For Penn State, what happens in November is way more important that what happens against Ohio State.

Win or lose against the No. 2 Buckeyes on Saturday at Beaver Stadium, the Nittany Lions’ true test of character and progress will come afterward. After Halloween, the scary part of Penn State’s schedule will be done. The 4 teams below the Lions in the Big Ten East standings will remain on the docket, all of them in various states of disarray.

So, if James Franklin’s No. 13-ranked team somehow upsets 15.5-point favorite Ohio State in FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff game, the pressure will be on. The Lions would jump into the top 10 and into Playoff contention. Certain dominos would have to fall their way, but ruining the chance by stumbling against an also-ran would bring scathing condemnation from near and far.

If No. 13 Penn State (6-1, 3-1) loses as expected, the November stretch run might actually be even more magnified. Hardcore fans love their Lions, but they’re weary of watching their team lose its passion and drive once a division title is out of reach. This squad should finish the regular season no worse than 10-2, and the faithful will be justified in doubting the program if it doesn’t.

Is all the professed love and brotherhood just a show?

Will the players planning to enter the NFL Draft bail? Will Sean Clifford continue to play his ass off and also mentor Drew Allar? Will the allure of double-digit wins and a New Year’s 6 bowl keep the veterans engaged? Or will the team backslide into the mode that produced a 2-year span of .500 football?

Only the Lions can really derail the Lions in November. After Ohio State, their schedule sets up as follows the next 4 Saturdays:

  • @Indiana (3-5), which is on a 5-game losing streak.
  • Maryland (6-2), the best team on PSU’s November slate. Taulia Tagovailoa may or may not be back from injury by then. Either way, the Terps have never been or beaten a ranked team with him at QB.
  • @Rutgers (4-3), whose only B1G win is over Indiana.
  • Michigan State (3-4), which will lose to Michigan on Saturday and has injury and depth issues.

We must, of course, concede the caveat that anything can happen on any given Saturday, which also is why the Lions will have a puncher’s chances against the Buckeyes (7-0, 4-0).

What I want to see vs. the Buckeyes

With a confluence of heroic play and some luck, Penn State could pull a major upset and win for just the 2nd time in 11 games in this series. Games like the Lions’ 24-21 home White Out victory over OSU in 2016 do happen now and again.

Short of that, I want to see the Lions put up way more resistance than they did in losing 41-17 at Michigan. I want to see some evidence that the coaching staff schemed for this specific game, which didn’t seem to be the case 2 weeks ago in Ann Arbor. I don’t want PJ Mustipher or any other Lion to feel the need to use the word “embarrassing” after the fact.

It’s one thing to lose, but quite another to look lost throughout while doing so.

Penn State has played the Buckeyes tough in most of the meetings during Franklin’s tenure, and it should do so again, at home, in its biggest game of the year.

Prediction

The matchup is not good.

Heisman co-favorite CJ Stroud has thrown for 28 TDs (4 per game!) with only 4 picks. He leads the nation in QB rating, ahead of his main Heisman challenger, Hendon Hooker of Tennessee. He has the best receiver group in the land. Even if Joey Porter Jr. and the rest of PSU’s secondary plays its stickiest coverage yet, Stroud will find open men. He’ll find tight end Cade Stover, or a back out of the backfield.

A third-year sophomore, Stroud is already NFL-ready, and he’ll have time to pick apart the Lions. Behind a solid, veteran line, he’s been sacked only 5 times this season, never more than once in a game.

Under new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, the defense ranks top 5 in the country in limiting points and yards. Having served on Oklahoma State’s staff alongside Penn State OC Mike Yurcich, Knowles won’t be surprised by anything his counterpart throws at him.

Any honest analyst knew going into this season that Penn State was a year or 2 away from competing with the big boys. A rather large segment of the “7-5” crowd scoffed at my preseason prediction of 10-2. To be honest, even I conceded that was optimistic.

All that said, a loss is not ammo for the “fire Franklin” crowd, but getting obliterated like against Michigan would be.

Although there is supposedly no such thing as a moral victory, I’d like to see the Lions get one.

That would be enough for this fan. The program’s real proving ground for this season comes next month.

Ohio State 38, Penn State 24