In baseball, it’s not uncommon to see a baserunner engage a fielder in pleasant conversation between pitches.
On the gridiron, opponents don’t chat about the whims of life. Any conversation is usually limited to grunts, hard counts and derisive banter.
Jordan Hill calls it “football talk,” and football players don’t talk about their feelings.
The theme of Saturday’s game is the sanctions placed on two teams by the NCAA. This season, Ohio State and Penn State have played games of significance in the eyes of college football’s governing body. They’ve played against teams that have a future beyond November. But no matter which squad wins this weekend, their respective seasons both end the Saturday after Thanksgiving
Many would argue that players on both sides are being punished for something they didn’t do. Maybe, the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions could sympathize with each other.
But they won’t.
“That’s what we’ve gone through,” quarterback Matt McGloin said in regards to the teams’ similar hardships. “I don’t feel bad for anybody or any program.”
The anticipation for this game would be high during a normal season, but the sanctions have hyped up Ohio State and Penn State’s contest Saturday to the level of a pseudo-bowl game. Both schools sit atop the Big Ten even though they are theoretically chained to the bottom. Ohio State is 8-0, and Penn State’s on a five-game winning streak.
Nittanyville is as crowded as it’s ever been. As of Thursday, there have only been one or two student tickets for sale on the Penn State student ticket exchange, near the maximum price of $70. For the Indiana game, there are more than 1,500 tickets available for purchase- many cheaper than $25.
“This is a different feel,” Hill said. “A lot of the students are already ready for the game. They’re like, ‘I can’t wait for Saturday. I wish it was tomorrow. I wish it was today.’ Stuff like that.”
Well, they’re one step closer. It’s tomorrow.
Many of the players have had this game circled on their calendar as long as the students have. Linebacker Gerald Hodges said he’s spent each Saturday focusing on the game ahead, but he knew beating a highly ranked Ohio State would send a message.
“It’s always going to be a dog fight,” Hodges said. “They’re never going to give up. Now that they’re finally here, we’re itching to play those guys again, just to show the world we’re not just your average team. We can play with the best of them.”
The Buckeyes may be undefeated, but they’ve recently fought their way out of two close games with Indiana and Purdue — both teams sit in conference’s basement. Last week especially, Ohio State had a flair for the dramatic, tying the Boilermakers on a touchdown and two-point conversion with only three seconds left in the game. The Buckeyes went on to win in overtime.
“We're going to come in [to Penn State] focused like any other game,” backup Ohio State quarterback Kenny Guiton said. “We're trying to stay to stay undefeated, we're going to go out there and play hard. We're going to play tough, physical and try come out with a win.”
Ohio State’s ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press poll — the only poll for which the two teams are eligible. A Penn State win Saturday would likely propel the Lions, who have received votes for the past three weeks, into the AP top-25.
“These are the kind of the games you dream to play in,” fullback Michael Zordich said. “Big time games at night, under the lights, white out. But we also feel like we worked to get here. I wouldn’t call it luck, I wouldn’t say we’ve been fortunate. But we’ve earned this and we’re looking forward to playing.”
Lift for Life was the last major event for an unsanctioned Penn State football team. Since then, several players have transferred or left the team, and the majority who remained jelled together under extreme circumstances.
Replacements became starters. Growing pains became evident through week two. After a pair of losses, the Lions were left for dead.
But the quarterback stayed consistent after a career of inconsistency. He kept completing passes, running for touchdowns, and avoiding sacks. A linebacker erupted after his previous season was decimated by injury. He kept tackling, intercepting, and forcing fumbles.
A wide receiver caught eight touchdown passes. A formerly obscure running back rushed for 100 or more yards in three straight games. The list goes on, and so did the wins.
“I think that’s one of the most important things about our success lately. We’re having fun,” Zordich said. “You can see it on the faces on Saturday. [Mauti] was running around screaming, yelling, smiling... every emotion you can have all in one game. That’s why we play the game and that’s why we love it.”
The 2012 Nittany Lions are as much about one game as they are one team, and Saturday’s game is a lot of things. It’s college football’s least important game of the year in terms of its implications. One team will win, but neither will move on.
But Hill said Ohio State is the biggest game of the year, and Penn State fans everywhere appear to agree. It may not alter the landscape of this college football season, but the matchup has transcended the punishments that Zordich said have driven the Buckeyes and Lions to this showdown.
“Two totally different reasonings behind [the sanctions],” Zordich said. “But it is what it is, and we’re both here. Each Saturday is the only one they have because there is no postseason. I think that’s why Ohio State is able to get to where they’re at with an undefeated season so far and I think that’s why we’ve been able to turn this on lately.”