Michigan, Michigan, Michigan, Michigan.
Penn State head coach James Franklin had his priorities firmly set ahead of last week’s game the with Big Ten East rival Michigan. Franklin made it clear to anyone who ask there would be no talk of a second straight Big Ten championship, a spot in the College Football Playoff, or the remainder of the regular season schedule, which includes big-time matchups with Ohio State and Michigan State among others. In the days leading up to the matchup of college football blue bloods, Franklin and the Nittany Lions focused squarely on beating Michigan, Michigan, Michigan, Michigan. That focus paid off with an impressive 42-13 win that solidified the Nittany Lions as the No. 2 team in the country and legitimized the team as a playoff contender.
After leading his team to victory over the Wolverines, Franklin said he would allow himself to enjoy it until midnight before turning his focus to the next opponent. But by that time, that opponent would have been focused on the Nittany Lions for seven full days. While Penn State had its eyes on the Maize and Blue, Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes had their blinders on as well.
Penn State, Penn State, Penn State, Penn State.
The schedule makers did Ohio State a huge favor by giving the Buckeyes a bye week ahead of their top-10 clash with the Nittany Lions. Not only did the bye week give the Buckeyes an opportunity to rest and heal following the first half of the regular season, Meyer and his staff also had an extra week of film study and game planning for Penn State. The coaches and players together had an extra week of practice to focus on fundamentals often overlooked during the long season, while also implementing what they learned during the additional prep time.
Does an extra week of preparation truly matter? It does for Meyer, who is 21-1 all time, including a 20-game winning streak, following a regular season bye. Meyer’s last regular season loss following a bye week came in 2001 when he was the head coach at Bowling Green. It’s also worth noting the Nittany Lions’ bye was scheduled the week before the Michigan game.
The Buckeyes were listed as an early six-point favorite to beat Penn State, and the extra week to prepare is part of the reason why. But there are plenty of other reasons to be confident Ohio State will avenge last year’s 24-21 loss in Happy Valley. The Buckeyes have will have home-field advantage, and Meyer is undefeated in revenge games since taking the job in Columbus.
His squad also is full of confidence, especially on offense. After losing to Oklahoma in Week 2, Ohio State won its next five games by a combined score of 266-56 including a dominant 174-28 in Big Ten play. Counting the 49-21 victory over Indiana in the season opener, the Buckeyes have outscored conference opponents 223-49, for an average score of 55.8-12.3. Quarterback J.T. Barrett has played like a superstar, J.K. Dobbins appears to be the next great Buckeyes running back, and there is no shortage of explosive playmakers at wide receiver.
Of course, Penn State also is riding high. The Nittany Lions feature Heisman Trophy favorite Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley, who lead an offense that has averaged 6.71 yards per play and 40.0 points per game this season. Penn State also boasts a well-rounded defense that leads the nation in scoring (9.6 points allowed per game), ranks in the top 10 in the country in total defense (282.9 ypg) and pass defense (167.6 ypg), and has held opponents to an impressive 2.99 yards per carry.
The entire package was on display last week. Barkley accounted for 161 yards of offense and three touchdowns and McSorley accounted for four TDs, including three on the ground, as the Nittany Lions defense held Michigan to 269 total yards and 3.8 yards per play. But while Penn State was beating Michigan, the Buckeyes had already gotten a head start.
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, a member of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.