Let’s start off by making one thing clear- Ohio State’s true rival is Michigan, and as an Ohio resident I am well-aware that this is something that will never, ever, ever, ever, ever change. Members of both fanbases live for that game each late November. It is one of the absolute best rivalries in all of sports, and appointment viewing for college football fans throughout the nation.
With that being said, Penn State and Ohio State have developed something truly special since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten a quarter-century ago. Since 1993, the series has given us many classic moments that live on in the college football lexicon.
There have been match-ups between highly ranked teams that had huge implications on the national title race. There have been stunning upsets. There have been games that determined the Big Ten championship. There have been games where one outmatched nearly knocked off the other through sheer will alone. There have been plays that live on in each program’s lore. Regardless of the year, nearly every time the teams have met its been a hard-fought battle, oftentimes coming down to the final moments.
Like any rivalry series, it’s one where you can throw the records out the window.
Part of this has to do with Penn State not having a true rival. Without that one marquee match-up to end each season, the Buckeyes are the team that is circled on the calendar each year. Even with James Franklin’s “win each week” mantra, where the complete focus is one whichever opponent is next on the schedule, you have to believe the team and its fans always keep one eye out for the Buckeyes.
This is a testament to Ohio State. Since winning the 2002 national title early in the Jim Tressel era, the Buckeyes have been the unquestioned top dog of the Big Ten. Playing against one of the nation’s elite programs is a big game for any time, but Penn State has been able to bring the juice to make it must-see viewing for most years. Even in down years, the game had a different feel, and the team had a different look than games against the Purdues and Northwesterns on the schedule.
The 2017 version is perhaps the most highly-anticipated game of the series since Penn State joined the Big Ten, capturing the attention of college football fans throughout the nation. But even without the potential division championship and playoff hopes on the line, it would remain something special- a hardly fought match-up between two storied programs with proud fanbases, who lay it all on the line for 60 minutes each year.