Before the season we all circled this game as the one that would make or break the season. Sure, many of us figured we would be 9-0 and competing for a national championship, but those dreams went out the window that soggy night in September. A chance at back-to-back Big Ten championships likely fluttered away as well, but that doesn't mean there's nothing to play for today.
There's a chance at a BCS at-large bid at stake, but there's more than that. This is the game that will define this team. All season long this team has been fighting the label of the soft schedule. After losing to Iowa, Penn State dropped out of the top ten. Though other teams in the top ten have lost, Penn State has not moved up because voters don't want to believe. Penn State has even been passed by teams like Oregon while they hang around just outside the top ten. A win today may or may not correct that. Many voters will surely say all Penn State did was beat a three-loss Ohio State team that lost to Purdue and give them no respect anyway. But if Penn State loses, there will be no shortage of critics who say the 2009 Nittany Lions were fools gold from the beginning. The legacy of this team is at stake.
And beyond that, there is the legacy of Daryll Clark. Though he's been tremendous in his two years as a starter, there are those who doubt his conviction. There are those who doubt he is capable of winning "the big game". Remember last year how we said each week was the new "biggest test" for Penn State. Going into Madison was supposed to be Penn State's biggest test. Then beating Michigan was supposed to be Penn State's biggest test. Then winning in Columbus was supposed to be their biggest test. And week after week Penn State passed the test with Daryll Clark at the helm, but each week the detractors conveniently forgot to give Clark and Penn State credit for passing the test.
Though Ohio State fans refuse to admit it, they are our rival. I've seen a level of vitrol from the Ohio State fanbase unlike any I've seen from them all year. If they consider us nothing more than the equivalent of playing Wisconsin, you could have fooled me. They insult our coach. They insult our fans. They insult our defense. And they insult our quarterback. They hate us, and it shows. Though they refuse to acknowledge it, this is a rivalry game. Both teams hate each other, and the stakes are high.
Of all the games on the schedule, this is the game I want the most. Regardless of what happens in the BCS picture, beating Michigan and Ohio State in back-to-back years is a success in my book. I think this team can get it done.
Go get 'em, boys. Take no prisoners.
Go State. Beat the Buckeyes.