Week 9 primer: Doesn't get better than Penn State at Ohio State

Week 9 primer: Doesn't get better than Penn State at Ohio State

Finally, the most-anticipated game on the Big Ten schedule has arrived: No. 2 Penn State at No. 6 Ohio State! This shapes up as a de facto Big Ten East title game with league title and College Football Playoff implications. Penn State can absorb a loss and still have playoff hopes. But the Buckeyes already have a defeat and can’t afford a second.

[ MORE: Week 8 video | Power Rankings | AP & Coaches polls | Best of Week 8 ]

You know the Buckeyes have the visit from PSU circled in red, wanting to pay back the Nittany Lions for last season. Penn State was the only team to beat Ohio State in the 2016 regular season, shocking the No. 2 Buckeyes 24-21 after Grant Haley ran back a blocked field goal 60 yards for the winning TD late in the fourth quarter. Before that, OSU had won four in a row vs. PSU. Penn State last won in Columbus in 2011, taking a 20-14 decision. The Nittany Lions lost 63-14 and 38-10 in their last two visits to the Horseshoe.

Here is a look at the Best of Week 9.

Best game: Penn State at Ohio State. This matchup is this year’s “game of the century” in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions are coming off a monster 42-13 win vs. Michigan that showed the full force and fury of the team. The Buckeyes were off last week after ripping off five wins in a row in impressive fashion after that home loss to Oklahoma. Last year, the Nittany Lions were the only team to beat Ohio State in the regular season. Ohio State still notched a playoff bid despite that loss, while Penn State went on to win the Big Ten. Before that 2016 loss, OSU had won four in a row vs. PSU.

Best head coach matchup: Penn State’s James Franklin vs. Ohio State’s Urban Meyer. It has to be. These are arguably the two best coaches in the Big Ten. Meyer is 67-7 in Columbus and 43-2 in the Big Ten with a national title and Big Ten championship on his resume with the Buckeyes. Franklin is 18-3 overall and 12-1 in the Big Ten since 2016 with a Big Ten championship.

Best coordinator clash: Has to be Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead vs. Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. Moorhead is one of the hottest coordinators in the nation. Since arriving in State College before the 2016 season, Moorhead has created one of the most dynamic attacks in the nation. The Nittany Lions are No. 2 in the Big Ten in scoring (40.0 ppg) and No. 2 in total offense (463.3 ypg) this season. Schiano’s defense is No. 3 in scoring (15.4 ppg) and No. 5 overall (305.3 ypg) in the league in 2017. Like Moorhead, Schiano looks headed for a head coach job.

Best QB battle: Penn State’s Trace McSorley vs. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett. This should be epic. McSorley is coming off a sensational game vs. Michigan, throwing for 282 yards and a TD and running for 76 yards and three scores. He leads the Big Ten with 1,879 yards passing with 14 TDs and just five picks, hitting 66.8 percent of his passes. Since that loss to Oklahoma, when Barrett completed 19-of-35 passes for 183 yards with no TDs and a pick and ran 18 times for 66 yards, the senior has hit 99-of-137 passes (72 percent) for 1,351 yards with 18 touchdowns and no interceptions. Barrett also has run 39 times for 232 yards and four scores, averaging 5.9 yards per tote.

Best matchup: Penn State defense vs. Ohio State offense. Yes, the opposite matchup in the trenches will be must-see material, but it will be as intriguing to watch the underrated Nittany Lion defense battle the surging Buckeye offense. The Penn State defense doesn’t get enough credit, as it is No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring (9.6 ppg) and No. 4 overall (282.9 ypg). Ohio State is No. 1 in the league in scoring (47.3 ppg) and No. 1 in total offense (577.3 ypg), scoring 50 or more points in each of the last four games.

Best chance for an upset: Northwestern vs. Michigan State. The Wildcats got back on track last week with an OT win vs. Iowa. This team plays good defense and can run the ball. The Spartans—winners of four in a row–have been one of the feel-good stories of the 2017 season, racing to a 6-1 start overall and 4-0 Big Ten mark after enduring a 3-9 record last year. MSU plays tough D but can be inconsistent on offense.

Player on the spot: Iowa RB Akrum Wadley. If the Hawkeyes want to protect their home turf and keep their slim West Division title hopes alive, they need to run the ball. Iowa had just 89 yards rushing in a loss at Northwestern last week. The Hawkeyes had 82 yards rushing vs. Penn State and just 19 vs. Michigan State. Iowa has to get Wadley on track with Minnesota coming to Kinnick Stadium.

More Week 9 notes:

  • We have a trophy game, with Minnesota playing at Iowa in the battle for Floyd of Rosedale. The Hawkeyes have won four of the last five bronze pigs, but freshly minted Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck—a total opposite personality from Iowa boss Kirk Ferentz–is a new dynamic in the series.
  • Michigan State plays at Northwestern. The Wildcats have won two of the last three, including 54-40 last year in East Lansing. But the Spartans have won the last five in Evanston. NU’s last win at home vs. MSU? It came in 2001.
  • Wisconsin brings a 7-0 mark to Illinois, which has lost five in a row. The Badgers have won seven in a row vs. the Fighting Illini and 11 of 12. Wisconsin’s lost loss in the span was in 2007 in Champaign.
  • Nebraska is 3-1 vs. Purdue since joining the Big Ten. But the Cornhuskers suffered one of their most humiliating losses ever the last time in West Lafayette, losing 55-45 in 2015. The Huskers were off last week coming off two crushing home losses to Wisconsin (38-17) and Ohio State (56-14). The Boilermakers absorbed a gut-punch last week by losing at Rutgers, 14-12. The offense is MIA.
  • Indiana plays at Maryland, as each team is coming off a loss. IU is 2-1 vs. the Terrapins since Maryland joined the Big Ten, winning the last two. The Terps have lost three in a row since beginning league play with a win at Minnesota. The Hoosiers have dropped two in a row.
  • Rutgers brings a two-game Big Ten winning streak (at Illinois; Purdue) to Michigan, which is coming off a tough 42-13 loss at Penn State. Each team is 2-2 in the Big Ten. The Wolverines are 2-1 vs. the Scarlet Knights since RU joined the Big Ten, wining the last two. Last season, Michigan won 78-0.

***

WEEK 9 GAME RANKINGS
1. Penn State at Ohio State
2. Michigan State at Northwestern
3. Minnesota at Iowa
4. Nebraska at Purdue
5. Indiana at Maryland
6. Wisconsin at Illinois
7. Rutgers at Michigan

Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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