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Big Game Hunting: No ‘pain,’ no gain as Penn State tries to get over the top vs. Ohio State

Since 2015, the Nittany Lions are 26-2 at Beaver Stadium, a mark that includes a 24-21 win against the Buckeyes in 2016 and a 27-26 heartbreaker against them in 2018. Also: Illinois-Purdue, Northwestern-Iowa and Notre Dame-Georgia Tech picks.

Ohio State’s Chris Olave soars for a touchdown catch in last year’s win against Penn State.
Ohio State’s Chris Olave soars for a touchdown catch in last year’s win against Penn State.
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Well, that didn’t take long.

Big Ten teams didn’t even get to their second games before several heaping cupfuls of chaos were stirred into the mix.

Penn State was knocked from the top 10 thanks to an impossibly exciting — and controversial — overtime loss at Indiana. Purdue, without its coach or its best player and with a walk-on at quarterback, upset Iowa.

Closer to home, Northwestern — more broken offensively last season than the Bears or Cubs — showed in a 43-3 wipeout of Maryland that it has a game-changer in graduate-transfer quarterback Peyton Ramsey. And Illinois, well, that’s a different story. Supposedly on the ascent, the Illini were bombarded 45-7 by Wisconsin. Has disaster arrived all over again for Lovie Smith in Champaign?

And then, the whopper: a COVID-19 breakout at powerhouse Wisconsin. It hit early in the week, affecting coach Paul Chryst and breakout quarterback Graham Mertz, among more than a dozen others, and forcing the cancellation of Saturday’s scheduled game at Nebraska. Health concerns aside — sorry if that’s insensitive — the Badgers’ on-field goals are in peril. Indeed, Nebraska’s season took a real hit, too. Any Big Ten team that misses more than two games is unlikely to have a shot at the league title.

Perhaps only one thing could top all that in Week 2 for the Big Ten — which is Week 9 nationally — and that would be a big, fat “L” for its flagship football team. No. 3 Ohio State (-12) at No. 18 Penn State (6:30 p.m., Ch. 7) has the potential to deliver.

“Our home record is as good as anybody’s in the country,” Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said. “We’re looking forward to the opportunity.”

Since 2015, Penn State is 26-2 at Beaver Stadium, a mark that includes a 24-21 win against the Buckeyes in 2016 and a 27-26 heartbreaker against them in 2018. Last season, Franklin’s team scored 17 straight points in the third quarter on the road to put the Buckeyes — who ended up winning — on red alert. Ohio State was ranked in the top four in all three of those games.

“We’ve found a way to beat them, when very few people have, and we have played them to the wire,” Franklin said. “And sometimes, you know, those games to the wire, they’re probably the most painful on everybody.”

Speaking of pain, here comes OSU’s Justin Fields, the conference’s best quarterback since Drew Brees. Here come all the weapons — Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Master Teague, Trey Sermon — in an offense that just won’t stop threatening to break the game open. Worth noting: There’s no massive, “whiteout”-style crowd to help stop them. Buckeyes, 41-24.

OTHER WEEK 9 PICKS

Purdue (-7) at Illinois (11 a.m., BTN, 590-AM): The Illini were the better team at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in last season’s 24-6 cakewalk victory in West Lafayette, Ind. That’s the key question here: Are they still better? Meanwhile, it helps — a lot — that the Boilermakers’ Mr. Everything, Rondale Moore, likely won’t play.

“I know we’re going to play a lot better than last week,” Smith said. “And I can’t wait for that.”

Illini get it done 27-21, putting an early end to the Purdue myth.

Northwestern (+2½) at Iowa (2:30 p.m., ESPN): The Ramsey-led offense did whatever it wanted against overmatched Maryland.

“Good win, fun win,” Ramsey said, “and really set the tone.”

The tone? No, that gets set by beating a real team. Keeping Hawkeyes running backs Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent from going off is a must, because QB Spencer Petras has yet to show he’s ready for all this. Go Cats, 24-21 — their third straight winning trip to Iowa City.

No. 4 Notre Dame (-20) at Georgia Tech (2:30 p.m., Ch. 7): There’s a word for the Yellow Jackets’ defense, and that word is “for the love of Bobby Dodd, they’re terrible.” The Irish offense worked out some kinks — not many, but some — against Pittsburgh. Time to step on the gas. All Irish, 45-17.

No. 17 Indiana (-11) at Rutgers (2:30 p.m., BTN): The Greg Schiano effect is real, people — Rutgers is a laughingstock no more. Well, not a complete laughingstick, anyway. One of these teams is about to be 2-0. Wouldn’t it be just like the Hoosiers to blow a shot at some success? IU, 27-20.

My favorite favorite: No. 13 Michigan (-24) vs. Michigan State (11 a.m., Fox-32). Normally, in a rivalry game and all, a line this big would be a red flag. There’s nothing normal about first-year Spartans coach Mel Tucker’s JV-quality roster.

My favorite underdog: Texas Tech (+16) vs. No. 24 Oklahoma (7 p.m., Fox-32). The Sooners have covered only once in their last six visits to Lubbock.

Last week: 6-5 straight-up, 5-6 vs. the spread.

Season to date: 6-5 straight-up, 5-6 vs. the spread.