The construction associated with Ohio Stadium ended earlier this decade but on Saturday night two crews are hoping to perform some serious reconstruction efforts. No matter your view of the two programs playing in the Horseshoe this weekend, it is undeniable that they both face a stubborn image problem.
For starters, they live and breathe in the Big Ten, which many fans outside the Midwest consider an affront to BCS-level football. The teams recent BCS bowl game performances have not discouraged their respective images as slow, plodding, college football versions of woolly mammoths. We know all about Ohio State’s last BCS bowl games, and while each team won a BCS bowl game in 2005, Penn State struggled to beat a horrible Florida State team while many fans/pundits discounted the Buckeyes’ whitewashing of Notre Dame as simply taking advantage of an undeserving opponent.
It is hard to believe that two tradition-rich programs, with great head coaches, and currently ranked in the Top 10 could be feeling Lee Corso’s favorite motivators - urgency and redemption – so acutely, but those are the football clichés they find themselves mining this week for impetus.
Penn State’s need to redeem is palpable. The Nittany Lions and their fans would love to redeem Paterno’s choice to remain at the helm of a somewhat foundering program (63-42 from 2000-present; Ohio State is 81-20 in that same span) for one last season. In some ways, they may want to redeem the 1994 undefeated season when they were clearly the best team (IMO).
Their sense of urgency follows closely on the heels of that desire for redemption. Surely, this is Paterno’s final season and this is Penn State’s best chance to win in Ohio Stadium, a place they have had won since joining the Big Ten.
Ohio State’s recent record is far better than Penn State’s but that does not mean they have less reasons to seek redemption. Far from it: “success” – at least as measured on a national scale – has been a difficult word for Ohio State to spell since 2003.
Every highly ranked team that suffers a defeat is in need of redemption but, arguably, the Buckeyes are in greater need of redemption than any other team in the country. Not one of you reading this has not felt or read the disdain from fans across the country regarding the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s players read and feel that, too, and they want – in fact, need – to redeem their last three primetime performances. While they would never say it, the coaching staff is looking for a little redemption as fans and boosters have been calling for wholesale staff changes as recently as two weeks ago.
Ohio State’s urgency is hard to miss, too. They are shooting for an unprecedented third straight outright Big Ten championship. While the Buckeyes cannot win the title on Saturday night, they can lose it.
In many ways, Saturday night is a last call for happiness and respect for both Ohio State and Penn State. Is Ohio State going to limp off the big stage for a fourth straight time, or is Penn State going to wander into the Paterno-less era after only winning two Big Ten Championships in 16 seasons?
Speaking of Paterno, it looks like he will be coaching from the press box on Saturday night. This will make very little difference, as Paterno does not engage in much coaching once the whistle blows.
This is the second straight game in Ohio Stadium that Paterno has had trouble staying on the field. Looks like he and Steve Rehring have something in common.
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