Penn State and Ohio State are essentially in the College Football Playoffs. It's just that the game is getting played two months early.
In turn there is a tendency to get caught up in the wrinkles, trying to guess the big surprise each offense will throw at their opponent. But these teams are too good to get fooled for long, if at all.
So like always it's the little things, not big changes that will make the difference. Great teams don't win because they installed a new formation, they win because they take care of the fundamentals. That's what will determine Saturday's game and what will determine who sits in the driver's seat in the Big Ten Eastern division.
The history of the Penn State/Ohio State series is proof of that.
In the past three meetings there have been blocked punts, a blocked field goal, a bad snap that led to a safety, turnover on downs in the red zone, a fumbled punt and a missed field goal. Not to mention two overtimes and a few fortunate calls in either direction.
For Penn State though, it might just come down to something as simple as staying on schedule.
Over the past two games against Ohio State the Nittany Lions have gone 3-of-25 on third down. The Buckeyes, they have converted 14-of-33 attempts.
This season that trend has more or less held for each team. Penn State is ranked 68th nationally on third down, converting 39-percent of its third down chances. Ohio State is 10th, having converted 49-percent. Conveniently both teams have faced the same number of third downs, with Penn State converting 35-of-89 while Ohio State got a first down on nine more occasions for a 44-of-89 clip.
It isn't a hard and fast stat, both teams have had their second and third units on the field and those third downs count for and against the number, but the point remains. Penn State can't face third and long against a Buckeye front that will switch to an all-defensive end look to rush the passer.
"It's the athleticism," James Franklin said of the four-DE package. "When defensive ends typically different body types, different movement, different style, and we do the same thing, we call it our wild package where we put four defensive ends and I think Parker Cothren is one of the better nose guards in the country, but his ability to rush the passer is going to be different, it's going to be more power based compared to quickness and lateral movement and those types of things than if you're going against a traditional inside guy."
"So fortunately for us we go against pretty good ones in practice all the time, which helps us, but that's going to be a challenge in the game. I would also make the argument us staying on schedule and not getting into situations where it's third and long and obvious passing situations helps because people aren't typically comfortable going with four D ends in the game when the offense could run the ball in that situation. That's obviously why you don't play with four D ends. So I think that's an important part of it as well is not put yourself in those positions as much as you possibly can."
So as both teams take the field this weekend and you're looking for the wrinkles, don't forget to check down and distance too. In the end, it will matter far more.