UNIVERSITY PARK -- Penn State still has a great deal to play for, including pride, the love of the game and a chance to continue to show the rest of the nation that there's no quit in this group of players.
Unlike several other recent teams on the Nittany Lions' schedule, however, this week's opponent has something very real to play for and not just intangibles.
Nebraska is playing for a trip to the Big Ten championship game and potentially its first appearance in the Rose Bowl as a member of the league.
Which team has more to play for is debatable. But one thing that's not debatable is the Nittany Lions must be prepared for a Cornhuskers squad that should be more focused and won't roll over when faced with adversity like several other Big Ten opponents have done against PSU.
"They have a lot to play for, but at the same time we have a lot to play for. ... We will be ready to play," Penn State cornerback Stephon Morris said.
Morris then went on to speak some of the most poignant words anyone on the team has spoken all season.
"This team, this university, we don't run from adversity," Morris said.
That's been proven many times over, and the Lions' 6-3 record and three blowout wins on the road in Big Ten play are testaments to their determination.
But Nebraska is much better than Purdue. And Iowa. And Illinois.
Winning this kind of game in a hostile environment against a motivated team presents a challenge PSU has yet to face this season. Oddsmakers don't like the Lions' chances as they're a 7-point underdog, the second-largest spread of the season (Virginia was favored by 10 in week two).
Beating the No. 18 Cornhuskers would be the signature win of the year, not that the Penn State camp is saying anything publicly to that effect.
"It's just another team," running back Zach Zwinak said.
"This game is no bigger than any other game," O'Brien said. "It's just another big game. It's against a very, very good team."
The coach did point out that a Penn State-Nebraska game is "what college football is all about."
"You have two big-time college football programs that have two good coaching staffs and a lot of good players, and playing in a great game in Lincoln, that atmosphere, hopefully it's fun," O'Brien said.
The Cornhuskers lost a non-conference game at UCLA in week two, 36-30, and their defense was obliterated in their only Big Ten loss, 63-38 against Ohio State. They've bounced back from that with three straight wins -- at Northwestern, home against Michigan and at Michigan State in a big comeback Saturday -- and they control their own destiny in the Legends Division.
If they can get to the Big Ten title game, the opponent likely would be Wisconsin, which Nebraska beat earlier this season in Lincoln, 30-27. The Cornhuskers have to like their chances of getting to the Rose Bowl for the third time, after appearing there in 1940 (a loss to Stanford) and also when it was the national championship game in 2001 (a loss to Miami).
The Cornhuskers trailed the Spartans by 10 points late in the fourth quarter Saturday but rallied to win, so they've proven they can overcome adversity during games.
"I think the guys have a lot of confidence," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "I think there's a lot of heart in this football team. They don't panic and stop believing that they're going to be able to get it done."
The motto all year for O'Brien has been to play a one-game season each week. The Lions are down to their final three games, and it will be the last road game of the seniors' careers, but O'Brien's stance remains to avoid thinking about any element of the game other than what it will take to win.
"I don't go into the team meeting today and say, 'Hey, look, guys, these guys are fighting for the Rose Bowl,'" O'Brien said. "I go in and say, 'Look, guys, this is what they do offensively, defensively, special teams-wise, and this is what I think we should do to combat that.'"
SUBHD: Injury update
Defensive tackle Jordan Hill (knee) and tight end Kyle Carter (ankle) are both listed as day-to-day. O'Brien said they will be evaluated every day, and a decision will be made on their status later in the week.
"I can tell you he's itching [to play] right now," linebacker Michael Mauti said of Hill, who suffered a sprained knee at Purdue. "He's feeling good right now."
Carter didn't make the trip to Purdue. Running back Curtis Dukes suffered a concussion on the kickoff coverage unit against the Boilermakers and is out for this week's game.
SUBHD: Mauti high on O'Brien
Mauti spoke in glowing terms about his coach Tuesday.
"I don't think any other coach could do as good of a job as he's done holding this program, this athletic department together," he said.
"To inherit the this situation, he's the coach of the year in my opinion," Mauti added.
Mauti also was asked to compare O'Brien and Joe Paterno but said, "I don't have enough time to answer all those comparisons. ... You can write a book."