The football teams of The Ohio State University and Penn State play each other today. Both of these teams are undefeated in league play. Both of these teams continue to be strong, play well and improve their play every week. Both of these teams are exciting and fun to watch. And in a normal year, both of these teams would be playing this game for the top spot in the Leaders Division of the Big Ten.
But not today.
Since both teams are playing under NCAA sanctions, both teams are ineligible for post-season play. So this year, when Ohio State is ranked #9 in the country and Penn State is ranked #24 in the country in polls that will include them, the results of this game will have absolutely no affect on the Big Ten championship race, the BCS standings, the decision on who to send to bowl games, or the race for the national championship. None. It is, by all rights, an insignificant and meaningless game.
But don't try to tell that to the players.
Penn State started the season on a rough note, trying to recover from their difficult situation caused by the Jerry Sandusky fiasco.The program has had some pretty harsh (and some say unwarranted) sanctions put on them by the NCAA, even though everyone who was involved is long gone from the program. This set up difficult conditions for any college program, and in fact, caused the Nittany Lions to lose several of their top players. But determination and grit has become the Penn State hallmark this year, and the remaining players have decided to create a fresh image of Penn State. An image that they can call their own. An image that they can be proud of.
In a press conference this past week, senior defensive tackle Jordan Hall summed it up this way:
"…all of our seniors, it's our last WhiteOut. It's our last time to go out here in front of the WhiteOut crowd. It's our last time playing Ohio State. In the situation that we're both in, and how good of a season we're both having, it's the biggest game for us."
" …it's the best team that we've played up to this date this season. They're undefeated, it's Ohio State, it's a rivalry for us. Especially for me, I'm a Pennsylvania kid, a Big 33 kid, Pa. vs. Ohio. You always get going for that one. It's a different feel; a lot of students are ready for the game. They're saying, 'I can't wait for Saturday, I wish it was tomorrow, I wish it was today'. All of the campers at Nittanyville, it's a record over there and it's good to see those things continue.
This is a big game for the Lions.
While recovering from a completely different type of scandal, Ohio State has as much to prove. For the most part the issues for the Buckeyes are quite different. They're in their second year of recovery, and their focus is now on learning the football stylings of one Urban Meyer. For a first year team they're not doing a bad job, but you would think that an 8-0 record would alleviate a lot of pressure. It hasn't. In fact, it seems that the more games they win, the more critical fans become. Everyone seems to be waiting for that one moment that causes the Buckeyes to lose so they can say "see? I told you so."
Last week that event almost happened. Ohio State was on the ropes, but great teams find a way to get the job done, and in a rather remarkable finish, the Buckeyes bounced back to win. Still, the critics sounded off very loudly this past week,and now the Ohio State players are ready to stand up for themselves.
Normally a game preview would include specific information about matchups, styles, play calling, etc., but this is a game where those things are going to be secondary to the spirit of the players. Both teams have a lot to prove in this game. Both teams will come in well prepared and ready to execute. Forget the talk about "who wants it more". All players on both teams want this game. This game is going to be decided on focus and extra effort. This game will most likely be won or lost based upon one key mistake or one key breakout play.
Recent weeks indicate that Ohio State is vulnerable. Couple that with the fact that Penn State will be playing in front of their hometown fans, with their seniors playing there for the last time, and it's easy to see that the Nittany Lions should be favored in this game.
Still, don't count out the Buckeyes. When all looks hopeless they still have a way of getting the job done.
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