Since the start of the 2016 season, Ohio State and Penn State have solidified themselves as the class of the Big Ten, and as such, their last two matchups have been instant classics.
It started two years ago, when the second-ranked Buckeyes (who had averaged a hair under 50 points through six games) descended upon Happy Valley and blew a 14-point fourth quarter lead before ultimately falling in a 24-21 upset.
A year later in Columbus, No. 6 Ohio State got its revenge via another improbable comeback, as it rallied from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat No. 2 Penn State 39-38. Quarterback J.T. Barrett led the charge, morphing into a demigod and completing 13 consecutive passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns to cap arguably his best performance ever.
This Saturday, the Buckeyes return to State College, Pennsylvania to renew the Big Ten's most playoff-impact worthy matchup of the last three years.
The stage is certainly set for another thrilling game. Penn State students have been camped outside the stadium since Tuesday in hopes of getting as close to the field as possible. ESPN's College Gameday will be in town to put the matchup under a bigger microscope. And of course, under the lights in Beaver Stadium, the university has called for its famous "White Out," meaning Ohio State will operate in one of college football's most hostile environments Saturday night.
Beaver Stadium. September 29. The Penn State White Out.
— Penn State Athletics (@GoPSUsports) April 17, 2018
The outcome of Saturday's contest will have huge implications for the rest of the season. The winner puts themselves in the driver's seat to win the Big Ten East Division and head to Indianapolis for the conference championship game. The loser's league title hopes will take a huge hit, as will their margin of error for the remainder of the season.
And while the stakes are high, both teams seem primed to live up to the hype.
The Buckeyes enter the weekend armed with the country's No. 2 scoring offense, averaging 54.5 points per game. The only team more prolific to date has been the Nittany Lions, who is averaging a nation's best 55.5 points per contest.
Ohio State has an edge that Penn State doesn't possess—Urban Meyer's squad has already faced a stiff test
on the road in a neutral-site matchup against TCU.
Of the Nittany Lions' first four opponents — Appalachian State, Pitt, Kent State and Illinois — only one team currently boasts a top 25 scoring offense. That would be the Mountaineers at sixth, who pushed Penn State to overtime during opening weekend. The other three opponents rank 84th or worse.
But the Nittany Lions have one of the best home-field advantages in the entire country to fall back on, and that advantage has given Ohio State fits over the years.
“That’s one of the tops in the country,” Meyer said of Penn State's environment, via Kyle Rowland of The Toledo Blade. “Very loud and the fans are very into it. You’ve got to be ready for that kind of environment.”
Whether the Buckeyes are ready or not, Penn State coach James Franklin believes his team can get the job done heading into the weekend showdown.
“We’ve got a tremendous challenge and we’re going to have to play well," Franklin said Wednesday. "But I like our team and I like our chances”.
Both Ohio State and Penn State are justifiably confident, but Vegas is projecting another nail biter as the Buckeyes are favored by just 3.5 points.
And if history really does repeat itself, we could be in store for another wild finish Saturday night.