STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – The Big Ten won’t hand out a championship trophy to the winner of the Ohio State-Penn State game today, so bragging rights will have to do.
The ninth-ranked Buckeyes and surging Nittany Lions just might be the class of the conference at midseason, but neither team can win the league title nor play in the postseason because of NCAA sanctions.
Today’s meeting then, has turned into a virtual midseason bowl game, complete with a national television audience and plenty of hype. About 107,000 rowdy fans are expected to pack Beaver Stadium, which would be the first sellout of the season.
Welcome to the Ineligi-Bowl.
We only get the chance to lay it on the line 12 times, 12 Saturdays. So every game for us is a very, very big game, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said. And we’re playing probably the best team in the Big Ten this week, with a great head coach in Urban Meyer.
Two coaches in their first years at their respective, well-known programs saddled with NCAA sanctions.
Yet there are the undefeated Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0) and Nittany Lions (5-2, 3-0), playing another high-stakes conference game like nothing’s changed. First place in the Leaders Division is at stake.
The NCAA levied landmark penalties, including a four-year bowl ban, for the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Ohio State has a one-year bowl ban for the memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal during former coach Jim Tressel’s tenure.
I know there’s going to be some tough sanctions against them. I don’t really understand all of them, Meyer said before talking about what he has had to study up on all week.
Penn State has great football players right now.
Especially on defense, where the veteran linebacking crew of Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Glenn Carson will be charged with keeping an eye on Buckeyes dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller – sore neck and all.
Miller appeared to be seriously hurt in last week’s win over Purdue but returned to practice this week and seems to be fine. He’s listed as the starter again, and Meyer said he had no reservations about playing his Heisman Trophy candidate.
If you ask me if it surprises me, no, Braxton Miller is a competitive guy, Meyer said about his quarterback’s return. Competitors fight through adversity.
Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin won’t be confused with Miller for his running ability, though the senior remarkably leads his team in rushing touchdowns (five) because of four goal-line sneaks.
Like other players on both Ohio State and Penn State, McGloin is eager to prove his team belongs in the postseason – even if there’s no chance to get there because of the NCAA sanctions.
They’ll have to make due with tonight.
Ourselves, and Ohio State, we both deserve to get into a game like this, McGloin said. This is the reason you play college football.