Welcome to Ohio State week. Every year, when the schedule comes out, this is the game that most Penn State fans circle. The Buckeyes have been the class of the Big Ten on a practically annual basis since the Nittany Lions joined the league in 1993. The yearly matchup has provided at the very least a measuring stick to the top of college football, and at its best, some of the greatest games in the storied histories of each program.
Whether the game constitutes a rivalry is secondary. When you say "Penn State versus Ohio State", it simply sounds like a big game. More than any other game on the Lions' schedule, this is the one where the records can be thrown out the window. In 2003, Penn State hosted an Ohio State team that came in 7-1, ranked No. 8 in the nation. PSU was struggling through a season that would end 3-9. Instead of the perceived blow-out loss, Penn State came within mere feet of an upset when David Kimball's 60-plus yard field goal fell just short. There was the 1997 classic between two top-10 teams that saw the Lions win 31-27. In 2001, Zack Mills led a comeback from 18 points down to win 29-27 in then coach Joe Paterno's 324th career victory. Just two years ago, a sanctions riddled Penn State team took the future national champion Buckeyes to double overtime. And, of course, the 2005 game needs no backstory.
When you say "Penn State versus Ohio State", it simply sounds like a big game.
When the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions get together, big things can, and often do happen. Beaver Stadium will be packed with 100,000-plus Penn State fans clad in white, and more than a few Ohio State supporters figure to make the trek from the west. If there is a better environment in college football, the list is very short.
As a native of Ohio myself, growing up just a stone's throw from Ohio Stadium, and a proud alumnus of Penn State, this game has always had a unique place in my life. Ohio State, more than any other opponent on the schedule, is the game I want to win every year. It's bragging rights over friends, it is a victory that grabs headlines across college football. And, in 2016, or whenever it comes, it is the win that will catapult the Nittany Lions back into the upper echelons of the college football universe.
The challenge this year is steep. The Buckeyes will come to Happy Valley ranked second in the country, and will face a youthful defense still growing, and learning to overcome the adversity of a wave of injuries that might be hilarious, if not for the reality created by them. J.T. Barrett is the unquestioned leader of an offense that might be more potent than last year's version, despite massive losses to the NFL, or otherwise.
So, come Saturday at 8:00, whether the Lions remain 20 point underdogs or otherwise, enjoy the biggest game of the season. It only comes once a year.