* Date, Time: Sat., Oct. 8; 7:45 p.m. (ESPN) or 7 p.m. (ESPN2).
* Location: Beaver Stadium; University Park, Pa.
* Last Year: 4-7. Big Ten: 2-6/ninth.
* Coach: Joe Paterno (40th year at PSU, 343-116-3).
* Returning Starters: 18. Offense (9): LT Levi Brown, LG Charles Rush, C E.Z. Smith, RG Tyler Reed, RT John Wilson, TE Isaac Smolko, TB Tony Hunt, WR Mark Rubin, QB-WR Michael Robinson. Defense (9): DE Matthew Rice, DE Tamba Hall, DT Jay Alford, DT Scott Paxson, OLB Dan Connor, OLB Paul Posluszny, CB Alan Zemaitis, SS Calvin Lowry, CB Anwar Phillips. Specialists (1): P Jeremy Kapinos.
* Big Ten Championships: 1, won outright title in 1994.
* Rose Bowls: 2, last appearance in 1994.
* BCS Bids: None.
* National Championships (AP): 2 (1982, ‘86).
* Series Vs. Ohio State: The all-time series is knotted at 10-10. That includes Penn State's 4-3 edge on games played in University Park. Since the Big Ten series began in 1993, OSU holds a commanding 8-4 edge. OSU has won the last three games in the series, including a 21-20 squeaker at PSU in 2003 and a 21-10 in Columbus last year.
* Schedule: Sept. 3, South Florida; Sept. 10, Cincinnati; Sept. 17, Central Michigan; Sept. 24, at Northwestern; Oct. 1, Minnesota; Oct. 8, Ohio State; Oct. 15, at Michigan; Oct. 22, at Illinois; Oct. 29, Purdue; Nov. 5, Wisconsin; Nov. 19, at Michigan State.
* Outlook: Despite his program's recent lack of success, the 78-year-old Paterno shows no signs of leaving before his latest contract runs out in 2008. The Nittany Lions have just one winning season in the last five years. But hopes are high that PSU can return to the first division in 2005 – especially with Iowa off the schedule.
"I think we've got a good young squad," Paterno said. "We were competitive last year regardless of what people think. I think we'll be a little better and have some people who can make some plays. Hopefully we'll have a little better field-goal kicking and maybe we'll have a chance with some of the younger players to make some plays in the kicking game. I think all of that may add up to a couple more wins."
One big question will be at quarterback, where Robinson split time with Zack Mills. The more lethal combo may be Robinson (33 catches) at receiver and sophomore Anthony Morelli at quarterback. Incoming freshmen Derrick Williams and Justin King, each considered among the nation's top prep prospects a year ago, could also bring some much needed playmaking ability and infuse some life in the PSU offense.
"We'll see," Paterno said of the freshmen. "They're certainly capable. And we have another kid who I have not seen. Some of my friends out on the coast said this (Lydell) Sargeant kid would be a really good kick returner."
Hunt was the leading rusher (777 yards) and receiver (39 catches). The defense could have sued the offense (last in total offense and scoring offense in the Big Ten) for non-support a year ago.
The defense could be among the Big Ten's best. In fact, only two teams scored as many as 21 points on PSU last year and the Lions lost games by scores of 16-3, 16-7, 6-4 and 14-7. Posluszny (104 tackles) and Connor (85 tackles) are the top LBs, while Zemaitis is a key cover corner.
* Jerry Rudzinski Says: This game just smells. Ohio Stadium is the loudest place you are going to go to in the Big Ten. But Penn State is a close second. They have a rowdy student section. They pack the place in. They have those metal bleachers and it gets loud in there with that lion's roar and everything else they have. You throw in the rivalry with Ohio State, and I think it will be a hornet's nest that we'll be walking into there.
I don't like this game one bit. We can go in there and dig this one out, but it's going to be ugly and nasty with the momentum shifting and going both ways. We have to go play some very sound football to come out of there alive, which I think they can do. Ohio State wins the game on paper. But you get Penn State and a guy like Joe Paterno – and you can love him or hate him and say he's been there too long or whatever – but when he's on the sidelines, it will bring a special atmosphere to a night football game.
They are not as far off as people may think. It's not entirely Joe Paterno's fingerprints on the offense. He's given up some of the reins there. I think the people over there say it's Joe's way or the highway. But he's smart enough to know they have not produced enough points. He can figure that out. The problem is the players. They have not had the skill from the players or the leadership or the nastiness from the offensive line. They have not been able to take control of games by running the ball.
I'm not sold on Michael Robinson at quarterback. He is athletic and fun to watch. But if I have to go win a Big Ten championship, I'm not putting the ball in Michael Robinson's hands. That quarterback is going to be on some highlight tapes and some highlight reels and he is a gifted athlete, but he's not the guy who is going to wrap his arms around a Rose Bowl championship.
* Steve Helwagen Says: I have been to Beaver Stadium five times and I have to say – other than Ohio Stadium – it is the greatest place to watch college football on the face of the planet.
Granted, today's Penn State program is not the same one that was flirting with a No. 1 ranking when I accompanied the Buckeyes there in both 1994 and 1997. But the way this season stacks up, PSU should go 3-0 in the nonconference. If the Lions can then win at Northwestern and beat Minnesota at home, they would be 5-0 coming into this prime time game with Ohio State.
You want to talk about an electric atmosphere. This could be it.
And Ohio State's record in Big Ten night road games is not good. The loss at Wisconsin in 2003 snapped OSU's 19-game winning streak. The loss at Northwestern last year came after an off week – just as the Buckeyes will have this year as they prepare for Penn State.
People may believe that the PSU program is dead. I don't. In fact, I think they have the defense and (finally) enough play makers on offense to win seven or eight games in 2005. Obviously, the first five games will say a lot about what kind of PSU team will take the field against Ohio State. This may well be Paterno's Last Stand. I think he has one more good to great year in him. This could be it, and OSU may be the team that puts Penn State back on the college football map.
Then again, if the Buckeyes are able to jump on Penn State early with, say, a turnover or a big Ted Ginn Jr. return they may be able to take the crowd out of the game and grab control.
Whatever happens, we know the Buckeyes will be subjected to that infernal lion's roar recording over the PA system all night long. (As Marty Brennaman would say, "There ought to be a law …")