Penn State and Ohio State will both end the season two days after Thanksgiving, unable to play in a bowl. The NCAA hasn‚??t recognized a winner in the series since 2009. The national title picture will not be affected one bit by today‚??s annual showdown.
And yet ‚?Ľ
‚??This is the reason you play college football,‚?Ě Matt McGloin said.
‚??These are the kind of games you dream about,‚?Ě fellow senior Michael Zordich said.
‚??These guys have earned the right to play in this type of game,‚?Ě said their coach, Bill O‚??Brien. ‚??They‚??ve put a lot of time in. They‚??ve been through a lot. They‚??ve done it. Everything that we‚??ve asked them to do, they‚??ve done. Be on time. Practice hard. Lift hard. Run hard. Compete. They‚??ve done it.
‚??And so they‚??ve definitely earned the right to play in this type of a game in front of 108,000 fans. And I obviously expect 108,000 fans there.‚?Ě
Indeed, despite the NCAA penalties looming over both programs, this year‚??s game between the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes has rivaled any of the past editions in anticipation and build-up.
Penn State announced Thursday that the game would be a sellout, the team‚??s first of the season. A record 1,200 students have been camping out at Gate A of Beaver Stadium to get the best seats they can.
The Buckeyes are unbeaten and the Lions are on a five-game winning streak. And the 5:30 p.m. kickoff leaves plenty of time for tailgating.
O‚??Brien addressed fans directly on his weekly radio show on Thursday.
‚??Get your last... Diet Coke... in you at quarter of 5,‚?Ě the coach deadpanned, ‚??get your last hot dog and get your butts inside.‚?Ě
Penn State is hoping the crowd can help disrupt sophomore star quarterback Braxton Miller, who has shown no ill effects from his trip to the hospital last week and is expected to be at 100 percent tonight.
The Lions, meanwhile, are as healthy as they have been all season.
Altogether, the week has come close to capturing the spirit of the 2005 game against the Buckeyes in State College. That was when the campout tradition began in earnest with students arriving at the stadium on Monday night before a 17-10 win over a top-10 Ohio State squad.
It was that night that put Penn State football firmly back in the national spotlight after languishing through four losing seasons in five years.
Because of the sanctions imposed on the program, a win tonight wouldn‚??t have quite the same impact for Penn State. But if the Lions are looking to do more than just tread water over these next few years, beating the Buckeyes would be a considerable boost.
Penn State is expecting as many as 100 high school recruits to be on the sideline to take in the game. Because Lions coaches can‚??t sell bowl games and a shot at the national title right now, they are leaning on the Beaver Stadium atmosphere as one of their best sales pitches.
As for the current players, they understand completely the situation they‚??re in. That everything is week-to-week.
‚??But that‚??s what makes this game so important,‚?Ě Zordich said. ‚??Because both teams are going out playing just for Saturdays. Saturday is the only thing that matters for us. There‚??s no postseason.
‚??I think that‚??s why Ohio State gets to where they‚??re at with an undefeated season and that‚??s why we‚??re at where we‚??re at on this run.‚?Ě
That being said, there doesn‚??t appear to be any increased brotherhood between Lions and Buckeyes players, all of whom are bearing the brunt of the sins of those who came before them.
‚??No. Absolutely not,‚?Ě McGloin said. ‚??After what we‚??ve gone through, I don‚??t feel bad for anybody or any program.‚?Ě
For one night, the sanctions will be forgotten. The rivalry remains.
Ohio State Penn State
TV: 5:30 p.m., today. ESPN.
Where: Beaver Stadium, State College
Last Meeting: PSU defeated Ohio State 20-14 on Nov. 19, 2011.