Penn State finds its own motivation
October, 23, 2013
By Brian Bennett | ESPN.com
It's natural to wonder about Penn State's motivation.
We’re nearing the final month of the season in a physically demanding sport and the Nittany Lions' players have no possibility of a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions.
There's no reason, however, to wonder about Penn State's motivation for this week.
If any player, however, needs a reason to get excited about going to play the No. 4 team in the country, on the road, under the lights and in front of 100,000 fans, then he should return his shoulder pads and scholarship check immediately. Playing at Ohio State at the Horseshoe on Saturday night is about as good as it gets.
"No offense to the bowl system," Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien said Tuesday, " ... [but] I I don't know of too many bowl games that are better than that, other than the national championship game."
Penn State has no natural rivals in the Big Ten. At least until Maryland and Rutgers join the league next year, Ohio State remains the nearest school geographically, and of course, the Buckeyes have often presented the biggest road block for a conference or division title. While the two programs might not exactly fit the mold as rivals, this is about as close as it gets for Penn State.
"It's definitely a game that we're a little bit more into and that we're definitely excited to play," linebacker Glenn Carson said. "Ohio State is probably one of our biggest games that we look forward to every year and talk about every year."
It's not quite true to say Penn State has nothing to play for. The Nittany Lions can technically win the Leaders Division title and trophy, as Ohio State did last year while on probation. While they trail the Buckeyes by one game in the standings, a win in Columbus would give them the head-to-head tiebreaker going forward.
Penn State can also play the role of spoiler this season. It can ruin Ohio State's streak of perfection by finding a way to win at the 'Shoe a la 2011 and 2008. The Lions can also have a say in the Big Ten race later this season when they host Nebraska on Nov. 23, or potentially mess up a BCS at-large bid for Wisconsin in the finale at Madison.
But the players say they don't think too much about those things. In fact, the big picture rarely enters their mind since their picture is limited in scope, anyway.
"We go in expecting to win every game, but we also go in embracing the underdog role," offensive lineman Adam Gress said. "Every game is a big game with nothing to lose, in our opinion. It's no secret that we're not going to bowl games and things like that. So every game's a big one."
David Dermer/Getty ImagesPenn State will get a raucous, night-game crowd at Ohio State this weekend.
O'Brien stresses that Penn State plays a dozen one-game series. Yes, it's cliché coachspeak to some degree, but O'Brien has to come up with ways to keep the team excited. While on probation last year, Ohio State could push for an unbeaten season, a carrot that's already out of reach for the Nittany Lions. And since the current bowl ban is unusually long -- Penn State is not eligible for a bowl until 2016, unless the NCAA decides to shorten that sanction -- there's no reward on the immediate horizon.
So the only choice is to look at each game as its own opportunity.
"Everyone on the team just loves to win and loves to play hard each week," Carson said. "We just come in really determined to get that win. That's really all the motivation that we need."
No one questioned Penn State's motivation last week when it beat Michigan in an emotional four-overtime game a week after a dispiriting loss at Indiana. Maybe you can wonder what the Nittany Lions are playing for next month, when they face Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue in three straight games.
But definitely not this week.
"I think our kids are very, very motivated for the challenge of playing in this conference," O'Brien said.
The Early Offer: March 5
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35