The last six times the Buckeyes have played a team as good or better based on rankings, they've lost. No one has to tell the players, either.
"I haven't led us to a big win yet," said quarterback Terrelle Pryor, a central figure in the past three big-game losses. "The quarterback has to lead. And I haven't led in a big game."
Ohio State (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) has lost its only game this year against a ranked opponent, then-No. 3 Southern California. A year ago, the Buckeyes lost marquee matchups with No. 1 USC, No. 3 Penn State and No. 3 Texas, losing to the Longhorns in the last minute of the Fiesta Bowl. In 2007, the only top-20 team they played was No. 2 LSU, which rolled over the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes 38-24 in the BCS national championship game in New Orleans.
The big-game drought started in a big way with the 2006 national title game. Ohio State came in unbeaten and No. 1 but was dusted by No. 2 Florida 41-14.
There has been more grumbling from Ohio State fans about the failings in high-profile games. Coach Jim Tressel, who could seemingly do no wrong in big games early when he started in Columbus, now is questioned about every facet of his preparation, philosophy and play-calling in the biggest games now.
"We try not to worry about the people who are talking on the outside," tailback Dan "Boom" Herron said.
Despite the criticism and questions, the players say none of the pervious losses has any effect. They say they are coming to Happy Valley ready to win.
"From a team standpoint, from inside the locker room, we're confident about the offense," wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher. "Obviously, there's always going to be talk about, 'Oh, you guys play in spurts' or 'You don't perform well in big games.' But we are always a confident team and we know what we can do and we have the players to do it."
It's not as if Penn State has swept through its biggest games. In its only game against a top-tier opponent this season, then-unranked but unbeaten Iowa topped the Nittany Lions 21-10. Penn State closed out last season with a 38-24 loss to No. 5 USC in the Rose Bowl.
The stakes are high for both teams Saturday, with the loser most likely eliminated from the Big Ten race and a BCS bowl. It won't get easier for Ohio State the following week, with No. 8 Iowa visiting.
"The consequences of winning or losing are obvious to everybody, but you can't go at it that way," coach Joe Paterno said. "We've got to concentrate on doing the best we can against Ohio State. It's not going to be an easy situation for us because they are solid. We've got to just say, 'Let's play it,' 'Let's go out there and have a little fun,' and 'Let's not beat ourselves."'
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