Game of the Week: Penn State at Ohio State

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By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

TV: ABC, 8:00 PM ET

Last Week: Penn State beat Michigan, Ohio State defeated Michigan State

            So last week I did write a game of the week column for this website, but luckily it wasn’t published. I say luckily because the subject of that column was the Ohio State-Michigan State, and I picked Michigan State to win by a small margin. I was originally planning to write about the Texas-Oklahoma State game because I did not want to write about the same team two weeks in a row. However, since the column never was published, it would appear that I’d be writing about Texas two weeks in a row, and sometimes appearances mean more than realities. So for the fact that my OSU-MSU column was (fortunately) not published and the fact that if I wrote about Texas it would appear that I was writing about the same team two weeks in a row, I decided to write about the Ohio State – Penn State game. Not to mention, it’s a pretty big and possibly season defining game with national championship and Big 10 championship implications.

            The Big 10 and national championship implications are really the only important factors in the magnitude of this game. This isn’t like other weeks, where a win for team x implies such and such about their program’s progress or loss for team y implies such and such about that program. We’re too deep in the season for that abstract stuff to really matter (at least in most cases). All we care about now is about championship contenders, and because of that, I will refer to BCS rankings rather than AP or another poll (for the most part) from now on.

            Both Ohio State and Penn State were included in the top 10 of the initial BCS standings, with Penn State at # 3 and Ohio State at # 9. So, we have our first “legitimate” BCS top 10 match up on our hands this week. As for how they got there, both teams have their own story.

            Ohio State began the season with lofty expectations and the possibilities of reaching their 3rd straight national title game. They were the clear favorite to win the Big 10 and had a strong chance of running the table. Although analysts and fans admitted that Ohio State could lose a conference game, they typically believed only one true hurdle stood in the Buckeye’s way: USC. We all know now that that hurdle turned into a massacre and Ohio State plummeted in the polls worst than Wall Street has in the past two months. But, unlike the stock market, Ohio State has risen from the ashes with the emergence of the heralded Terrelle Pryor at quarter back and the return of running back and team leader Beanie Wells to full health. Currently, the Buckeyes sit atop the Big 10 and like many people expected, undefeated in conference play. Even with they loss, they have outside shot to get the national championship game if some things they can’t control go their way.

            In that last paragraph, I neglected to mention that Ohio State is not the only team at the top of the Big 10. The other team undefeated in conference play is – you guessed it- the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State has a completely different story than Ohio State. Although once a prominent and proud football program, the Nittany Lions fell into obscurity in recent years with a few exceptional or noteworthy seasons such as when Michael Robinson played quarterback for them a few years ago. They began the season unranked or at a low position in the polls but have worked their way up to the top of the rankings by simply winning every game they have played. Granted, the schedule appears to have been weak so far, but they did dominate Oregon State, who beat USC, who destroyed Ohio State, if that means anything (which it shouldn’t, just interesting to note). No matter the weakness of the schedule, however, Penn State has done all it has been capable of by winning its game and controls its own destiny for the rest of the season.

            But how did Penn State win their games? They simply dominated on the offensive side of the ball. The Nittany Lions have scored at least twenty points every game and lead the Big 10 in scoring offense at 45.4 points per game. They are led by quarterback Daryll Clark who has thrown 11 touchdowns with only 2 interceptions and ranks 2nd in the Big 10 in passing efficiency. They have a pretty good running back in Evan Royster, who has 10 rushing touchdowns and leads the Big 10 in yards per carry and two senior receivers in Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood, who rank among the leading receivers in the conference.

            Ohio State does not have as statistically as good of an offense as Penn State does, but you certainly have heard of their players. In fact, I’m tired of talking about the attributes of Beanie Wells and Terrelle Pryor because fans already know the importance of those two players to the Buckeyes. I will focus on defense instead.

Led by two potential first round draft picks in linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, the Ohio State defense can strike fear in most opponents.  Consider this: they held former national leading rusher, Javon Ringer, to 67 yards on 16 attempts and no touchdowns. They also rank 2nd in the conference in pass defense 3rd in scoring defense 2nd in total defense and 1st in rush defense.

          But Penn State’s defense isn’t too shabby either. In fact, they somehow managed to rank ahead of Ohio State in all of those categories except for rushing defense (they are 2nd in the Big 10).

          Also interesting to note, Penn State ranks 1st in 3rd down conversion and 1st in opponent 3rd down conversion. Such intangibles could be crucial. Still other intangible might play a larger role. For instance, the game is at Ohio State, and Penn State has not won their since the 1970s.

 

Prediction: This is a really difficult game for me to predict, but I will stay conservative and go with the Buckeyes, 38-35. I feel like owe it to them since I picked them to lose last week, but more legitimately, Penn State hasn’t proven anything to me yet. Yes, their statistics are amazing and their coach is hall of famer, but they haven’t beaten a quality opponent yet. Now, Ohio State hasn’t really beaten anyone noteworthy either, but they have dominated the Big 10 the past couple of years even if they’ve choked in prominent national games. That, plus the fact that the game is at Ohio State has convinced me to pick the Buckeyes.

 

Look Back Last Week: Nothing to say, I was completely wrong. Michigan State is pretty much a fraud.

 

Look Back Two Weeks: The Red River Shootout turned out to be quite the shootout. Even though Texas won by 10 points, it was close throughout; Texas just made a few more big plays, and those plays were the difference. As for Oklahoma, they still are in good shape. They fell about 3 spots in the polls and still have a change for the Big 12 title and a remote hope for the national championship game. Texas controls its own destiny for a BCS title, but at least on paper, they have a difficult road ahead, starting this week with Missouri. PS: Don’t be surprised if Texas appears in this column again next week, depending on what happens on Saturday.

 

By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

Game of the Week: Ohio State @ USC

By Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

 

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TV:  ABC, 8:00 PM ET

Last Week: Ohio State beat Ohio; USC had a bye.  USC defeated Virginia week  1.

It’s finally here. The most anticipated nonconference matchup of the season has arrived. In case you didn’t know (or didn’t read the title), I’m talking about the top 10 matchup between the Buckeyes of Ohio State and the Trojans of USC.

Instead of being a rebel and choosing an avant-garde game of the week, say Kansas at South Florida or UCLA at BYU or any game from a myriad of other intriguing matchups, I have sided with the status quo and will blog about the game everybody else is blogging about.  If you wanted originality, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Basically, here’s the premise.  Ohio State, two time defending national runner-up and epitome of everything that’s wrong with the BCS system, is, once again, in the national championship picture. If they are in the national championship picture at the end of the season, some of the poll voters (depending on the details of the regular season, of course) might boycott Ohio State and promote another contender, which could have an important effect on the BCS poll, which directly affects who plays in the national championship. 

On the other hand, USC sits atop both major polls right now and is currently the “darling” of college football, so-to-speak.  As far as football goes, USC’s strength is their defense.  In their game against Virginia, they gave up one touchdown. Of course, their offense put up 52 points, so I guess I should say they are extremely balanced.  QB Mark Sanchez, a question mark going into the season, passed for 338 yards and three touchdowns in the game versus Virginia. It is necessary to note that one game does not make a season, but many pundits believe that he will be a huge asset and nowhere near a liability.  He does have a running game to help him out, and with playmakers like Joe McKnight and CJ Gable in the backfield, his help is in full supply.

Moving back to Ohio State, they are a traditional Big-10 type team.  By that, I mean the pound the ball down your throat and play extremely defense -oriented football.  They can afford to do that with a playmaker like James Laurinaitis at linebacker.  Still, they have fairly good offensive players as well. The foremost among them is a running back named Chris “Beanie” Wells.   Because of a toe injury, no one knows whether or not he will play or if he does play, how long will he be able to endure the physicality of the game, but whatever his status is, his situation has stolen a lot of the hype for the actual game itself, a game which happens to have critical national implications.

One more interesting tidbit about the game involves Ohio States quarterbacks Todd Boeckman and Terrelle Pryor.  Boeckman is the experienced starter and top-notch quarterback, but he has not performed well in big games, like last year’s national championship game, for instance.  Pryor is the freshmen sensation, top recruit in the nation, dual threat quarterback who everybody (media, fans, and some players) are hyping up as the be-all, end-all and the “chosen by God” quarterback who can’t possibly lose or make any freshmen mistakes.  And even if he does make mistakes, (which won’t happen), his pure talent will cancel them out.  Now, personally, I’m not buying that much hype, but I’m buying a little, and I think he is very talented. Whether he should play or Boeckman should play- I think the course of the game should determine that.

Prediction: Before I give my prediction, I want for all readers to pray that this game will live up to the hype as far as excitement goes, and it won’t be a blowout by either team. Now, personally, I believe USC will win 35-28.  First of all, USC has home field advantage.  Secondly, I think they are a better team. Here’s what will happen after the game: Ohio State will win all of their remaining games; USC will somehow lose to weaker Pac 10 opponents. The two -loss winner of the SEC will dominate Ohio State in the championship game.  Such is the consequence of the BCS. (Note: that wasn’t really a real prediction about the rest of the season, more of an observation.)

Look Back: Last week, the ECU-West Virginia game was the game of the week.  My prediction was horribly wrong, as  ECU destroyed West Virginia. ECU has created a national storyline; if they run the table in Conference USA, which is harder than it probably sound, they should at least play for a BCS Bowl, and depending on the other elite teams, they could play for the national championship. That’s something to keep an eye on.  As for West Virginia, I hope they can regroup and get back into contention for a BCS bowl birth.  I’m not a fan of West Virginia, but I am a big Pat White fan, and I hope he can get back on track.

 

By Brennan Marks

SZ Contributing Writer