COLUMBUS, Ohio -- You're looking live at my hotel room. OK, so we're still hours away from tonight's showdown, but you can feel the excitement building here in beautiful Columbus. I got ESPN's College Gameday on the boob tube and there are Penn State fans mulling all over the Crown Plaza.
Joe Paterno stopped by the media get together last night and seemed relaxed. I don't know if that means he's feeling confident about his squad after the past week of practice or not. One of my spies says the Lions were business-like during the week. That could be good (not loosing focus) or it good be bad (tensed), but Paterno has made a point of telling his players, 'Hey, it's only a football game. Go out and have fun.' Which is good advice for a game of this magnitude.
Plus, what do the Lions have to lose? OK, they have everything to lose. But Penn State has nothing to lose as far as playing here at Ohio State. The Lions haven't won here in seven tries as Big Ten members. In fact, they couldn't manage more than 10 points in any of the losses. That's not good. I sincerely doubt they'll be held under ten. The offense is too good, too poised and has too many weapons.
I'm convinced Penn State is better than Ohio State right now (hence the Vegas line as 2 1/2-point favorites). The key for the Lions, then, is to play their game and not do anything out of the ordinary. That means no turnovers. The Buckeyes defense has been great at causing turnovers. They had five at Michigan State last week and that had more to do with the team's success than anything quarterback Terrelle Pryor did.
Speaking of Pryor, I think defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will devise a scheme that will confuse the freshman on passing downs. As good as the Buckeyes will be on the ground with Pryor and running back Beanie Wells, they need to drop back to pass more than the 11 times they did last week. Pryor is fairly accurate but hasn't been asked to do anything extraordinary through the air. But if the Lions can't slow down the bruising Wells, they're going to have to stack the box more, thus giving the Ohio State receivers some one-on-one coverage.
Penn State on offense has to hold onto the ball. They've been lucky they haven't turned over the ball more since they've put it on the carpet a number of times. Clark has been excellent at not trying to force things through the air and has only two interceptions. But his handling the football when he runs has been shaky. Other than that, I can't see Penn State not getting its yards. The line and running back Evan Royster are too good to be contained for too long. And if Ohio State wants to key on the run game as Wisconsin did two weeks ago, Clark and his senior wide receivers only need a few attempts to break things open (see: second half of Wisconsin game). The only worry then would be scoring in the red zone and the Lions have been excellent down there.
So, it sounds like all Penn State has to do is show up and play its game and win, right? Not so fast, to steal a phrase. The Lions haven't lost seven straight at the Horseshoe without reason. I know this is a different team, but the coaching staff remains the same and Paterno clams up in spots like this. He said last night that he'll be in the press box again. I don't know if that helps or hurts the team. It hasn't hindered them yet.
They'll be a series of tests throughout this game. If the Lions can pass the early ones and hang tight, even if they trail, I think they'll find a way to win. I'm closing my eyes on this one and throwing the dart that Penn State wins a closely fought, physical contest. If that happens the countdown to the national championship -- provided the Lions get a little help from either Alabama or Texas -- is on.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Ohio State 24.