It is always a testament to great coaching when a team disqualified from postseason play can still have a successful year.
In the case of Ohio State (8-0) and Penn State (5-2), they're having extraordinary years as they prepare for their matchup this Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
And yet for their own respective reasons, neither one will contend for the Big 10 Championship this year or go to a bowl game.
Going into the reasons is unnecessary. We've heard in great detail the controversy that has surrounded both programs, and your opinion is your opinion on the subjects.
What has become remarkable, though, as the 2012 season has unfolded is how competitive the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes have been compared to their conference opponents despite the fact that they cannot contend for the Big 10 crown.
Bill O'Brien started his coaching career at Penn State amidst a myriad of emotion and controversy that put the Nittany Lions heavily in the spotlight for college football's first couple of weeks. And the fact is they struggled in heartbreaking losses to Ohio and Virginia that were very winnable games for Penn State.
Since then, the Nittany Lions are 5-0, undefeated in the Big 10 and far from the projections of having one of the worst seasons in Penn State football. Quarterback Matt McGloin has been remarkable in his senior year, throwing 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions, while also raising his quarterback rating to 136 (compared to 118 last year) in O'Brien's version of the pro set.
Urban Meyer's return to the Ohio State fold was an action plan by the Buckeye administration to build not only a respected program again but one that reclaims the dominance Ohio State had throughout the last decade in the Big 10.
Facing sanctions and scholarship reductions of his own, Meyer has overachieved tremendously in what should have been a rebuilding/foundation year for the Buckeyes. And certainly the spread offense has been put on display again, captained by quarterback Braxton Miller, who has led Ohio State to a top-ten ranking in rushing and scoring along with an undefeated record in conference play.
To put in perspective the irony of Penn State and Ohio State's success, just look at the rest of the Big 10. In fact, start with the Leaders division, where the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes sit atop at 3-0 and 4-0 respectively.
Beneath them, there's Wisconsin with one loss, which is still very respectable. But after that, Purdue, Illinois and Indiana are a combined 0-9, and yet they are still only two games out of being able to play for the Big 10 championship.
The Leaders division is another spread of inconsistent teams, with Michigan and Nebraska at the top at 3-0 and 2-1 respectively in the conference.
The truth is, Penn State and Ohio State have outplayed most if not all of the teams in the Big 10 under two of the top coaching performances of 2012. In normal years, this game Saturday would be a tilting point in conference play—a focal point in the seasons of both teams that most certainly would have postseason implications.
But this year, it's a game that is purely rooted in pride for the members and fans of the two universities. Neither one will make the journey to Indianapolis in December. Neither one will go to the Rose Bowl. However, both can still vie for the grudging respect from their peers that would come from the best team in the Big 10 being the one with the asterisk next to its name.