Rudel: Odds stacked against Penn State to upset Buckeyes

How many of you think Penn State gets a win in the Horseshoe tonight?

Didn’t think so.

The oddsmakers agree, having installed Ohio State as a 15-point favorite.

Over the years, that level of an underdog role hasn’t been bestowed on the Nittany Lions too often.

In fact, since joining the Big Ten in 1993, Penn State has only gotten more points than it will get tonight five times.

The most the Lions ever received as a conference member were the 181/2- they were advanced for the 2010 game in Columbus, in which they lost 38-14.

Matt McGloin was the starter that day and played pretty well, sparking a 14-3 first-half lead, before the Lions unraveled as they typically did in the ‘Shoe and lost going away.

The other games in which they were getting more than tonight’s line included:

n 2000 at Michigan. Nits were +15 1/2- and lost 33-11. The game was even more lopsided as Matt Senneca came off the bench to relieve Rashard Casey and threw the Nits’ only touchdown pass, to Bryant Johnson.

n They were +15, unbelievably, at Minnesota and lost 16-7, in part because the Gophers successfully sprung an onside kick for the second consecutive year to open the game.

n In 2006, Anthony Morelli’s first year as a starter, the Nits were +17 at Columbus and lost 28-6 against the No. 1 Buckeyes. The September road schedule that year included trips to Notre Dame and Columbus.

n In 2011, with interim coach Tom Bradley attempting to keep the roof on the building, the Lions were getting 15 points at Wisconsin and only needed 38 1/2- in a 45-7 loss.

In the 13 times Penn State has been a double-digit underdog since joining the Big Ten, it’s 2-11, having beaten Purdue in 2000 (vs. Drew Brees) and Northwestern in 2001, the first win of the season after an 0-4 start and Joe Paterno’s 323rd that tied The Bear.

Obviously, this is a different era, and Bill O’Brien’s first turn in Columbus.

While no one expects Penn State to wreck Ohio State’s BCS plans and end its 19-game winning streak, the Buckeyes haven’t been overly dominant, having struggled with Northwestern, Iowa and even Buffalo.

Then again, Ohio State hasn’t had to be dominant in order to be the class of the Big Ten, which has proven to be two-plus cuts below the SEC, and the Buckeyes have made a living on beating the teams they’re expected to beat.

Penn State is the latest.

The Lions hung tough last year and were within 14-10 late in the third quarter before Ohio State delivered its knockout punch. Maybe they can find some confidence in that performance and apply it tonight. Of course, it came with four guys – McGloin, Jordan Hill, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges – current boasting NFL addresses.

This is the only game on the schedule, although Wisconsin may be another, that before the season looked like Penn State couldn’t win.

To that end, it will be curious how well O’Brien’s offense, particularly Christian Hackenberg, performs, how many more or fewer chances O’Brien takes when it’s time to punt, how well the defense can withstand Ohio State’s multi-talented Braxton Miller and whether the Nittany Lions emerge around midnight feeling like they’re still in position to tackle a five-game November.

Based on their history when the oddsmakers say they have no shot, if they’re in the game in the fourth quarter – with a second-year coach, limited by scholarship reductions and led by a freshman quarterback – that in itself will be a victory.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or You can follow his in-game comments on Twitter@neilrudel.