With it being “Rivalry Week” here at SB Nation, today we are going to look at one of Ohio State’s rivals, but it isn’t the one you are thinking of. Obviously the most hated rival of the Buckeyes is That Team Up North, but they’re not Ohio State’s only rival. The team who has given the Buckeyes the most fits of late on the gridiron is Penn State.
While some might put Michigan State and Wisconsin ahead of Penn State as Ohio State’s rivals, there is no denying that the Nittany Lions have taken the Buckeyes to the limit in each of the last four years. The annual battle between Michigan and Ohio State will always get top billing on the Big Ten schedule because of the storied history, but lately one of the most entertaining games in the conference has been the tilt between Ohio State and Penn State.
Even though Penn State didn’t join the Big Ten until 1993, it didn’t take long for the rivalry to heat up. The first seven meetings after PSU joined the conference saw both teams ranked when they squared off against each other. 1995 saw a fifth-ranked Ohio State team squeak out a 28-25 win over the 12th-ranked Nittany Lions. Penn State returned the favor in 1997 when they were ranked second in the country and beat the Buckeyes, who were ranked seventh at the time, 31-27.
The rivalry took the next step in 2002 when the teams met in Columbus. The Buckeyes were undefeated and coming off a 19-14 win in Madison over Wisconsin, while the Nittany Lions were hoping to hand Ohio State their first loss of the season. Penn State nearly accomplished their goal, but a Chris Gamble interception return for a touchdown sent The Horseshoe into a frenzy, and allowed the Buckeyes to stay perfect on the season.
2005 saw the rivalry escalate even more, as Penn State held their second “white out” at Beaver Stadium. The previous year saw PSU lose to Purdue, but the Nittany Lions wouldn’t suffer the same fate for a second straight season. Penn State outlasted the Buckeyes 17-10, sending Jim Tressel’s team their second loss of the season.
Aside from watching Joe Paterno run off the field in 2006 to make a bathroom call and the 2008 meeting under the lights at Ohio Stadium where Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes missed a chance to give Penn State their first loss of the year, the rivalry didn’t have much drama. The Penn State program was decimated by the Jerry Sandusky scandal, while Ohio State suffered a down year in 2011 due to the “Tatgate” scandal.
The next stage of the rivalry took place when James Franklin took over as Penn State head coach for Bill O’Brien, who left to become the head coach of the Houston Texans. Urban Meyer had already secured two wins over Penn State in his first two seasons at Ohio State, but 2014 was the first contest when the Nittany Lions had Meyer’s team on the ropes. Penn State rallied from a 17-0 deficit to take the game to overtime, where the Buckeyes prevailed 31-24 in double overtime. The defining moment of the game came on the last play where Joey Bosa used a Penn State running back to end the game with a walk-off sack of Christian Hackenberg.
After Ohio State ran off four straight wins over Penn State, the Nittany Lions finally got back in the victory column in 2016, beating the Buckeyes 24-21. Ohio State looked to be in control in State College after a safety in the third quarter gave them a 21-7 lead. Penn State responded with 17 unanswered points, with the game-winning touchdown coming on the return of a blocked field goal. Even though Ohio State would still go own to make the playoff, the Penn State victory ushered in a new chapter of the rivalry.
If you were a fan of either team in 2017 and 2018, the meetings between Ohio State and Penn State killed you. If you were a neutral observer, the games were incredible. Penn State jumped out to a 28-10 lead in the second quarter in 2017, but this time it was Ohio State’s turn to make an incredible comeback. J.T. Barrett engineered two touchdown drives in a two-minute span late in the fourth quarter to earn Ohio State the victory.
2018 saw Dwayne Haskins at quarterback for the Buckeyes. but the result was very similar. Haskins quieted the raucous crowd in State College in the fourth quarter. Trailing 26-14, Haskins found Binjimen Victor, whose incredible effort turned into a 47-yard touchdown to make it a 26-21 game. Four minutes later K.J. Hill would score from 24 yards out to give the Buckeyes a one-point victory for the second year in a row.
Last year’s contest wasn’t quite as close, but Penn State does deserve some credit for not giving up after Ohio State put them in a 21-0 hole early in the third quarter. The Nittany Lions scored 17 points in a four minute span to make the score 21-17. Penn State wouldn’t get any closer, but they were the first team to truly test Ohio State in 2019.
With this year’s contest shifting back to State College, it’s likely we’ll see another hotly contested game. Even though Ohio State has come out on top in the majority of recent games, the Nittany Lions have given the Buckeyes all they can handle and then some. It wouldn’t be crazy to argue that Penn State has replaced Michigan as Ohio State’s toughest yearly opponent.
I’m not advocating for Penn State to replace Michigan as Ohio State’s main rival, but I do think we have to recognize the Nittany Lions as a rival. Aside from the Wolverines, I can’t think of a team and fan base that riles up Ohio State fans more. If that, as well as the way the games have gone recently doesn’t make the yearly battle a rivalry, I don’t know what does.