Moments after Russell and his Ohio State teammates finished off the then-No. 20 Spartans 45-7 Saturday in East Lansing, the Buckeye safety was ready to talk about the clash upcoming in three days in Ohio Stadium between the Buckeyes and Penn State.
As it turns out, the game between the third-ranked Nittany Lions and No. 9 Ohio State was big long before it became for the inside track at a Big Ten title – or even before ESPN's "College GameDay" signed up to be in town.
"I'm not going to lie to you, we've been looking forward to this game for a long time," Russell said in the near-darkness outside of Spartan Stadium. "We knew it was going to be a huge game, especially seeing them as the season goes on climbing up in the rankings and everything."
It likely has been that way since April 16, the date on which it was announced that the game would be a night game in Ohio Stadium. Such events are extremely rare, as OSU has a 6-1 record in the Horseshoe at nighttime.
That lone blemish was the last such game, a 25-22 loss to No. 2 Texas that severely damaged the fourth-ranked Buckeyes' hopes at a national title just two games into a season in which Ohio State returned a dominant veteran defensive corps and plenty of talent on the offensive side of the football.
Only nine current Buckeyes – James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins, Shaun Lane, A.J. Trapasso, Nick Patterson, Curtis Terry, Steve Rehring, Brian Robiskie and Brandon Smith – are listed as having played in the game, and none started.
In addition, it is only the second home night game in Big Ten play; the first was Oct. 6, 2001, a contest with the defending Big Ten champion Northwestern Wildcats. Ohio State dominated on the ground, as it piled up 287 yards rushing and received three touchdown runs from Jonathan Wells on the way to a 38-20 win.
"I think when you heard about it on the schedule before the year started, you were excited just to have a Big Ten conference night game," linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "It's something that hasn't happened here in Ohio Stadium for a long time. It's exciting to play at nighttime in Ohio Stadium."
Add in the history of the Penn State and Ohio State programs and it's easy to see why this would be a big game. Ohio State has a total of seven national titles, while Penn State is led by 43rd-year head coach Joe Paterno, who has won two titles as the Nittany Lions head coach.
The rivalry between the two schools goes back to 1912, a year in which the Nittany Lions defeated Ohio State 37-0. After PSU won the first four games in the series, Ohio State has since taken a 12-11 lead in the all-time ledger as the teams have played every year since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten.
Some noted games have taken place as part of the rivalry. In 1978, Penn State intercepted freshman quarterback Art Schlichter five times on the way to a 19-0 win. In 2001, the Nittany Lions came back from a big deficit to win 29-27 in a game that gave Paterno the all-time wins record for a major college coach with 324. A year later, Chris Gamble's famed interception return keyed a 13-7 victory for the Buckeyes, who later won the national title.
Though it was always anticipated, this year's game now has the makings of a classic. Penn State is ranked third in the BCS while OSU is ninth, and the winner will have the inside track at a Big Ten title with three games apiece left to play. The game is getting a full national broadcast on ABC and all-day national exposure because of the presence of "GameDay."
"That makes the game even that much bigger," Freeman said. " ‘GameDay' is going to be here. A lot of people are going to be looking at this as a national spotlight game, so that makes it even bigger."
The Nittany Lions have been looking forward to the game as well, but maybe for a different reason – to make amends for last season's 37-17 home loss to the Buckeyes. OSU piled up 453 yards and never needed to use Trapasso on the way to the win.
"We're definitely looking forward to a game like this," Penn State defensive end Josh Gaines said. "Last year, if you remember, they didn't punt the whole game against us. From a defensive standpoint, that's pretty embarrassing. We're definitely looking forward to it. It's been a game definitely circled on the calendar."
There's always the potential that it will be one circled on the calendar afterward, should it live up to the advance hype that's already starting. OSU tight end Rory Nicol did his best to set the stage.
"This is a huge game," Nicol said. "It's 8 o'clock, It's in the ‘Shoe, the battle of the unbeatens in the Big Ten. This is like a book. You guys might as well write a book on this."