When Ohio State faces Penn State on Saturday, much of the college football world is convinced that it’ll answer a question as yet unposed — what happens when the Buckeyes play a good team?

Yes, Ohio State is 7-0, and yes, they’re a solid No. 2 in the nation. But that case is built mostly on piling up score after score on overmatched opponents. Ohio State’s best win? That would be the 21-10 grinder over Notre Dame in the opener. Notre Dame is now 4-3, unranked in the AP poll, and while they are 22nd in the latest Sagarin Ratings, that game with Ohio State is the lone top 30 matchup the Irish have had. Ohio State’s second best win, per Sagarin, is Wisconsin, also unranked in the AP poll and having recently fired its head coach. So the reason for skepticism is legitimate.

Take Ohio State’s latest win, a 54-10 pasting of Iowa in which the offense bogged down but the defense came through. Of course it did. Iowa is 128th of 131 FBS teams in scoring offense, and 131st in offensive yardage. The 158 total yards Ohio State held Iowa to falls between the 150 they managed in a loss to Iowa State and the 166 they amassed in edging South Dakota State. Ohio State’s defense has been great — 5th in FBS in limiting scoring and 2nd in yardage allowed. But who has tested it?

The toughest offense Ohio State has seen so far? Rutgers, at 65th place in yardage, earns the dubious honor.

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Penn State’s offense, while not exactly explosive, ranks 49th.

And the Buckeyes’ offense, of course, has been stellar. Of course it has. It’s racked up over 500 yards 4 times, including 763 against Toledo. But it’s also had 3 games of 413 or less, including 2 games in the 300s. Admittedly, 2 of those low-yardage games were against Iowa and Rutgers, both currently in the top 10 in total defense. But, the point is, good defenses have at least slowed the Buckeyes if not stopped them. (Admittedly, Penn State is 63rd in total defense, and couldn’t have stopped Michigan with 12 players on the field, possibly even 13.)

There has been a formula to recent Ohio State losses. The Buckeyes don’t lose to bad teams — the 2018 loss to Purdue is probably the most recent possible occasion of that phenomenon. If they’re going to lose, it takes a good team with a ball-control attack to keep OSU off the field and an overplaying defense. Penn State could fit all those categories.

The Nittany Lions are No. 13 in the nation. They are 5th in the B1G in rushing and 4th in yards per carry (Michigan is the only team above them in both who’s on the OSU schedule). They’re tough at both forcing turnovers (14 on the season, 3rd in the B1G) and not committing them (7 on the season, tied with OSU for 2nd in the league). Feature back Nicholas Singleton has a pair of 100-yard games to his credit and averages 6.8 yards per carry. Veteran QB Sean Clifford doesn’t always look terribly smooth, but he’s got 13 touchdowns to 3 interceptions on the season, and is capable of grinding out an ugly win.

Now, it’s a far sight between claiming that Penn State could fit the profile for an OSU upset and claiming that the Lions will deliver that upset. The real Penn State team may well be the one that Michigan ran into submission 2 weeks ago. The Nittany Lions have had to grind out wins over Purdue and Northwestern. It’s worth noting that the aforementioned Sagarin ratings have Michigan as the only top 30 team the Nittany Lions have yet faced.

In fact, for Ohio State, this weekend shapes up perfectly. Better to face Penn State now and Michigan next month, when the chips are down. This game should be just enough of a test to keep the Buckeyes at the top of the polls and to give a little more confidence to followers who are shaky on the level of competition played. Because, honestly, after this game, it should be smooth sailing until The Team Up North comes to town after Thanksgiving.

So is Penn State a real proving ground? Maybe, but very possibly not. It’ll look good enough to impress from a distance, and it’ll give the Buckeyes another month until they play THE meaningful game of 2022. Which makes it ultimately something of another win for OSU.