So how big is Ohio State as an opponent on Penn State's schedule these days?

"You go downtown, there's people making comments," Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said Tuesday. "I had this four weeks ago. I'm trying to talk about App [Appalachian] State and people want to talk about this game."

The excitement builds before and during Ohio State week, particularly this year since both teams are ranked in the Top 10. Students and alumni with minimal or no interest in football get stirred up. The more passionate fans who remember last year's crushing loss to the Buckeyes probably began their countdown to Saturday night the day after that game concluded.

Ohio State has replaced Pittsburgh, a team with a history of 99 games against Penn State, as the Nittany Lions' chief rival. After next year, when the current series expires, the rivalry with the Panthers will have gone the way of the rotary telephone.

Ninth-ranked Penn State and No. 4 Ohio State will be meeting for the 26th consecutive year since the Nittany Lions began Big Ten play in 1993, and the 34th time overall. It marks the ninth time both teams have been ranked in the Top 10 when they've played, and the fourth straight time the Buckeyes have visited Beaver Stadium for the annual "White Out."

Fans vividly remember two years ago when Grant Haley scooped up an Ohio State field goal attempt that was blocked by Marcus Allen and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown, and exactly where they were in the sea of humanity on the lush green grass while celebrating the Lions' 24-21 victory.

And they can still feel the heartache of last year when then-No. 2 Penn State led for exactly 57 minutes, 57 seconds in Columbus but blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead against the Buckeyes' relentless no-huddle offense and lost 39-38.

Ohio State already had a rival in Michigan when Penn State joined the conference. So the Big Ten tried to create something between the Nittany Lions and Michigan State, pitting the two teams together in the final game of the regular season from 1993 through 2010 for something called the Land Grant Trophy. It didn't work.

Former Penn State player Garrett Sickels celebrates after a fourth down sack of former Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) in 2016.
CHRIS KNIGHT / AP
Former Penn State player Garrett Sickels celebrates after a fourth down sack of former Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) in 2016.

Todd Blackledge came from North Canton, Ohio, to play quarterback at Penn State, became a three-year starter and led the Lions to the program's first national championship in 1982. His only meeting against the Buckeyes came in the 1980 Fiesta Bowl, "and that was a thrill for me, being an Ohio guy."

"I kind of like seeing the rivalry grow with Ohio State because it's not like Penn State has a ton of Ohio kids on its roster," said Blackledge, who has received a multiyear extension to continue as an ESPN analyst on college football. "But the states are two really good high school football states, they're right next to each other and Penn State in recent years has fared fairly well against Ohio State."

The Nittany Lions players also are hearing from classmates and fans this week.

"The buzz is going crazy right now on campus," defensive end Shareef Miller said. "A lot of kids are coming up to me and a lot of the guys asking us how we're going to do and stuff like that."

No one in the locker room is calling it a big deal, however, at least publicly. Franklin's mantra continues to be the next game being the most important one on the schedule regardless of the level of notoriety of the opponent.

"That's kind of the perfect reason why we approach things the way we do," he said. "You can't just say those things in press conferences and then go act differently in front of your team. It's got to be a consistent approach in all the things we do. They're hearing it from everybody, they don't need to hear it from us."

That's the plan for the week. But by Saturday night, Beaver Stadium will be a sea of white-clad fans from end to end, and they will generate noise similar in volume to a squadron of jet fighters.

Yep, it's a rivalry.

"I think your modern fans don't really have an appreciation for Penn State-Pitt as a rivalry," Blackledge said. "There was the long layoff, and because mostly it's just older Penn State fans that have those recollections of those feelings, or older former players like myself.

"Penn State clearly is entrenched as a Big Ten team. Ohio State has kind of been the top team in the league, and Penn State has fought their way back to being that kind of a team, an upper-echelon team in the league and in college football. So it makes sense, and I think it's good."

Top 10 opponents

This will be the ninth time Penn State and Ohio State have met on the field as Top 10 opponents. Here is a list of the opponents the Nittany Lions have played in the regular season at least twice when both teams were in the Top 10. Penn State's record in the series is in parentheses.

  • Ohio State 8 (3-5)
  • Alabama 4 (2-2)
  • Pittsburgh 3 (2-1)
  • Nebraska 2 (1-1)
  • Miami (Fla.) 2 (0-2)
  • Michigan 2 (1-1)

Here are the results of the previous eight games between Penn State and Ohio State as Top 10 team. The teams' rankings are in parentheses:

  • 1975 at Columbus – (3) Ohio State 17, (7) Penn State 9
  • 1976 at State College – (2) Ohio State 12, (7) Penn State 7
  • 1978 at Columbus – (5) Penn State 19, (6) Ohio State 0
  • 1996 at Columbus – (3) Ohio State 38, (4) Penn State 7
  • 1997 at State College – (2) Penn State 31, (7) Ohio State 27
  • 1998 at Columbus – (1) Ohio State 28, (7) Penn State 9
  • 2008 at Columbus – (3) Penn State 13, (10) Ohio State 6
  • 2017 at Columbus – (6) Ohio State 39, (2) Penn State 38