Penn State Has Chance to Play Ultimate Spoiler in Big Ten Race

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Penn State Has Chance to Play Ultimate Spoiler in Big Ten Race
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We all know that Penn State isn't going bowling or to the Big Ten Championship game, but that doesn't mean the Nittany Lions have lost any motivation at all. 

Instead, they are starting to embrace the roll of spoiler a bit more these days. 

It's easy to see why, thanks to a schedule that features games against Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. It's even easier when you remember that Penn State has already spoiled the hopes and dreams of one team this season—Michigan. 

Up next for Penn State? A date this Saturday with the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus. 

With no bowl game to play for, a trip like this is the next best thing. That's exactly how Bill O'Brien is pitching it to his players and those of us in the media. 

Normally, that kind of talk would be a massive red flag of spin, but it is also the honest truth. 

Playing in front of over 100,000 people in a game with meaning, instead of a half-empty stadium in between Christmas and New Year's Eve? 

Yes, I'd say that is a bit more of an attractive option. 

Besides, what team doesn't find motivation in being the team to stop an opponent's win streak? Especially one that sits at 19 games, like Ohio State's current streak. 

While that motivation is there for this week, two other opponents must avoid slipping up against Penn State if they want an opportunity to make some noise in the Big Ten as well in Nebraska and Wisconsin. Those two games come in back-to-back weekends to end the season, and they could have huge significance for the Nittany Lions' opponents. 

Nebraska is currently one of just three teams in the Big Ten with an undefeated conference record. If they remain that way, a date with the Nittany Lions on November 23 would certainly mean a ton. 

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In fact, it likely could mean the difference between playing for a conference championship or playing in one of the lesser New Year's Day bowl games in the Big Ten lineup.

A week later it is the Badgers, who are currently sitting on the outside looking in at the BCS. If they too remain on a winning streak, a game with Penn State takes on a ton of meaning as well. 

With a win, the Badgers could be looking at the possibility of a BCS bowl birth and a 10 win season at minimum. Not too shabby of options with a win, huh?

However, don't expect Penn State to just roll over and die for either opponent, as they have begun to embrace the underdog and spoiler roles. 

"We go in expecting to win every game, but we also go in embracing the underdog role," offensive lineman Adam Gress told ESPN.com. "Every game is a big game with nothing to lose, in our opinion. It's no secret that we're not going to bowl games and things like that. So every game's a big one."

The simple fact is, with the schedule Penn State has in 2013, the road to the Big Ten title could end up going straight through State College, Pennsylvania.

Not many teams facing life in NCAA purgatory can say that they have the ability to still impact the conference race. Expect Penn State to not go quietly into the night this season, with credit going to Bill O'Brien's motivational style and the self-motivation of the players as well.

 

*Andy Coppens is the lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.

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