UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.
Linebacker Gerald Hodges said that when he saw the Ohio State game on the schedule, it popped out as an opportunity. For him, the rivalry does every time.
Then, the summer happened. The postseason ineligibility already levied against Ohio State also was pressed upon Penn State. NCAA-produced clouds had descended upon two programs.
Yet, somehow, now that the game technically means nothing it matters more. It matters enough that defensive tackle Jordan Hill is calling it the most important game of his career. It matters enough that a record 140 student-camping groups with a total of about 1,200 people, according to Nittanyville, have set up tents outside Gate A at Beaver Stadium so they can get the best seats. Thinking ahead to Saturday, Hill said the game was "going to be one of the craziest experiences at Beaver Stadium ever."
It will definitely be a new experience. Games like the one Saturday between Ohio State and Penn State are like blue moons (the astronomical kind, not the beer), only they are decidedly less romantic and take place on the ground. They occur every few years, and you probably don't pay attention when they happen and certainly don't remember them as historical events.
These unnatural phenomena are games between two postseason ineligible football teams. This Penn State and Ohio State matchup is the latest chapter in a game the Internet has deemed "The Mark Emmert Bowl" or "The Ineligi-Bowl."
Before this year, ineligible teams had not played against each other since 1995• , when Alabama beat Mississippi, 23-9. The NCAA started to ban teams from bowls in 1956, according to its database. A record four "Ineligi-Bowls" took place that year -- USC and UCLA, UCLA and Washington, USC and Washington, and Miami and Florida.
• - Ohio State and Central Florida played this year in a game that originally featured two postseason-ineligible teams, but Central Florida's eligibility has since been reinstated.
When two teams meet with nothing officially on the line for either, the result has been predictably unmemorable. Of the 20 games between ineligible teams since 1956, only four have featured two winning teams.
Penn State, though, is on a five-game winning streak. Ohio State is undefeated. The winner has the best path to a Big Ten Conference Leaders Division title. The teams and fans, of course, dislike each other.
"It just doesn't get any better than that from the Big Ten," linebacker Michael Mauti said. "It's going to be electric."
Facing similar circumstances has not forged a bond between the teams. Mauti said he doesn't reserve much sympathy for Ohio State, which was punished because players sold memorabilia for tattoos and cash.
"That boat's a little bit different," he said. "We didn't do anything as a team to get those sanctions. We're kind of unrelated in my opinion. I'm not saying they're cheaters. We have a lot of respect for Ohio State. Always have. It's a great program. You get what I'm saying."
By Monday night, the stakes of this game had become apparent. Students were walking down Curtin Road to the stadium, carrying sleeping bags and wearing knit stocking caps.
Several interviewed said they were camping for the first time. The opportunity to witness this historical rendition of Ohio State and Penn State from a better view was too good to pass up.
"I think this is going to be the biggest moment of the season," junior Jeremy Slocum said. "I've never been more pumped for a game, and I don't think that they have, either."
He was referring to the Penn State players. Quarterback Matt McGloin said he planned to visit Nittanyville Wednesday night. As he prepares for a game against a team that, like his own, won't have a postseason conclusion no matter how successful it is, he couldn't be more excited.
"The reason why you play college football," McGloin said. "You're playing to have fun, with the team, with the student-body experience."psusports
Mark Dent: email@example.com and Twitter: @mdent05.