UNIVERSITY PARK - When Penn State gets finished destroying Syracuse in the afternoon on Sept. 12, the Nittany Lions will gather around TVs later that night and do the unthinkable.
They will be rooting - very hard, in fact - for their archrivals from Ohio State.
"We don't necessarily like Ohio State because you want to beat them so bad," PSU offensive tackle Dennis Landolt said, "but you always want to see the conference do good simply for national respect."
National respect? The Big Ten?
Sorry, but it has very little of that these days.
That could change, though, if the Buckeyes can pull off an upset at home against USC in week two. The game will offer the Big Ten its best and really only chance during the regular season to silence critics and earn back some respect.
"Yeah, I'll definitely be pulling for Ohio State in that game," Landolt said.
Everyone who cares about Penn State football should do the same. Even if you despise Ohio State, realize that PSU needs the Buckeyes to be undefeated and respected when they visit Beaver Stadium in week 10.
That game will be Penn State's lone chance to prove itself against a marquee opponent. If the Lions can somehow navigate through the schedule unbeaten until then, a win over an Ohio State team that beat USC would impress human voters and, more importantly, the BCS computers.
If the Trojans trounce the Buckeyes like they did last year, 35-3, the late-season showdown between the Big Ten's two best teams will have minimal national impact.
It's hard to believe it was just three years ago that the Big Ten was on top of the college football world, with No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan squaring off in a huge regular-season finale. The Buckeyes won a thriller, 42-39, and there was talk of a possible rematch in the national championship game.
Instead, the title game that season signaled the beginning of the Big Ten's demise from a respect standpoint. Ohio State got crushed by Florida, 41-14, and the Buckeyes were smacked once again in the national championship game the next year by LSU, 38-24.
The conference hit rock bottom last season when its teams went 1-6 in bowl games. That included Penn State's poor showing in the Rose Bowl against USC (38-24) and the Buckeyes losing a close Fiesta Bowl against Texas (24-21).
It's no secret, including among PSU players, how the conference is viewed nationally. Even soft-spoken running back Evan Royster revealed his disdain about it.
"I'm so sick of hearing stuff about the SEC and the Pac-10," said Royster, who added he will "definitely be rooting for Ohio State" against USC.
The Big Ten, therefore, needs to put up or shut up in big games, and Ohio State's early season showdown with USC would be the perfect time to start.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.