guys have got to be in a good position to defend it."

Nebraska's offense, which has struggled to run the ball with any consistency the past three games, now must find a way to manufacture yards against a Wisconsin team that ranks 10th in the country against the run and fourth in points allowed, giving up just 14.3 a game.

Ohio State got 30 points on the Badgers, with the help of overtime. Second-ranked Michigan, while controlling the game, put up just 14 in its own stadium. LSU scored just 14 on Wisconsin, too, and one of those touchdowns was on an interception.

Still, Riley believes his offense is capable of moving the ball.

"Our first down has to improve, and can we do that? Yes, absolutely," the coach said. "I'm confident that we will ... and that we can run our play-action game and that we can get this thing going. It might be a slugfest."

While the Huskers have their injuries — tight end Cethan Carter is out, and tackles Nick Gates and David Knevel are battling bum ankles — it was announced Monday that Wisconsin's leading tackler, Jack Cichy, will miss the rest of the season.

Nebraska, meanwhile, will get senior wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp back. "I like our receivers against anybody we play," Riley said.

Riley knows his friend will have some curveballs for him, and he'll return the favor.

But that's every week, really. Every play has a complement to it.

"If we're going to run this pattern that looks like this, then we need something off of that. And so if I show you a formation, we'll run this but we'll also run this," Riley said.

Not Mike against Paul. It's Huskers against Badgers. Who can execute the best as a team?

Regarding the personal part, Riley reminds he once coached a game against his own dad.

"And it was a big deal to a lot of people, but it was really kind of fun for us," he said. "And that's how I kind of approach that same thing with Paul Chryst."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.


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