Ohio State (8-0) at Penn State (5-2) Oct 27, 5:30, ESPN
Here's The Deal: It's going to be the quirky and quaint thing to think that this might be for the honor of being considered the Big Ten's best team, but the game is relatively meaningless. This is an exhibition game in an exhibition season for both teams with no pressure, no expectations and no worries or concerns about the consequences of what happens.
It Ohio State goes 12-0, it doesn't really matter. The Buckeyes can't play for the national title, and coming up with a huge season does nothing more than gear up the expectations and pressure for 2013 while giving Urban Meyer a great recruiting pitch.
If Penn State runs the table and finishes 10-2, it really doesn't matter. The program is completely and totally irrelevant until 2017, going through the exercise for the next few seasons to see how much revenue it can make from the fan base.
The reality is that no one has any idea what these two teams would be like if this really was for something big. USC was a different team in 2011 with a different mindset than it has in 2012, and even though this year's team is more talented, it's not necessarily playing like it. The same might go for the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions – sure, they're trying just as hard as they'd be if they were gunning for the Rose Bowl, but again, it's a completely different season for both if there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
While the winner this week will probably end up having the best record in the division, and there might be t-shirts made up to celebrate the achievement, no one will care come December. Wisconsin will almost certainly end up representing the Leaders in the Big Ten championship, and it still could end up beating both the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions to earn the title without anyone being able to mentally apply an asterisk.
Even with all of that, this should still be an entertaining exercise between two teams playing their hearts out week after week. This might be the Ineligi-Bowl, and it might not make a difference, but it will be a big deal for both fan bases in what's turning out to be an extremely interesting season for both programs.
Why Ohio State Might Win: The Buckeyes have an interesting way of taking each game on its own merits and playing up or down to the competition. It doesn't matter if it took a grinding performance in a physical battle with Michigan State, or a wild shootout against Nebraska, or a wee bit of a struggle with mediocre Indiana and UAB teams; Ohio State sort of plays the game and then turns it on when it needs to in crunch time – there's a proven track record of performing well when things get tight, evidenced by last week's miraculous comeback against Purdue. Penn State is 0-2 this season when it's had to come up with a big finish. The Northwestern game was a good battle, but between the Sam Ficken game in the loss to an awful Virginia team, or the defensive gag against an overranked Ohio, the Nittany Lions have yet to show they can win the tight ones.
For an Ohio State team that doesn't have the most consistent of offenses, field position matters. The Buckeye special teams haven't exactly been a prize, but the Penn State punting game has been miserable, ranking dead last in the nation averaging a pathetic 30.19 yards per kick.
Why Penn State Might Win: The Buckeye secondary could be picked apart. Even with NFL talent across the defensive front, the pass rush is spotty and there aren't enough big plays happening behind the line. Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin is getting terrific protection, and he's doing a great job on his reads and getting the ball out of his hands in a hurry. It's not like Ohio State has faced a slew of high-octane Big 12 passing teams, but it's still having major problems allowing 230 passing yards or more against everyone but Nebraska, partly because the Huskers spend most of its time running for 223 yards in the blowout loss. There might not be a slew of huge plays, but McGloin should be able to pick his way down the field.
Penn State isn't beating itself. There might have been two lost fumbles against Iowa, but the offense has turned it over just four times since the opener against Ohio when it gave it up three times. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have given it up nine times in the last four games and have had problems with penalties. There were only four last week, but three times this season OSU has been nailed ten times or more, and it was flagged nine times against Nebraska.
What To Watch Out For: Can Braxton Miller really be Braxton Miller? He has been cleared after getting crushed in the Purdue game and knocked out with a concussion, but he's starting to take a big pounding and it seems like the blows are starting to add up. Solid last year in the loss to the Nittany Lions – rushing for 105 yards and a score while throwing for 83 yards and a touchdown – he can still make some noise in the Collin Klein Heisman Invitational with a big game and a win. However, it's not a sure thing that he'll play the whole game, and just in case, Kenny Guiton is being prepared to step in at a moment's notice.
When Miller takes off, he'll meet up several times with Michael Mauti, Penn State's leader and top tackler. One of the most vocal players during the offseason, he has brought his fire and anger to the field with a whale of a season making 45 tackles with two picks and 2.5 sacks. While he might not put up the huge numbers of other top linebackers, he's proving to be a heart-and-soul type of playmaker for a defense that has been terrific since the problems in the opener against Ohio.
What Will Happen: Penn State is playing better right now than a Buckeye team that seems to be living on borrowed time. Give the Buckeyes credit for making the plays they need to in their close wins, but the Penn State defense is too strong, and McGloin is playing too well. The crowd will be into the game with Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes raising the intensity level, and the team will come up with an inspired performance.
CFN Prediction: Penn State 31 … Ohio State 26
Line: Ohio State -1 O/U: 50
Must Watch Rating (5 – The Girl, 1 – Don't Trust The B In Apt. 23): 4
Week 9 - Ohio State at Penn State
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