Penn State has been the one Big Ten team to consistently battle Ohio State the last four years.
But 2020 may be different.
After shocking OSU thanks to a late blocked field goal in 2016, Penn State lost by a point in 2017 and 2018 and “only” 11 in 2019 — by far the closest conference game for Ohio State last season.
And it’s never a good idea to make too many dramatic conclusions after only one game, but the 2020 openers don’t necessarily hint at another super close game.
Ohio State QB Justin Fields could be the nation’s best quarterback not named Trevor Lawrence. The Buckeyes rolled 52-17 against Nebraska and look like the most serious challenger to a possible Alabama-Clemson CFP showdown.
Looking at Penn State’s yardage, one would expect the Nittany Lions won big at Indiana. But turnovers, penalties and some unfortunate breaks late instead led to Week 8’s biggest surprise.
PSU QB Sean Clifford will not only have to have a big game — including on the ground due to new running back depth issues — but he will have to avoid turnovers. The Nittany Lions also can’t feed off its White Out home atmosphere, as there will be no fans in Beaver Stadium because of COVID-19.
The signs point to an impressive Ohio State win, but the 2020 sample size is so small in the Big Ten that the chance for a surprise is always there. PSU star DE Shaka Toney, who had two sacks against Indiana, will hope he and the defense and limit Fields on the ground and force other Buckeyes to pick up yards.
Penn State is better than what it showed against Indiana. But it’s probably not better than Ohio State.