It’s a strange thing to be confident for a game in Columbus. In fact, my body doesn’t know how to process the feeling and thus has led to an anxious week. I would not be shocked by a Penn State loss to the Buckeyes, however, I would also not be shocked by a blowout victory for the Nittany Lions either. This is a special team and the bye week came at the perfect time on the schedule. An absolute destruction of Michigan last week means they still haven’t used all of the new wrinkles yet. We’ll see what Urban cooked up during their bye week, but I think Penn State should be able to keep pace regardless.
Penn State 34, Ohio State 24
Last year at the start of the season, I predicted that Penn State would have a loss to Ohio State. Boy, was I wrong. So this year, I'm in a fix. Do I predict OSU to win, since I did that last year, which jinxed it so Penn State won? Or do I predict Penn State to win knowing that it could jinx the Nittany Lions... All voodoo and joking aside, Penn State's got this. Yes, it's the Nittany Lions' best, closest and most evenly matched opponent to date, with talent everywhere you look. But Penn State's got the top back in the country in Saquon Barkley and an offense that took down the number one unit in Michigan. The Nittany Lions will come out strong, scoring in the first half, and won't make mistakes on special teams or on the offensive line. Penn State will take advantage of a slightly shaky Ohio State kicking game again, and will block at least one field goal. It won't be a high scoring game, thanks to two strong defensive units, and the game lead will go back and forth, nearly inducing heart attacks for the Nittany Lion faithful, but Penn State will take the hard-fought win in the 'shoe.
Penn State 20, Ohio State 17
Last week I was supremely confident and my confidence was rewarded. While Urban Meyer is nearly perfect coming off a bye week, I assure you Penn State will be more than ready as well. The Nittany Lions proved they will be a formidable foe for any opponent against Michigan, now it's time to show the Buckeyes. Penn State heads into the horseshoe and walks out with a W.
Penn State 28, Ohio State 24
If anyone has followed my predictions throughout the season, you'll know that I started out supremely confident in Penn State, and began to have a more gloomy outlook as they struggled against Pitt and Iowa. As the team just kept winning against Indiana and Northwestern, I turned another corner, opting instead to enjoy this team, rather than always prognosticate bad things. My outlook against Michigan went from 1) they're going to lose after *only* putting up 31 points on Northwestern, to 2) they're going to win, because they've been hiding a lot of tricks up their sleeves, to 3) oh noes the Michigan defense is too good they're going to lose, and finally to 4) they got this - the defense is good and the offense is going to light the world on fire. Of course, 4) turned out to be the correct prediction. Similarly, I've gone back and forth on this game. After Penn State throttled Michigan, I was feeling confident about a win against the Buckeyes. Then the usual doubts began to creep in - it's at the Shoe, the Buckeyes are a more talented team (including better depth), Urban Meyer never loses after a bye week, the weather may not be that great. But unlike against Michigan, these doubts have yet to dissuade my thought that Penn State feels like a team of destiny right now.
The front seven of Ohio State is likely better than Michigan - though the top two defensive linemen in the conference are without a doubt Maurice Hurst and Rashan Gary - and the Buckeye secondary is not as good as the Wolverines'. That leads me to believe that the Nittany Lion offense is still going to get some points. On the other side of the ball, the Nittany Lion defense has yet to see an offense like Ohio State's, but I'm not exceptionally worried about the Buckeyes' passing attack. The Penn State secondary is lights out, so it feels like it will come down to the rush defense against J.T. Barrett, J.K. Dobbins, and Mike Weber - as much as it pains me to say, I think we'll see the Lions give up some points this weekend. Lastly, there are very few special teams units that I would trade for the Nittany Lions right now. Tyler Davis didn't attempt a field goal against Michigan, and I'm still worried he might have the yips - but it will have been three weeks since his last miss, so I'm hoping he's been able to exorcise his demons a bit. He was perfect on extra points last week, and Blake Gillikin continues to be a monster punter.
I don't foresee an exceptionally low-scoring game. Both offenses will get some points, but overall I think the Lions grade out better than the Buckeyes. Overcoming the Shoe and Urban Meyer will be a tough task, but for the first time in an incredibly long time, I think Penn State is the better team. A back-and-forth affair in the first half sees a tie at halftime, only for the Lions to pour it on in the third, pulling away for the win.
Penn State 38, Ohio State 24
Penn State has to be feeling confident after the beating it laid on Michigan, but going on the road against Ohio State is going to be a whole different animal. The Buckeyes have flown under the radar since their disappointing defeat to Oklahoma, but that hasn't stopped J.T. Barrett from playing some of the best football of his career with 21 touchdowns and just one interception so far. On top of that, freshman J.K. Dobbins is as talented as any tailback in the conference. The combination of Dobbins and Barrett forms the most dynamic rushing attack that the Lions have faced this season.
Defensively, Ohio State has the weapons up front to force Trace McSorley into some mistakes with Nick Bosa and Tyquan Lewis leading the pass rush. It's not clear if any team in the nation can slow down Saquon Barkley while also keeping McSorley from gobbling up yards on the ground, but the Buckeyes have the tools they need. Penn State will score a little bit thanks to its bevy of playmakers, but Ohio State will force some turnovers and control the ball for most of the game.
Ohio State 28, Penn State 20
As I said to be my fellow writers this week, I’m a huge pessimist when it comes to my sports fandoms. Prior to Penn State’s matchup with Michigan, I told those close to me that Penn State would lose 35-17, mainly taking into account the atmosphere at the Shoe, as well as the athletic Buckeye defensive line. After the dominant win over Michigan, I briefly wavered on my prediction, but at this point, I’m comfortable sticking with the bad guys. The Buckeyes’ offense has been extremely explosive over the last few weeks (yes, I am aware of the rankings of those teams on defense), and that scares me enough to think that Barrett, Dobbins, Campbell (who returns from injury), and the rest of the offense to score enough. Defensively, the athletic ability of LJ Senior’s group may be able to get into the backfield and disrupt Barkley and McSorley.
With all that said...
Ohio State 31, Penn State 28
The big question heading into this game is how much has Ohio State improved since its Oklahoma blunder? Is the offense for real? Will Ohio State's defensive back seven play disciplined? Because if the Buckeyes haven't made strides, they're going to be in big trouble.
Everybody knows how difficult it will be to go into the Horseshoe and knock off an Urban Meyer led Ohio State team that's coming off a bye. But honestly, I think Penn State is just flat out the better team. Better offense, stronger special teams, and a defense that may not be at Ohio State's level, but it's not far off. Expect a big day (as always) from Saquon Barkley, and look for Mike Gesicki to find some soft spots beyond the linebackers.
Penn State 30, Ohio State 17
My preseason record prediction of 11-1 had the lone loss being to the Buckeyes. Up until last Saturday, that prediction of mine would have remained unchanged. However, after seeing the offensive line turn the corner against a stout Michigan defense last weekend, along with an offense that started to look like the PSU offense we saw light it up during the latter half of the 2016 season, coupled with a defense that continues to get a criminally negligent lack of recognition from the national media, I'm going to change my pick. Yes, OSU has had two weeks to prepare for Penn State. Yes, they're playing the 'revenge' card. Yes, they've got an offense clicking on all cylinders and a ferocious defensive line. You know what, though? PSU can play the 'disrespect' card (i.e. almost everybody writing off last year's win as a 'fluke'), they also have an offense starting to click on all cylinders, and they sport the nation's top scoring defense, allowing 9.6 points a game. I'm hopeful the PSU defense can force a critical turnover or two and create a short field for the offense to work with, and Joe Moorhead will find more creative ways to get Saquon Barkley the ball in space, which will cause him to get a few more Heisman moments.
Penn State 28, Ohio State 24
This series has mostly sucked horribly for close to 20 years, and it's been Penn State’s fault. Oh sure, the whiteouts are cool. But at Ohio Stadium, PSU's often staggered in like a drunk with one boot off. "We're here for the" - that's all they can slur before they take a punch to the face, followed by a steel chair to the back of the head - and the fight's over in 10 minutes. They might lose this fight Saturday, too. But at least Penn State has both boots on this year, and can throw a few punches.
Reality keeps pace with the hype, and we're treated to a great game this weekend between two really good squads.
Penn State 31, Ohio State 27
I’ll give you Iowa Chris, but Penn State did not struggle with Pitt. That game was over in the first five minutes. That aside, let’s marvel at something here. Who’s the touchdown underdog in this game despite an unblemished record? Penn State. Who’s the team that has yet to score under 20 points this season despite the opposition? Penn State. Who’s the team allowing less than 10 points a game despite the competition, with a top 10 defensive S&P+ rank adjusted for opponents? Penn State. Yet, who’s the team that has to prove they’re any good? Penn State.
Yet, the only team who has actually proven, without the shadow of a doubt, that they crumble under any and all adversity is Ohio State. Off the top of my head, the only time the Buckeyes have failed to score over 20 points against a team universally viewed as bad was last season against Michigan State (they scored exactly 20 against Northern Illinois in 2015). Yet, everyone is acting like Urban Meyer pouring it on against the worst part of his schedule is some revelation, a feat that has never been accomplished in Columbus, even though this is exactly what he’s done in his five and a half years as the Buckeye coach.
Enough. Ohio State is the team that has to prove they’re any good. Ohio State is the team that crumbles whenever anyone remotely close to decent shows up. Ohio State is the team that needs to have a good showing against a good defense before their offense is anointed as God’s (or whatever deity you believe in, or lack thereof) gift to earth. They may do that, after all, but won't be against Penn State.
Penn State 56, Ohio State 17
This is one of the, if not the, biggest games in college football of the season so far, with two legitimate top ten teams squaring off for what looks to be the Big Ten East crown. With the college football playoff rankings coming out immediately after this game, this matchup should be in the forefront of the eyes of the committee - so there's big implications on the line.
There's also the revenge factor.
Much has been made this week about how the Buckeyes want revenge for last year's loss at the hands of Grant Haley and Marcus Allen's combined block six, but don't discount that same revenge in the minds of the Penn State squad - come playoff time, they were on the outside looking in at a team they beat; a team that ended up not scoring a point in the playoff game that the Nittany Lions thought should be theirs.
Either way, emotion will likely not play much of a factor - both teams are simply that good and talented that it should be left out on the field.
Player on the spot: the offensive line. They surpassed most reasonable expectations last week against two of the best defensive linemen in the NCAA, but OSU's line, though arguably not as top heavy, is deeper. Are the big guys up to the challenge? If they act like a sieve, it could be a long night for the Nittany Lions.
Don't be surprised if: Penn State's streak of not allowing a point in the first quarter is broken, and the Buckeyes get on the board in one of their first two possessions.
Prediction: If this was at a neutral site or in Beaver Stadium, it would likely go the way of last week's Michigan game, with the Nittany Lions exerting dominance early and not looking back. But this game is in the Horseshoe, and the Buckeyes are coming off a BYE, much like Penn State was last year. This should be a close, hard-fought game, with a score higher than most expect - but the home squad has too much going for it, and despite Penn State being the ultimate better team overall, I fear they will fall this week before winning out.
Penn State 28, Ohio State 31
At this time last week, I felt fairly certain Ohio State would be handing Penn State its first loss of the season. With their offense clicking and a dominant front seven, it just seemed too much for the Nittany Lions to overcome when playing on the road against a team coming off a bye. But then the Michigan game happened, and my faith was restored after seeing the offensive line come together to have their best performance of the year against a tough Michigan defense. Sure, this game could easily go either way, but I believe the Nittany Lions have what it takes to come out as the victors on Saturday.
We learned last season not to doubt this team. As the nation’s second-youngest, they came out of nowhere to win the Big Ten, all while battling a string of injuries at linebacker and the offensive line. They still have that “it” factor, and now have the motivation of a Playoff snub and the bitter taste of a Rose Bowl letdown that seems to propel them to work towards perfection, doing everything they can to take matters in their own hands and leave no doubt to others.
The offensive line will need to find a way to replicate their success from last week without the ability to communicate in a hostile environment. Joe Moorehead will need to call an outstanding game to take advantage of the Buckeyes pursuit to the ball and their focus on stopping Barkley. Trace McSorley will need to stay on point throughout the game, and make smart decisions to move the ball on a tough defense. And Penn State’s defense will need to again play at a high level against by far the best batch of playmakers they will face in the regular season. It won’t be easy, but it can be done.
Barkley has himself a day, eclipsing the 100-yard mark in rushing and receiving, and a late touchdown run to put the Nittany Lions ahead and all but cement his Heisman status. Trace McSorley adds a score with his legs and a touchdown toss to Mike Gesicki, while DaeSean Hamilton again has several key third down receptions to keep the chains moving. On defense, Amani Oruwariye comes up with a huge interception while the defensive line puts in a fantastic group effort to combine for five sacks as they wear down the Buckeyes offensive line in the second half.
Penn State 31, Ohio State 24