This afternoon — at the weird starting time of 5:30 — the Ohio State Buckeyes play the Penn State Nittany Lions at Happy Valley. Both of the traditional powers are undefeated in the Big Ten.
Normally the game would be a big deal nationally, but not this year. Both teams are ineligible for the Big Ten championship game and bowl games. Ohio State is on probation for one year due to NCAA violations. For Penn State, post-season is off limits long term due to its awful institutional breakdowns in connection with the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
For the players, that just means that today’s game is a bigger deal than it would be otherwise. If you’re Penn State, the best way to keep your program going during your prolonged period of ineligibility is to beat teams like Ohio State that will be competing with you out on the recruiting trail. If you’re Ohio State, you just want to try to run the table and win every game and preserve bragging rights. Neither team has the chance to end the season with a high note in a bowl game, so the regular season really counts.
How do these teams match up? That’s hard to say, because it’s becoming increasingly clear that this year’s Big Ten, top to bottom, is as weak as it has been in a very long time. Ohio State has won impressively and in squeakers. In some games its defense has played well and the offense has struggled, and in others its offense has been unstoppable and its defense has been a cheesecloth curtain. The Buckeyes have won, sure, but it doesn’t seem that any of the wins really say a lot about the quality of the team. Penn State, on the other hand, began the season with two losses as its offense struggled, but since then it has found a way to score and its defense has been solid.
I think you have to give the edge to Penn State in this game if Braxton Miller is sidelined after being knocked out of last week’s game. Happy Valley is an intimidating venue under any circumstances, but this year the fans will be particularly pumped for the game. As well as replacement QB Kenny Guiton played in leading the Buckeyes to a miracle win against Purdue, Miller gives OSU a big play threat it doesn’t have otherwise. It’s hard to see Ohio State grinding out a lot of points against a stout Penn State defense. Penn State’s offense is led by senior quarterback Matt McGloin, who has played well after a shaky start, throwing for 14 TDs and good yardage and avoiding turnovers. To win, Ohio State will need to bottle up McGloin, force some turnovers, and take advantage of every scoring opportunity that is presented.