Despite its storied football tradition, Penn State sports only a 4-9 record in games against the country's top-ranked team, including 4-7 under coach Joe Paterno.
- Matchup: No. 1 Ohio State (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) at No. 24 Penn State (6-2, 3-2).
- When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
- Where: Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa.
- TV: WTAE.
- Favored: Ohio State by 4.
When No. 1 Ohio State chugs into Beaver Stadium Saturday night, it will mark just the second time in 121 seasons that Penn State has played host to the top-ranked team. The only other occasion it happened was in 1989, when No. 1 Notre Dame beat the Nittany Lions, 34-23.
Both Paterno and the players are pumped for this year's prime-time showdown.
"It's a big game for where we're going to go with this football team," coach Joe Paterno said yesterday at his weekly news conference.
Ohio State (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) has won 26 consecutive regular-season games, including 18 in a row in the conference since a 17-10 setback Oct. 8, 2005, at Beaver Stadium. The Buckeyes also are the top team in the Bowl Championship Series standings.
Penn State (6-2, 3-2) carries a three-game winning streak into this weekend and has been next to perfect at home, winning 19 of its past 20.
Ohio State, led by Jim Tressel, the conservative coach who plays just about everything close to his sweater vest, is the third team to be ranked No. 1 in this topsy-turvy season.
Still, many are skeptical of the Buckeyes, whose victims include such lightweights as Youngstown State, Kent State, Akron and Minnesota.
"They're No. 1 for a reason, because they haven't lost," cornerback Justin King said. "A lot of people feel like they're the best team in the country. We can't worry about what happens to other people during the season. We just got to go out and play. This has been an upset year for college football."
"Everybody says you have to remain the same because it's another team. Of course, practice has a little more intensity. You only get to play the No. 1 team in the country so many times."
Ohio State, which has been the top-ranked team 16 times since 1942, was No. 1 for 15 weeks last season until the final poll, when the Buckeyes dropped to No. 2 after getting stomped, 41-14, by Florida in the BCS national championship game.
"That's just a credit to their program," linebacker Sean Lee said. "Obviously, they have a ton of tradition. They have great players and great coaches. They've had a lot of success. They deserve to be No. 1 because they've played great all year.
"It's going to be a great test for us, to play them at home. It will be a great atmosphere."
No. 24 Penn State, which is 5-0 at home this season, lost to Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, the last two times the Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 -- 28-9 in 1998 and 28-6 last season.
Paterno said he doesn't change his philosophy or game plan just because the No. 1 team is coming to town.
"You have to keep your team playing your game," he said. "If we're good enough, we're good enough. If we're not good enough, we're not good enough. I don't think you can go in there and say, 'Hey, that's the No. 1 team, so now we have got to do this and we got to do that.'
"We've got to play the football we know how to play. And if somebody happens to be as good as Ohio State, you hope you can compete with them. Whether you can or you can't, you never know until you play. But they're a fine football team.
"I had not realized the last time they lost a regular-season game was against us. I was not aware of that. I don't particularly look back a lot of times. I can tell you right now they're playing really well and Jim Tressel and his staff are doing a great job of coaching them."
Penn State holds a 5-3 edge at home in its all-time series with Ohio State.
"Obviously, it would be huge if we could win, but I don't know if it could take away the sting of our two losses," middle linebacker Dan Connor said.
Ron Musselman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .