UNIVERSITY PARK - Recently, when Penn State and Ohio State have met, Big Ten bragging rights a Rose Bowl berth has been hanging in the balance.
But this year, barring an Iowa collapse, the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions will take to the field at Beaver Stadium with something other than conference supremacy on the line.
Don't get me wrong, there will still be plenty to play for.
For starters, it's the 300th game at Beaver Stadium. There's a possible (and increasingly likely at the rate upper-echelon teams are losing) at-large berth to the Bowl Championship Series. There's the first chance to welcome Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor to the home-state school he spurned because State College was "too country" for his taste. There's a national television audience that will be watching.
I think you get my point.
But still, I wonder if it will feel like something is missing Saturday because of the unlikelihood of either going to the Rose Bowl.
For Penn State to get there, it needs to win out and Iowa needs to lose twice (since we all know the Hawkeyes beat the Nits).
For the Buckeyes, the road is tougher. Ohio State must beat Penn State and then Iowa in consecutive weeks - currently the top two teams in the conference standings.
Now - as Ohio State fans are quick to point out as part of their so-called four straight Big Ten titles - all either team needs for a share of the Big Ten title is to win out and get one Iowa loss. But in my book, if you're tied with a team you lost to, you aren't tied (only two of Ohio State's four straight conference crowns are outright while two were shared with Penn State in years the Nits beat the Buckeyes).
There will be plenty of differences from your typical Ohio State game - at least compared to those in recent years. The last time the Buckeyes took to the Beaver Stadium field in daylight was 2003, the day Joe Paterno got record-breaking win No. 324 at the expense of Ohio State. This game is a 3:30 p.m. kickoff, so while the game will finish under the lights, it will start under the sun (hopefully).
There has also been no mention of the patented "White Out" by the students. Recently, that's been a given when the Buckeyes or Michigan pay a visit. But fans haven't been told to unite under the banner of white, which is always the telltale sign of a big game in Happy Valley.
But this home game should seem more "normal" than the last one. At least everyone should be able to park at the stadium this time.
The Lions are playing their best ball of the year after back-to-back easy wins over Michigan and Northwestern, respectively. They have the best scoring defense in the Bowl Subdivison - or as I like to call it, the division formerly known as I-A - and are averaging 30.7 points per game on offense.
Ohio State comes in feeling good after issuing New Mexico State a beating last week. But a loss at home to USC and no-show against Purdue has some in Columbus questioning whether Pryor really is best used as the quarterback.
Not exactly what you want when the best defense in college football is next on the schedule. Especially when your troubled QB is public enemy No. 1. Especially headed into a big game at Beaver Stadium.
Brian Cox is a Sentinel sports reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.