STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The Big Ten won’t hand out a championship trophy to the winner of the Ohio State-Penn State game Saturday night, 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 or 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.
“I assume it’s going to be, because it’s a night game, I’m sure the crowd will be nice,” senior tight end/receiver Jake Stoneburner said tongue-in-cheek.
And yet so much has changed since the last time these two teams met, a 20-14 win for Penn State in Columbus last Nov. 19.
The Buckeyes then were led by interim coach Luke Fickell, who is now back coordinating the defense under Meyer.
That win was the one and only victory for Penn State for interim coach Tom Bradley, who took over a week earlier after longtime coach Joe Paterno was fired in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Bradley, the longtime defensive coordinator under Paterno, wasn’t retained when O’Brien was hired in January. Seven months later, a school already reeling from the aftereffects of the scandal was rocked again when the NCAA levied landmark penalties including a four-year bowl ban.