Absent the promise of the postseason to play for, the Ohio State Buckeyes still have pride and an undefeated season at stake as they hit the road to take on Penn State.
This Big Ten matchup in Beaver Stadium features an eager Nittany Lions team that is 3-0 in conference play and riding a five-game winning streak. In the midst of the Jerry Sandusky controversy, the team has responded under first-year head coach Bill O'Brien.
Penn State has salvaged a very respectable 2012 campaign after dropping its first two games.
Beating the Buckeyes would make the season even sweeter. Here is a closer look at how it might happen, including this key game's rankings ramifications, players to watch and a final score prediction.
Current Betting Line (via Odds Shark)
Spread: Ohio State (-1)
Money Line: Ohio State (-117), Penn State (-103)
Ohio State Injury Report
Braxton Miller, QB (head) PROBABLE—the Heisman contender slammed his head into the turf on a big run last weekend. Thankfully, it looked worse than it actually was. Miller looks as though he'll be ready.
Corey Brown, DB (head) QUESTIONABLE—Brown also suffered a head injury in the Purdue game. His status is more up in the air than Miller's for this week.
Etienne Sabino, LB (leg) DOUBTFUL—after an impressive start to the season, Sabino suffered a broken tibia in the Nebraska game. Since that was only two games ago, he remains a long shot at Penn State.
Penn State Injury Report
Mark Arcidiacono, G (foot) QUESTIONABLE—the redshirt junior reserve guard has yet to play in 2012 with his injury and remains 50-50 at best to go on Saturday.
(Note: Injury information courtesy of USA TODAY)
What's at Stake/BCS Impact
Considering the bowl ban for Ohio State, there is absolutely nothing on the line in terms of the postseason.
Going undefeated in the crazy landscape of college football is an achievement in and of itself regardless of the circumstances. In that context, there shouldn't be any letdown from the Buckeyes.
In the most recent AP poll, Penn State received votes for the Top 25. It would be almost unfathomable to predict such a development after how dire things looked in the first two weeks of action.
OSU is 4-0 and Penn State is 3-0 in the Leaders division, and even though neither can win the Big Ten, there is plenty at stake in this one.
Ohio State Player to Watch: QB Braxton Miller
Coming off of the scare against Purdue, it will be interesting to see how Miller adjusts his style of play.
With the stout run defense of the Nittany Lions to negotiate, it will likely fall on Miller to pass the ball more. He will be looking for big plays from Devin Smith, who averages 22 yards per catch and has caught a team-high six TDs.
Miller must take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves, because explosive plays in the running game will likely be hard to come by.
Penn State Player to Watch: QB Matt McGloin
What a difference a year makes.
The senior had to battle Robert Bolden for the QB job for quite some time, but Bolden transferred to LSU prior to this year. That left McGloin as the unquestioned starter.
McGloin has taken full advantage, throwing for 14 touchdowns against just two interceptions thus far.
His smart, efficient play has offset mediocre production from his backfield. The Buckeyes have a pass defense ranked in the bottom 10 in the country. That should lend itself to a career day for McGloin.
It won't matter if OSU's pass defense continues its suspect play if Miller and Co. can run the ball all game.
That makes the key matchup Penn State's front seven against the high-octane rushing attack of the Buckeyes. The Nittany Lions rank 16th in the nation against the run, while the Buckeyes led by Miller and running back Carlos Hyde sport a top-10 ground game.
Something has to give, as neither have faced as difficult of tests as they will on Saturday evening. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out.
Both of these programs have been embattled lately—the Sandusky scandal for Penn State; the various NCAA rules violations for OSU. In spite of those distractions, both teams have shown extraordinary perseverance in the face of adversity.
In a game pitting two teams with their backs against the wall all season, who will emerge victorious?
This smells like trouble for the Buckeyes.
There is a reason they are only favored by one point on the road. The Bucks have struggled mightily away from home, winning their only two trips by a combined four points. Penn State is the best all-around opponent the Buckeyes have faced all season, and their matchups across the board are just better.
OSU's undefeated string will come to a halt in an upset by the hosting Nittany Lions.
Final score: Penn State 20, Ohio State 17