Friday, October 26, 2012

GAME PREVIEW: 'INELIGIBOWL' STILL HAS A WHOLE LOT AT STAKE

Carlos Hyde
TBT/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Although the game has been labeled by many as the "Ineligibowl" — being that each team is prohibited from participating in post-season play this year — it doesn't mean there isn't a whole lot at stake for both Ohio State (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) and Penn State (5-2, 3-0) this Saturday evening at Beaver Stadium.

Each team is currently unbeaten in Big Ten play, and even though neither are allowed to participate in the conference title game at season's end, both squads can still scoop up the hardware as the Leaders Division champions.

Oh, and it's a battle between two of the most tradition-rich programs in all of college football. Simply said, this game always matters.

"This is a big game," Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien said. "For me to sit up here and say it's not a big game, that's crazy. This is Ohio State, a great tradition, great players, great head coach, great coaching staff.

"As far as playing football goes, this is a great college football game in what will be a great college football atmosphere against a team that has the same type of tradition and history as Penn State. So to me that's what college football is all about, the game itself."

After being given a four-year post-season ban by the NCAA, and dropping their first two games of the season to Ohio and Virginia, many thought Penn State would be relegated to being an opponent's bye week.

However, the Nittany Lions have won five straight games since, beating teams by a 20-points per game margin. The Penn State turnaround has shocked many ... but not OSU head coach Urban Meyer.

"I'm going to make this clear to our team. I have great admiration for Penn State, always have being from this area and what kind of school that is, just the academics and everything, just a strong, strong school," Meyer said. "Make no mistake about it, Penn State was undefeated at this time last year. As a result, when you're undefeated, you've got very, very good football players. I mean, very good. They beat us at our home stadium last year. 

"This is still Penn State ... I made that clear to our team, they're on point right now, and there's a bunch of NFL guys (on Penn State). Coach Coop, my personnel director, free personnel director, gave me the list. It's going to be a good draft day for the Penn State Nittany Lions."

Even though Penn State's offense has come alive recently behind the strong arm of senior quarterback Matt McGloin (1,788 yards passing, 14 TDs), it's senior linebacker Mike Mauti who has been the driving force behind the Nittany Lions resurgence.

The vocal leader Mauti has averaged nearly 10 tackles a game, along with 2.5 sacks this season, and will be public enemy No. 1 for the Buckeyes' offense.

Meyer knows the star linebacker very well.

"Recruited him, great kid," Meyer said. "His dad and brothers are Nittany Lions. I recruited him hard at Florida. Loved him as a high school athlete. For an ESPN thing, I went up and talked to him. He's a tough guy. He's a leader. Love his family. He's playing his tail off after his knee injury.

"He's that kind of personality."

Of course, all eyes in Happy Valley will be on Ohio State's electrifying quarterback Braxton Miller. The sophomore star had to leave the Buckeyes' win against Purdue last week after being thrown hard to the turf, suffering what is said to be a very sore neck.

It's still unknown whether Miller will be at full strength this Saturday, but Coach O'Brien and the Nittany Lions are expecting him to be at the top of his game.

"In many ways your defensive ends, defensive tackles, they have to be very disciplined in how they rush (Miller)," O'Brien said. "Whether it's a four-man rush or five-man rush or twist or whatever it is, they have to be very, very disciplined in how they rush the passer. And if they can do that, they have a chance.  

"But, again, at the end of the day this guy's going to make plays. And we're not going to shut this guy down totally. This is an excellent football player, and we just have to make sure that we show up and do the best we can on Saturday night."

Bottom Line

Miller's health is extremely crucial to Ohio State's success moving forward. Sure, backup Kenny Guiton came in relief of the injured Miller last week and rallied the team to an improbable overtime victory, but life is a whole lot different being the starter as opposed to being the closer.

Guiton has shown he can be reliable in relief, but nobody in the country can fully replace a Braxton Miller. If he is 100-percent, the Buckeyes will prevail. If he isn't, this game could get really interesting.

Knowing Miller's competitiveness and desire, I'll choose the former.

Prediction: OSU 34-21