If you have ever made the 380-mile drive from western Ohio to Penn State for a football game you’ve probably wondered how a major university ended up in the middle of nowhere.
State College, Pa., the home of Penn State since 1855, and the townships surrounding it have a population of just over 100,000 people. But drive through the area around them in any direction for miles and miles and miles and you will get a decidedly rural feel.
Philadelphia is 192 miles away and it’s 136 miles to get to Pittsburgh. The three other largest cities in Pennsylvania — Allentown, Erie and Reading — are 165 miles, 209 miles and 145 miles from State College.
One explanation for Penn State’s remote location is that it was originally chartered as a college of agricultural science. If you want to teach about farming you go where the farms and the herds are.
The other big reason for the location is free land. An affluent farmer in the area donated 200 acres of land to get the college started.
That is the reason several of the universities in the Big Ten are located where they are.
Purdue got its location and its name when a wealthy businessman, John Purdue, donated land and money when the school was created in 1869.
Michigan is in Ann Arbor because of land, too, according to some historians.
Ann Arbor had offered a parcel of land to be the site of the state capitol after Michigan became a state in 1837. But when it was eliminated from that contest, Ann Arbor’s city government made a pitch to the University of Michigan, which originally was in Detroit, to use that land to relocate to its city.
No. 3 Ohio State’s trip to Penn State to play the Nittany Lions on Saturday night will be the fourteenth time it has played in Beaver Stadium since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993.
OSU has a 7-6 overall record there in Big Ten games and has won five of the last six times it has played at Penn State.
Despite that success, or maybe because some of those wins didn’t come easily, Urban Meyer said earlier this week that Penn State was the toughest place one of his teams ever played and that Beaver Stadium is worth 7 to 10 points to Penn State every home game.
On the surface, Penn State might appear to need all the help it can get. But how many points is the homefield advantage worth if the only people in the stadium are the families of the players and coaches?
The Nittany Lions lost their opener 36-35 to Indiana last Saturday in a game it seemed to have put in the win column late in regulation. But they gave the Hoosiers a chance to tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion, then watched them win it in overtime with another TD and a second two-point conversion.
Meanwhile, Ohio State was winning 52-17 over Nebraska in its opener. So, Ohio State is being favored by almost two touchdowns by the odds makers in Las Vegas.
It might play out that way. Or it might be a little closer, for more reasons than just the homefield advantage.
First of all, Ohio State was not totally awesome for all 60 minutes of its win over Nebraska. Justin Fields was, but not the rest of the team. There is still some work to be done, especially in the running game and on defense.
Second, No. 18 Penn State is not toothless. Its 488 yards total offense was only 10 yards fewer than OSU had against Nebraska and its defense held Indiana to 211 yards.
Quarterback Sean Clifford threw for 238 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 119 yards and another TD against Indiana.
The Nittany Lions’ top two running backs, Journey Brown and Noah Cain, are out for the season because of injuries. But with tight end Pat Freiermuth, wide receiver Jahan Dotson, a veteran offensive line and Clifford, Penn State is still capable of putting points on the scoreboard.
Defensively, end Shaka Toney is probably the player who is the biggest concern for Ohio State. The big question mark for Penn State on defense is how to replace All-American linebacker Micah Parsons, who opted out of the season.
A week ago, Penn State could dream of winning the Big Ten championship and being invited to the College Football Playoff.
Another loss this week could turn the dream into an 0-2 nightmare. It’s a must win game for Penn State. But must win and will win are two different things.
The prediction: Ohio State 35-24.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.