Penn State has already crushed the slim BCS championship dreams of the Michigan Wolverines. What better way to top that than officially eliminating the Ohio State Buckeyes from the mix as well?
Penn State travels to Columbus, Ohio this weekend to take on No. 4 Ohio State. The Buckeyes have been playing in the shadows of Alabama and Oregon for much of the season and now Florida State has passed them in the BCS race. Despite having won 19 straight games with Urban Meyer as the head coach and Braxton Miller still playing well, the Buckeyes are often considered the team sitting on the outside looking in when the conversation focuses on BCS championship contenders. The reason for this falls on the strength of schedule for Ohio State more than anything else, between a less-than-impressive non-conference schedule and the national perception of the Big Ten. The human polls used in the BCS standings have Ohio State ranked fourth and the computer averages have the Buckeyes ranked fifth. If there is one team out there looking to make a statement this weekend, it will be Ohio State. That should Penn State on guard.
Everything about these teams on paper should favor Ohio State. The Buckeyes have the experience and talent advantage on both sides of the football, but as Penn State has already proven at times this season, none of that matters once they take the field. Of course, Penn State has shown that can work both ways. So why can’t it work their way this weekend in Ohio Stadium?
Ohio State’s defense may be suspect to giving up some points. Through the first three Big Ten games of the season, Ohio State has allowed 78 points. Penn State will have to hope the offense can click as freshman Christian Hackenberg plays his first game in what would be considered a hostile environment. Playing in Ohio Stadium will be Hackenberg’s second real road test of the season, and could be much more difficult of a task than his previous starts away from home. Hackenberg’s performance against Indiana in Bloomington spiraled out of control on all fronts, so this week should serve as a good opportunity to see how he bounces back and adjusts in a difficult situation in a challenging setting.
The freshman quarterback continues to be developing and having his highs and lows on the field. Inaccurate passes that fall at the feet of his receivers or behind or sailing above them are expected of freshmen quarterbacks regardless of star rankings in the recruiting game. That has been true of Hackenberg, but he also has passes that show just why he was among the top-rated quarterbacks in the country.
Hackenberg has a chance to etch himself in to some Penn State history and lore this weekend as well. The only Penn State quarterback to defeat Michigan and Ohio State in the same season was Kerry Collins, who did so in the undefeated 1994 season. The last time Penn State beat both of the historic Big Ten powers was 2008, but it was Pat Devlin who led Penn State to a rare road win at Ohio State that season in relief of Daryll Clark, who captained the team to a win over the Wolverines the previous week.
Hackenberg has already entered the lore of Penn State’s football history with one of the signature moments of the dawn of the Bill O’Brien era. Win on Saturday night in Columbus and the legend will continue to grow.
Ohio State is the favorite this weekend, but the last few weeks have been full of upsets all over the place. Ohio State has survived some scares from Northwestern and Iowa. This weekend Penn State looks to bring a close to Ohio State’s lucky streak.
Kevin McGuire is managing editor of Crystal Ball Run and a contributor to NBCSports.com’s College Football Talk. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.