A trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game is on the line in Columbus this Saturday.
With Michigan holding two conference losses, unbeaten and second-ranked Ohio State can clinch the East Division with a win over No. 8 Penn State. On the flip side, the Nittany Lions would essentially stamp their ticket to the conference title game by beating the Buckeyes for the first time in Ohio Stadium since Luke Fickell was head coach.
If James Franklin's squad pulls the upset on Saturday, only Rutgers would stand in their way of clinching on the final day of the regular season. So for all intents and purposes, Saturday's matchup is a play-in game for the Big Ten title.
The Buckeyes come into the contest as huge favorites. Despite just six spots separating the two teams in the latest College Football Playoff ranking, Ohio State is favored by an enormous 18.5 points.
That line is a reflection of the Buckeyes' dominance this season. They've easily covered all but two spreads through 10 games this year, with FAU and Rutgers making things closer than it should've been in garbage time against backups.
The Nittany Lions got off to an equally impressive start, beating their first four opponents by an incredible average of 42.5 points, but they cooled off once conference play kicked in. Over its last five games, Penn State's margin of victory dipped to seven points a game, and that of course includes the 31-26 upset loss on the road at Minnesota.
But the Nittany Lions know they still control their own destiny in the Big Ten and have a great resume for the playoff committee to consider if it wins out.
“Games like Ohio State-Penn State, this is where you can make a name for yourself,” Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons said this week. “We’re going to go out there and ball. Maybe just a little bit harder.”
Franklin's squad knows it can make a big statement this weekend. Day acknowledged the same opportunity this week.
“I think our team knows what’s at stake, we have talked about that,” Day said. "But now it’s time to just focus on Penn State. This is a talent-equated game. We all know we have been in some games that we have had more talent than some of the other teams we have played. This is a team that talent equates."
Past results agree with that sentiment as four of the last five matchups between these teams have been absolute classics.
In 2014, the Nittany Lions took a Buckeye team that eventually won a national championship to double overtime before falling 31-24. Two years later, Penn State got revenge by scoring 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter in a 24-21 upset win. And of course, Ohio State erased deficits of 18 and 12 points in back-to-back games against the Nittany Lions from 2017-18.
“If you go back all the way to 2014, they won the national championship, our first year, took them to double overtime if I remember correctly,” Franklin said this week. “We've had a lot of competition with these guys. We've played them probably as well as anybody over that period of time. Obviously not good enough. We've got to take the next step.”