Elite QBs lead No. 2 Penn State against No. 6 Ohio State

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Elite QBs lead No. 2 Penn State against No. 6 Ohio State

COLUMBUS, Ohio — J.T. Barrett hasn't been playing at Ohio State forever. It just seems like it to Penn State coach James Franklin.

Barrett helped lead the Buckeyes to a national championship in 2014, Franklin's first year in Happy Valley. That year's game between the Big Ten rivals became one of Barrett's first signature wins as he scored twice in overtime to help the Buckeyes escape Beaver Stadium with a 31-24 win.

And Franklin knows the fifth-year senior quarterback is playing as well as ever, and his supporting cast again is typical Ohio State star quality. That makes the Buckeyes dangerous.

"You're talking about a guy who's had an unbelievable college career. He's probably playing his best football right now," Franklin said.

The No. 2 Nittany Lions (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) visit No. 6 Ohio State (6-1, 4-0) on Saturday in what could be the Big Ten game of the year.

There is as much respect on the Ohio State side for Penn State's junior quarterback Trace McSorley, also playing his gritty best. He has shown he can move the offense and score on elite defenses. Last week against Michigan, he threw for 282 yards and a score and ran for 76 yards and three more touchdowns.

"His competitive spirit is off the charts," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "He's not the biggest guy, but he competes so damn hard. That's what makes J.T. Barrett so special, that's what made Alex Smith so special, Tebow, etc., they're all different sizes, shapes and forms, yet the common trait of winners is competitive spirit."

And like Barrett, McSorley has elite athletes playing around him, namely dynamic tailback Saquon Barkley. One more big performance out of Barkley this weekend could make him the clear Heisman Trophy front-runner down the stretch.

Some other things to watch for on Saturday:

So much at stake
A loss Saturday would have the biggest consequences for Ohio State, whose hopes of returning to the College Football Playoff would be dashed with a second defeat. If the Buckeyes beat Penn State and win out, they will be a serious playoff contender.

Walking away from Columbus with a defeat wouldn't be fatal to Penn State's championship hopes, but it would drop them down into a knot of one-loss teams vying to get noticed by the committee, likely without another chance to beat a highly ranked team in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Bucks bolstered by bye week?
The script is flipped from last year's meeting between these two teams. Penn State was coming off a bye week when they got Ohio State at home in 2016. The Buckeyes didn't see the 24-21 upset coming.

This time it's the Buckeyes who are rested and ready from the off week, as Penn State visits Columbus. The Ohio State players got the weekend off, but Meyer said they've also practiced hard, even playing an intense scrimmage near the end of last week.

Franklin said the bye week gives Ohio State an advantage.

"I think it helps a lot," he said. "There's no doubt about it. You just have more time for everything. More time to recover, more time to get healthy, more time to watch film and plan. It's valuable."

Meyer's teams, going back to his days as coach at Bowling Green, are 21-1 coming off a bye week.

How good is Ohio State?
The Buckeyes have smoked their last five opponents since the unexpected loss to Oklahoma in week two. Barrett has piled up the yards and touchdowns against badly out-manned teams, including Army and UNLV. Naturally, there are lingering doubts about whether the Buckeyes can do it against the likes of Penn State.

Meyer said the communication and execution are sharp, and he insists Barrett is better than seven weeks ago. And the receiving corps has come into its own, too.

"I think what's better right now is the chemistry between the offensive line, the receivers, the running backs, and J.T. and the offensive line," center Billy Price said. That allows for quicker adjustments.

"It's not two or three conversations, it's one conversation, here's the plan, lets rock and roll," the fifth-year senior said. "In this world, you don't want conversations, you want solutions."

Penn State stays put in College Football Playoff rankings

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Penn State stays put in College Football Playoff rankings

Penn State's College Football Playoff chances remained the same Tuesday night.

The Nittany Lions are still a long shot.

James Franklin's team stayed put at No. 10 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings despite beating Nebraska last Saturday, 56-44, in its home finale.

The Nittany Lions close out the regular season this Saturday at Maryland.

Penn State (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) missed out on the Dec. 2 Big Ten title game after losing back-to-back contests to Ohio State and Michigan State. The Nittany Lions have since won two straight and seem destined for a New Year's Six bowl with the College Football Playoff almost entirely out of reach.

Speaking of such, Miami made a small but potentially significant move up to No. 2 behind Alabama in the CFP rankings, with Clemson slipping one spot to three and Oklahoma holding at four.

Wisconsin and Auburn remained next up behind the top four in a week when the top half of the selection committee's rankings were mostly unchanged.

Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Southern California followed in the same order as they did last week. Over the next two weeks, every team in the top nine will play another team ranked in the committee's top 25, including four games matching top playoff contenders.

The Crimson Tide will play at Auburn on Saturday to decide a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship on Dec. 2. The winner plays Georgia.

The Atlantic Coast Conference championship will match Clemson and Miami on Dec. 2, and Wisconsin and Ohio State play in the Big Ten championship.

Miami's move comes after rallying to beat Virginia last Saturday. Committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said Miami is showing characteristics of a championship team.

"When you get down the way Miami did to Virginia two times, once in each half, and you have the poise and the ability to come back and win in a convincing manner, that is special," said Hocutt, the Texas Tech athletic director.

The Hurricanes (10-0) play at Pitt Friday and now seem better positioned to get into the playoff even with a loss to Clemson, depending on how things play out in other conferences.

Central Florida came in at No. 15 and Memphis is 20th, the highest ranked teams from outside the Power Five. The American Athletic Conference rivals could meet in the league title game in two weeks if UCF beats USF on Black Friday, setting up a game that would likely send the winner into a New Year's Six bowl.

How does this play out?
On championship Saturday, the selection committee gathers at the Dallas-area resort hotel where it holds its weekly meeting to watch games together. When the games are done, Hocutt and his crew of 12 experts dig into the results and put together their final, and only truly meaningful, top 25.

Will it be a late night at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine or will the committee members be able to uncork a bottle of wine during the second half of the ACC title game? A lot depends on Alabama.

The Crimson Tide could essentially eliminate two other playoff contenders in Auburn and Georgia. The Tigers have no shot if they don't win the Iron Bowl and the SEC title. Georgia at 11-2 with a loss in the conference title game could still have a flicker of hope to be the second SEC team in the playoff, but would need a lot of help.

At 13-0, the Crimson Tide would be seeded No. 1 and heading to New Orleans to play in the Sugar Bowl semifinal. Easy.

If Alabama loses the Iron Bowl or wins that and loses the SEC championship game, it means the committee will likely be ordering up a couple extra pots of coffee instead of a nice pinot noir.

The SEC champion is pretty much a lock to get in. But what to do with Alabama at 11-1 or 12-1? The Crimson Tide has been the most dominant team all season, rarely challenged on the field. Nick Saban's Tide, loaded with five-star recruits and future high draft picks, will always pass the eye test. Alabama's best wins now are against LSU and Mississippi State, both 8-3.

Alabama is the only team to make the playoff all three seasons. Is the committee prepared to leave the Tide out?

The next team that can help clear things up for the committee is Wisconsin.

The committee is not thrilled with the Badgers' schedule, but Wisconsin can get a marquee victory in the Big Ten title game — as long as Ohio State takes care of Michigan on Saturday. At 13-0 and with a conference championship, the committee can replace the ACC championship loser with Wisconsin in the top four.

Wisconsin can also eliminate Ohio State and its 31-point loss to Iowa. A Wisconsin loss to Ohio State — or Oklahoma losing to TCU in the Big 12 title game — opens to the door to consideration of two-loss teams that could bring Notre Dame and USC back into the discussion.

The committee could be weighing two-loss conference champions against one-loss teams with no titles. Last year Ohio State was the latter and got in on the strength of three victories against top-10 teams. No contender can match that without winning its conference this season, which could make the decision much tougher this time.

Penn State falls for 1st time this season to No. 16 Texas A&M

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Penn State falls for 1st time this season to No. 16 Texas A&M

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Without prompting, Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy and Robert Williams and Duane Wilson took turns speaking about the long term aspirations for the Aggies.

The words they used were `'special" and "March."

No false modesty here. The 16th-ranked Aggies know they're good and have set their sights on the NCAA Tournament, facts that they unequivocally reiterated after a 98-87 victory over Penn State in the championship game of the Progressive Legends Classic on Tuesday night at Barclays Center.

"It shows we're capable of doing something special," Kennedy said.

Indeed.

All it takes is a brief glance at the final stat sheet to support his argument. Five Aggies finished in double figures. Williams finished with 21 points and nine rebounds. Wilson led the Aggies (4-0) with 22 points while Tyler Davis chipped in 15, Admon Gilder had 14 and Tonny Torcha-Morelos finished with 11.

"We're deep. We're talented. We can make special plays," said Kennedy, who later added, "We have a deep team. We have a lot of guys.

"We have a lot of weapons."

A fact which wasn't lost on Penn State coach Pat Chambers.

Despite getting a career-high 31 points from Tony Carr, Penn State (5-1) lost its first game of the season. Lamar Stevens added 25 points for Penn State.

"Our halfcourt defense, specifically our ball screen defense has to be better," said Chambers, who jabbed the table with his fingers for emphasis. "If you told me (DJ Hogg) was only going to have seven (points) and we scored 87, I'd (have) thought we'd be sitting here with a win."

The Aggies took a 42-40 lead into halftime due to Williams' two-hand follow jam with 4 seconds left in the half. Seven of the eight players who got into the game in the first half for Texas A&M scored, led by Williams' 12.

And the Aggies needed every point, as Carr was a one-man offensive onslaught for the Nittany Lions. Carr had 21 points in the opening half on 7-of-8 shooting including 2 for 2 from 3-point range. He made 5 of 6 free throws.

Texas A&M took a 63-51 lead on Wilson's scoop layup 6:41 into the second half. Wilson's layup was the culmination of a stretch in which the Aggies outscored the Nittany Lions 21-11.

Following Wilson's layup, Chambers called time out. DJ Hogg hit a 3 for the Aggies, Gilder made two free throws and Williams finished a 2-on-1 break with a two-handed jam off an alley-oop pass which pushed the lead to 70-53.

"Give Texas A&M credit. They jumped us," Chambers said. "They got to a big lead."

Penn State used an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to 70-61.

After a layup by Gilder pushed the lead to 72-61, the Nittany Lions scored the next five points on a layup by Carr and three free throws from Stevens. That was as close as they would get.

"Keep your composure at the end," Williams said. "Don't lose it."

Williams was named tournament MVP, and was joined on the all-tournament team by Wilson, Carr, Stevens and Oklahoma State's Jeffrey Carroll.

Big picture
Penn State: The positive for Penn State is that Carr and Stevens combined for 56 points. The negative? The rest of the Nittany Lions totaled 31.

Texas A&M: The defensively stout Aggies were able to flex their offensive muscle against Penn State. Texas A&M made 33 of 54 shots (61 percent) from the field and knocked down 26 of 29 (89.7 percent) free throws.

Notable
Penn State: In the Chambers Era, the Nittany Lions are 4-3 all-time in games played in New York City, and 2-2 at games held at Barclays Center.

Texas A&M: The Aggies improved to 4-0 all-time against the Nittany Lions. Texas A&M is 2-0 at neutral site venues against Penn State.

Up next
Penn State: Hosts Oral Roberts on Friday.

Texas A&M: Hosts Pepperdine on Friday.