This one's for all the marbles, folks. One 60-minute struggle to determine Big Ten supremacy for the entire season, with the two best teams locking horns, the way it was meant to be.
Oh, you didn't think we were talking about the Big Ten Championship Game, did you? We're totally not; that's probably going to be Michigan vs. Wisconsin, and as far as that goes...ehh.
No, we're talking about Ohio State at Penn State, this week's marquee matchup in the Big Ten and (spoiler alert) a meeting of the two top teams in our Week 9 power rankings coming out later today. Both teams are undefeated in Big Ten play (Ohio State is 4-0, Penn State is 3-0), and it's entirely possible that the winner of this game runs the table in conference play. Heck, it's also entirely possible that the loser still goes 7-1.
Sadly, we won't be seeing either of these teams represent the Big Ten come bowl season, what with Santa Claus' evil twin brother Sanctions Claus bringing the gift of postseason ineligibility to both Columbus and State College this year. We hate you, Sanctions Claus.
So it's really down to this week for each team to try to prove that it is the best in the Big Ten. That's not to say that Ohio State isn't still salivating over the season finale at home against Michigan, of course. The universe hasn't gone mad.
All the same, Penn State's the team that strutted into a division co-leader's house at night, ripped off 504 yards of offense and the first 38 points of the game—to say nothing of having Matt McGloin outrush the opposition single-handedly—and walked out 38-14 victors. Michigan's 44-13 win at Purdue was also impressive, but it was an 8 or a 9 compared to Penn State scoring a perfect 10.
Put it this way: Michigan's final 31-point margin over Purdue sounded about right. Penn State's 24-point win over Iowa wasn't nearly that close on the field.
Ohio State, meanwhile, has the single-best resume of any Big Ten team and it's not even close. The Buckeyes are 8-0; nobody else in the conference has fewer than two losses, though there's a bit of a logjam there with five teams.
Those aren't empty wins for the Buckeyes either; while the non-conference schedule was shall we say slight, Ohio State dispatched Michigan State back when the Spartans were still ranked (and playing like a ranked team), and then obliterated Nebraska in a 63-38 romp. Yes, the Indiana and Purdue games were far, far closer than any Buckeye fan would have wanted.
But there's the difference between Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten: Ohio State still wins its embarrassing games.
As far as the actual game goes, this one's tough to gauge.
Braxton Miller's apparently still the starting quarterback after his frightening hit and subsequent hospitalization last week, and he'll be facing a defensive front that held Iowa to 20 total yards rushing and only one offensive touchdown (the other coming on a kickoff return). Meanwhile, Matt McGloin looks like a completely different quarterback, and although Penn State's depth is lacking, its starting talent is as good as anyone's in the Big Ten on offense.
Generally, a good defense beats a good offense, but both teams appear to qualify in both regards, so there isn't an obvious weakness to exploit. This game will probably just come down to preparation, execution, turnovers and which way the 50/50 plays go.
This one should be competitive and physical, and the fact that it's under the lights at Beaver Stadium only heightens the drama and excitement. Whoever wins has a pretty unimpeachable claim to being the best team in the Big Ten—even without the privilege of proving it in Indianapolis come December. Keep the Big Ten Championship; we're calling this the Big Ten Bowl, and it promises to be a doozy.
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