October 26, 2012

What to watch for: Ohio State vs. Penn State

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Ohio State football team will take its undefeated record into State College, Pa. tomorrow for a Big Ten battle against 5-2 Penn State. Despite both teams facing a bowl ban this season, first place in the conference's Leaders Division will be on the line in less than 24 hours when the Buckeyes square off with the Nittany Lions.

With the showdown suddenly emerging as one of the unlikely marquee games of the Big Ten season, here's a look at the top storylines heading into tomorrow's matchup.

Plenty to play for

Before the season started, not many could have imagined that there would be much- if anything- on the line when the Buckeyes squared off with the Nittany Lions, but thanks to both teams being allowed to compete for a divisional title this season, that's not the case. With both teams facing sanctions stemming from previous coaching staffs, neither is allowed to compete for the actual Big Ten championship, but strong starts by each team will put first place for the Leaders Division on the line, something that few could have predicted before the season started.

The winner of the game will likely be favored to hold onto the Leaders Division crown, which should make for an awkward second annual Big Ten championship game this December.

Miller ready?

When Braxton Miller had to be carted to an ambulance in the middle of the Buckeyes' win over Purdue, first-year Ohio State coach Urban Meyer admitted that he saw his season flash before his eyes. Fortunately for Meyer and the Buckeyes, no true injuries are believed to have been suffered by Miller, and his nasty fall at the end of the third quarter last Saturday likely just resulted in a case of whiplash.

Meyer said that Miller will be good to go against the Nittany Lions tomorrow, but that hasn't stopped him from preparing a separate game plan just in case Kenny Guiton needs to to take the reins of the Ohio State offense. Given that Miller has been deemed by many as one of the best players in the country, his presence and health could make or break Saturday's game for both teams.

Whited out

The Buckeyes have already escaped one hostile atmosphere with a win at Michigan State this season, but even with a trip to Madison looming next month, this Saturday could be the toughest environment that Ohio State faces all year. The Penn State crowd is planning its annual white out for this Saturday's game, and a 5:30 p.m. kickoff should give Nittanyville plenty of time to fuel up for what should be the rowdiest fans that the Buckeyes play in front of all season.

Matching the moxie

When Penn State players were allowed to transfer from the program after the program's sanctions from the Jerry Sandusky scandal were handed down last Summer, many joked that Nittany Lion fans should be hoping that quarterback Matt McGloin would take his talents elsewhere.

Those jokes don't seem so funny now.

The senior quarterback is making the most of coach Bill O'Brien's prostyle system, throwing for 1,788 yards and 14 touchdowns in Penn State's first seven games. McGloin could very well be the most talented quarterback that the Buckeyes face all season, which is a credit to what O'Brien's been able to accomplish in his short time with the program.

Tangling in the trenches

After a month's worth of quality efforts, the Ohio State offensive line came back to Earth a little bit last Saturday, allowing two sacks to Purdue and not having a single player grade out as a 'champion' by the OSU coaching staff.

The Buckeyes' line will look to get back on track this Saturday, but it won't be easy against a talented Penn State defensive line, which is anchored by the reigning Big Ten defensive player of the week in Jordan Hill. How the Buckeyes handle Hill- as well as talented linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges should play a crucial role in deciding tomorrow's game and first place in the Big Ten's Leaders division.


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