At the end of September, Penn State Football appeared ripe for mediocrity. One blocked kick against Ohio State brought them back to the surface of national relevancy. One blocked kick returned for a touchdown that toppled the potentate of the Big Ten launched Penn State into the conference title game where Wisconsin was waiting.
The Badgers had surprised the national pundits with a season that boasted impressive victories over LSU and Nebraska. A shaky Big Ten West division became an easier road to Indianapolis than expected.
Prior to the game, we bellied up to a bar in downtown Indianapolis where we met up with the Ritter brothers, a pair of siblings on a mission to travel the country and see as many possible games if they could in the season. We shared stories about our own personal journeys along the college football trail. They learned quickly that I was a badger to the core, but that we both shared a love for every campus and every traditional tie that make college football gamedays so magical.
Lucas Oil Stadium filled quickly, and anticipation for this Top 10 matchup was feverishly palpable – a spot in the college football playoff lurked in discussions about this game. For Penn State, this was their first Big Ten championship game since it’s inception in 2011. Wisconsin had been a frequent visitor, so the blue and white made an impactful dent in the attendance numbers.
College Gameday set up its show in Indianapolis heaping additional hype on a game already boiling over with national implications. Both fan bases were loud, active, and brimming with hope for at least a trip to the Rose Bowl.
But, even Badger fans and were stunned in moments of silence when their team vaulted to 28-7 advantage in the second quarter. No one was really saying it, but you can be sure that a rose was etched on the mind of every red-clad fanatic.
The second half would rekindle that same spirit that blocked the season defining kick against the Buckeyes. Behind QB Trace McSorley, the Nittany Lions offense exploded while the Badger defense deflated. A completely different team surged ahead and never looked back. Penn State won the Big Ten with a thrilling 38-31 victory.
This win meant more to Penn State than it would have for Wisconsin. Just five years removed from a child sex abuse scandal that ripped apart that university, the Nittany Lions have achieved something that helps to erase some of that pain. “We Are Penn State” never rang so proud and so true as it did in Indianapolis tonight. The Penn State nation deserves it.