UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The roster includes some of the most dynamic athletes in college football -- linebacker Ryan Shazier or quarterback Braxton Miller, anyone? The winning streak of 19 games speaks for itself.
This is the Ohio State that Penn State will face tonight. Sure, the Buckeyes have almost always been good -- they have played for three national titles this millennium. But Ohio State brings to this game a particularly stacked roster, one of the game's best coaches in Urban Meyer and also a little bit of mystery.
Because of NCAA probation, the Buckeyes couldn't play in a bowl game or the Big Ten title game last season. They seemed like they were one of the country's best teams while going undefeated, but they never had to measure themselves in championship situations.
This year, as well, the Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) have earned so-so victories, plus a significant one against Wisconsin, and come into tonight's game with a No. 4 ranking. They've also recently struggled with Iowa and a Northwestern team that has since fallen apart. It might be up to Penn State to find out how good Ohio State is and how much of the Nittany Lions' own good vibe can continue after the Michigan victory.
The challenge extends to both sides of the ball. Ohio State has an offense so balanced and consistent that the Buckeyes didn't falter when Miller missed three games this season and was replaced by Kenny Guiton, who accounted for 12 touchdowns in those games. Since his return, Miller has accounted for more than 250 total yards per game.
Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien discussed the importance of keeping him in the pocket. O'Brien said Miller, like Michigan's Devin Gardner, would be dangerous if Penn State doesn't contain him. And even when the Nittany Lions do they must worry about other parts of the Buckeyes offense.
At receiver, Ohio State has Corey Brown and Devin Smith, both of whom rank in the top 10 in receptions in the Big Ten. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State's top running back, averages 110 yards per game and his size (6-0, 235 pounds) makes him difficult to stop.
Defensively, Shazier could be an All-American at linebacker. Even Penn State's superstar wide receiver Allen Robinson could have his toughest assignment of the season. Ohio State defensive backs Bradley Roby and Doran Grant have been two of the best in the Big Ten, each with more than 30 tackles and six pass breakups.
"They're hard-nosed corners, definitely an aggressive group, and they play fast," Robinson said. "They're some of the best we've seen this far and probably will face throughout the season."
In addition to Robinson, they will certainly test quarterback Christian Hackenberg. He has played at Indiana and in a neutral game against Syracuse, but he has yet to face a road environment like he'll experience at the Horseshoe in Columbus.
This week his teammates said they thought Hackenberg would be ready. Offensive guard John Urschel noted that so far he has seen Hackenberg handle adversity well. O'Brien said that since the beginning of the season they've prepared for noise by pumping loud music up at practice and that a key for players like Hackenberg to tune out noise is to think step by step about what they have to do on each upcoming play.
As much as the loudness will be different, the drama won't be. Penn State has won the big game against Michigan and felt one of the most disappointing losses in recent program history against Indiana in the last month. Tonight is one of those games where the stakes feel just as high.
"We know it's a huge challenge," O'Brien said. "I mean, 19 games in a row, No. 4 team in the country, we realize that it's a huge, huge challenge. But we look forward to it."
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.