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NATIONAL INSIDER

Buckeyes, Nittany Lions Thinking Big

September 23, 2006|Peter Yoon

With separation Saturday in the books, the national spotlight swings to the Big Ten, where top-ranked Ohio State and No. 24 Penn State meet at Columbus in an important game for both teams.

Ohio State (3-0) has won 10 in a row dating to last season and is trying to win a national championship. But the Buckeyes must avoid a hiccup against the last team to beat them.

Penn State's 17-10 victory last season marked a return to prominence for the Nittany Lions after consecutive losing campaigns, but a 41-17 loss to Notre Dame two weeks ago has critics wondering if last season was a fluke.

"This is a game that can really help us along and put us on the map," Penn State linebacker Dan Connor said. "We think we should be up there. We have a chance this week to prove it."

It won't be easy against the Buckeyes, who are fully aware of how difficult their conference games can be and realize that everything they have accomplished so far -- including their victory over Texas -- was merely a prelude to the next nine weeks.

Ohio State, which tied Penn State for the conference championship last season, last won an outright Big Ten title in 1984.

"The Big Ten is always going to wake you up," wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. said. "If you're not ready to play the Big Ten, then you're not ready to play the season."

Its experience on the road at Notre Dame might help Penn State prepare for the more than 100,000 fans at Ohio Stadium, but Coach Joe Paterno isn't so sure.

"I don't know how much benefit you get out of getting your ears kicked in," he said.

Renewing the Rivalry

It might not make as many national headlines as the New Orleans Saints' return to the Superdome on Monday, but there is other football news in Louisiana this week:

No. 10 Louisiana State and Tulane play today in Baton Rouge -- only the second time they have met since 1995 after playing 93 times between 1893 and 1995.

The schools, separated by about 80 miles, have an agreement to play annually for the next 10 seasons.

"It's a game that, more than anything, needs to be played," Tulane Coach Chris Scelfo said. "It's great for the fans. It's great for everybody."

It's also good for Tulane in that LSU will give the Green Wave about a $600,000 guarantee, which Tulane's athletic program badly needs because the small part of campus that flooded after Hurricane Katrina included most of the athletic facilities.

Tulane, which plays its home games at the Superdome, returns to its home stadium for the first time since 2004 on Sept. 30 against Southern Methodist.

Streaking to Gainesville

No. 5 Florida will be without defensive tackle Marcus Thomas today against Kentucky.

Thomas, who has a team-high three sacks, was suspended indefinitely for a second violation of the school's substance-abuse policy. Thomas appealed the suspension, saying both failed drug tests were the result of one night of marijuana use.

Florida has defeated Kentucky 19 consecutive times and 13 straight against the Wildcats at home.

Wounded Tigers

No. 2 Auburn came away victorious against LSU in a Southeastern Conference showdown last week, but the Tigers are bruised and battered.

Quarterback Brandon Cox, tailback Kenny Irons and cornerback Jonathan Wilhite are all recovering from leg injuries and missed practice this week.

No worries, though. Auburn's opponent today is Buffalo.

Cox and Irons said they would play, but Wilhite is doubtful. However, as 45-point favorites against a team that is 11-71 since moving to Division I-A in 1999, it's not likely the starters will play much anyway -- especially because Auburn has a short week before a Thursday game at South Carolina on Sept. 28. Irons' backup said he's prepared to carry the load.

"He said, 'Brad, you can take over for me this week,' " backup tailback Brad Lester said. "He's kind of beat up. I think he's looking forward to sitting out."

Stat of the Week

When Florida State meets Rice today, it will match the active Division I-A coach with the most victories against the one with the fewest.

Bobby Bowden, in his 31st season at Florida State, has 361 victories. Todd Graham, in his first season at Rice, has none.

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-- Compiled by Peter Yoon

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