Lions hot over point spread against Buckeyes

The oddsmakers say that Penn State won’t be within 2 1/2

touchdowns of No. 8 Ohio State on Saturday.

Some snarling Nittany Lions say those oddsmakers are dead

wrong.

”It was definitely brought up,” running back Evan Royster

said. ”It’s kind of insulting. I think we’ve proven that we can

put points on the board, that we can win games. A lot of teams

(would) take offense to it, and it will make us work harder.”

Quarterback Matt McGloin agreed.

”It’s upsetting for a school like Penn State, people think

we’re 18- or 17-point underdogs,” he said. ”For someone to throw

out big numbers like that is just ridiculous.”

So those who set the betting line have provided a world of

incentive to a Penn State team (6-3, 2-2 Big Ten) that has followed

a meandering start by winning four of the last five.

That’s a major concern for Ohio State (8-1, 4-1), caught up in a

four-team logjam atop the Big Ten. With the season-shaping showdown

looming next week at Iowa, about the last thing the Buckeyes wanted

was to tangle with an angry team that feels slighted.

”Anything that is paid attention to outside of what needs to

be, can have an effect,” coach Jim Tressel said in his circuitous

fashion. ”If our guys are paying attention to someone

prognosticating where they’re a favorite, then they’re thinking

about the wrong things. So, yeah, I guess it can work against

you.”

In a series as tight as this one – the Buckeyes hold a slim

13-12 upper hand – such a huge point spread seems extreme. Only two

of the last nine meetings have been decided by more than 17

points.

Yet some of the Nittany Lions welcome the motivation.

”We haven’t played well against really good teams this year, so

there’s no reason for anyone to have any type of confidence in

us,” defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu said. ”But that’s a good thing;

that’s us having a chip on our shoulders. We’re up for the

challenge, we’ve gotten better and better as the season has gone

along.”

Lopsided losses to then-No. 1 Alabama (24-3), Iowa (24-3) and

Illinois (33-13) squared Penn State’s record and ended any chance

of a conference title.

But lately, as Ogbu said, the Nittany Lions have found their

rhythm. A week ago, in handing coach Joe Paterno his 400th victory,

they fell behind Northwestern 21-0 before closing with a 35-point

flourish to win 35-21. Before that came wins against Minnesota and

Michigan.

Against Ohio State, they’ll be facing a decidedly better defense

than any of those recent opponents. And with former walk-on McGloin

getting the start, the Buckeyes figure to rush everybody available

to see if the redshirt sophomore can handle the heat.

”We’re going to try to get into his head, to get him thinking

more than he would like,” Buckeyes defensive lineman Dexter

Larimore said. ”We’ll try to take advantage of having a younger

guy (in there).”

Calling the shots for the Ohio State offense is Terrelle Pryor,

an old hand when it comes to Penn State.

”I would rather not go home ever again if we lose,” said

Pryor, a native of Jeannette, Pa., who had Penn State among his

final handful of colleges when he was the No. 1 quarterback recruit

in the country.

Pryor said that the choice between Ohio State and the two big

football powerhouses in Pennsylvania was really no choice at

all.

”Nothing against Pitt – I’m a Pitt fan – but I don’t think it’s

on an Ohio State level by any means,” Pryor said. ”From a Penn

State standpoint, they’re (three) hours away. Nothing against Penn

State, but why wouldn’t you want to come three hours to play for

coach Jim Tressel and The Ohio State University than go to Penn

State? I feel like the better choice is to come here.”

The only blemish on the Buckeyes’ record is a 31-18 loss at

Wisconsin on Oct. 16. Since then, they’ve won two in a row before

taking last week off. And it should be noted that Tressel is only

2-4 at Ohio State in games the week after a bye.

The Buckeyes, who’ve won at least a share of the last five Big

Ten titles, know they can’t afford any more slip-ups if they want

to make it six. They’re consoled by the feeling that they know what

it takes down the stretch. Under Tressel, the Buckeyes are 26-4 in

November.

”I guess we know what’s important in November,” linebacker

Brian Rolle said. ”We actually have signs posted up around here

that say, ‘September is for pretenders.’ We’ve got guys that know

the history of Ohio State football and that Big Ten championships

are won in November. That’s what we’re taught here, that’s what

guys breathe in and that’s what we go out on the field and play

for.”

Associated Press writer Genaro Armas in State College, Pa.,

contributed to this report.