The battle of two football programs spending the 2012 season playing for pride will kick off this weekend. The undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes will travel to Beaver Stadium to take on the surprisingly good Penn State Nittany Lions.
Both teams are banned from postseason play this year, but don't bother trying to tell either one that there is nothing to play for. The Buckeyes have won four of the last six meetings and are considered the favorite in this matchup, despite going on the road and playing in a tough and hostile environment.
Although Ohio State does have the better record and may be more talented than Penn State, the Buckeyes are due for an upset this year.
Here is why the Nittany Lions will continue to surprise and pull off its most impressive victory yet.
Once Penn State lost the majority of its star power to the NCAA sanctions and transfers, everybody believed that the Nittany Lions were going to become the doormat in college football.
The truth is, this team is extremely competitive and has beaten up on some decent competition over the last couple of weeks.
Running the no-huddle offense, Matthew McGloin has looked like a different quarterback from a year ago. He is completing 62 percent of his passes and has thrown 14 touchdowns.
Despite losing Silas Redd to USC, running backs Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton have done a solid job of producing consistently on the ground.
The defense has also remained a solid unit, as the Nittany Lions are currently ranked fourth in the Big Ten in total defense and have done a great job of putting pressure on the opposing quarterbacks.
That side of the ball has produced seven turnovers in the last three games and is allowing less than 38 percent of opponents to convert on third down.
Penn State may not be as talented as the Buckeyes, but the team has played well together and the results have shown that through the first seven games.
Quarterback Braxton Miller left last week’s game against Purdue with an injury that required a hospital visit. According to Austin Ward of ESPN, head coach Urban Meyer says the star quarterback is fine and has already been cleared to practice.
"Braxton Miller, I went over to see him at the hospital, and all the test results came out negative, which is positive," Meyer said. "We expect him to practice tomorrow (Tuesday)."
Whether it was a serious injury or an overgrown hair, Miller is this entire Ohio State offense and the team simply wouldn't be where it is without him. He is not only fourth in the Big Ten in passing yards, but is also third in rushing and has produced 21 total touchdowns through the first seven games.
Just knowing the fact that the sophomore quarterback is not 100 percent is enough to worry every Buckeye fan in the country. Backup Kenny Guiton showed what he was capable of last week, but that was just one series, not a complete game.
Ohio State will need its playmaker in this game and if Miller isn't able to produce at a high level, I have my doubts about the Buckeyes in this contest.
Ohio State is banned from postseason play this year, so it has used that as motivation moving forward.
Penn State is in a completely different boat. The team has been banned from the bowl season for the next four years. Every game for this program is taken personal and is much more serious. It is the only thing fans have to hold onto until the 2016 season rolls around.
With the success of winning five games in a row, fans in Happy Valley have shown their appreciation for the job head coach Bill O'Brien has done.
Well, according to Tony Mancuso of GoPSUSports.com, fans have begun camping out in record numbers starting last Monday. Keep in mind, the game doesn't take place until Saturday afternoon.
On the situation, O'Brien said (via Mancuso):
People were right when I first came here, they told me you haven't seen anything until you run out for a game or you witness the support of the student body. And they're exactly right. This is a special place. And one of the reasons why it's a special place is because of the support of the student body.
This team is hungry for success. The program needs something to hold its hat on and prove to everybody that Penn State isn't going anywhere. A victory over an undefeated and respected Ohio State program should do the trick and make this season a success, for what it is worth.
They say that all great teams learn how to win the close matchups. However, if you are a Buckeye fan, you've probably grown a few gray hairs this season, constantly sitting on the edge of your seat.
The Buckeyes needed overtime last week to knock off a disappointing Purdue team and needed a miracle with a backup quarterback just to make that happen.
Indiana produced nearly 500 yards of total offense and almost pulled off an upset that would have shocked the entire college football world.
Michigan State only lost by one point.
Even the game against Cal came down to the final minutes.
You may say these are signs of a great team, but letting squads hang around far too long is likely going to catch up eventually. When you add a hostile environment and an injured starting quarterback to the equation, it could very well be this week.