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Buckeye Plan Is Plane and Simple

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

October 09, 1997|CHRIS DUFRESNE

Sure, playing at Penn State is tough.

But is it tougher than getting to State College?

Located in the mountains of central Pennsylvania, Penn State might be the most difficult major college to reach in the continental United States.

State College has an airport, but it cannot accommodate large commercial jets. More than a game

plan, you need a map and a pith helmet.

No. 7 Ohio State invades No. 2 Penn State this weekend with an itinerary that dates to the legendary Coach Woody Hayes.

For the 1976 game, Hayes' Buckeyes descended into State College in two small planes. One craft carried Hayes, his coaching staff, and the Ohio State starters. The other carried backup players and administrative staff.

As the planes neared the airport, a co-pilot emerged to warn Hayes that there were storms in the area and wondered if the coach might want to fly into Philadelphia and bus to the campus.

Told the diversion would delay the team's arrival by at least four hours, Hayes said, "Send in the second plane. If they make it, then we'll land."

Ohio State sports information director Steve Snapp was on the second plane, which obviously made a successful landing.

"I had gotten back from my stay in Vietnam not long before that," Snapp said. "I was used to that kind of duty."

Ohio State won, 12-7.

Penn State quarterback Mike McQueary, who was raised in State College, says the ride in only adds to the charm.

"Having to fly into Harrisburg, taking the bus trips, getting stuck in traffic, that might alter the weekend," McQueary said Wednesday. "But certainly teams have come in here and beaten us. Iowa has. Ohio State has. I don't think it would alter things that badly."

Oh yeah?

Ohio State Coach John Cooper is 3-1 against Penn State. The loss was a 63-14 drubbing in 1994.

Granted, that was a great Nittany Lion team, but it was also the year Ohio State chartered a jet into Altoona, Pa., and drove to Penn State.

The following year, Cooper went back to Hayes' two-plane attack and Ohio State won, 28-25.

The Buckeyes are sticking with the two-plane plan this year.

"I never did like that trip over there, even though it's called Happy Valley," Ohio State quarterback Stanley Jackson said. "It's something you have to to deal with."

ADD GAME

McQueary turns 23 on Friday, but has already told his family to forget about his birthday. The fifth-year senior doesn't want anything to distract him from the biggest game of his career.

In three of the four seasons since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten, the winner of Ohio State-Penn State has gone on to claim at least a share of the conference title.

McQueary is one of the year's great stories. He was raised in the shadow of Beaver Stadium and waited patiently for four years behind Kerry Collins and Wally Richardson to get his chance.

How's he doing so far?

In four Penn State victories, McQueary has thrown for 1,009 yards and 10 touchdowns, with one interception. His efficiency rating of 180.59 ranks second nationally and he is ahead of Collins' school-record rating of 172.86 in 1984.

"It took a long time for me to get to this spot," McQueary said. "It's been all I thought it would be and maybe more. So far, so good."

McQueary had thrown only 52 passes entering this season, making him the key variable in the Nittany Lions' No. 1 preseason ranking and national title hopes.

"It means a lot," he said of his start. "This is a quarterback's dream, especially a quarterback no one expected to do well, one that people thought would be on the bench in game four or five of the season. This is a test. I'm ready to take it on."

Then again, people won't care what kind of numbers McQueary piled up against Pittsburgh, Louisville, Illinois and Temple if he falls on his face against Ohio State.

"I realize maybe things I've been able to get away with before I won't be able to get away with Saturday," he said.

BREAK UP THE BIG EAST?

Wouldn't we like to. Miami of Ohio's thumping of Big East hood ornament Virginia Tech, coupled with Florida State's trouncing of Miami, has left the conference in a free fall.

There is a remote but not inconceivable chance the Big East standings could end up: Syracuse (6-6), Virginia Tech (5-6), Temple (5-6), Boston College (5-6), Miami (5-6), Pittsburgh (5-6), West Virginia (5-6) and Rutgers (4-7).

In that scenario, the Big East would not have a school eligible for any of its designated four bowl berths, with six Division I victories and a winning record being the minimum requirement.

GLAD ALL OVER

With more than a month gone in the season, we are thankful that:

* Miami of Ohio knocked off Virginia Tech, sparing a possible undefeated season and the wails of Hokie fans who would have clamored for a piece of the national title. We've been down this mountain road before, in 1993, when 11-0 West Virginia descended on New Orleans making similar claims and walked out of the 1994 Sugar Bowl on the short end of a 41-7 defeat to Florida. And that was before Florida was Florida.

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