COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -There's no doubt about Ohio State's No. 1 rival. With echoes of the Bo-Woody tumult of yesteryear and all of that ``team up north'' rhetoric, Michigan clearly is the red-letter opponent on the schedule.
But No. 2 on the list might just be the team the Buckeyes often have the most trouble with - Penn State.
``Ohio State's got a great tradition,'' Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. ``We've had a lot of good games with them.''
When the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes meet Saturday night in Happy Valley, the game may well swing on one play, as it so often does.
One reason is both teams are usually talented. Another is familiarity: Even in the Big Ten's rotating schedule, the Nittany Lions are on the Buckeyes' schedule every year - just as Michigan is.
The teams have a lot in common, and the scores are usually close. Four times in the last six meetings, the difference has been seven or fewer points, including margins of 2, 6, 1 and 7 points.
Even those other two meetings were deceptively tight. Ohio State won 21-10 in 2004 and last year led 7-6 going into the fourth quarter before the top-ranked Buckeyes put the game out of reach with three touchdowns.
``I've been in each one of them in the last decade, so I've lived all of them,'' Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. ``It's too good traditional football teams and two hard-hitting teams, two competitive teams and two competitive coaches. You know going in it's going to be a battle and then it comes down to turnovers and who's able to run the football.''
The No. 1-ranked Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) are extremely wary of the No. 24 Nittany Lions (6-2, 3-2) and what they're capable of, particularly when at home. The Buckeyes are 2-5 at Beaver Stadium since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1994.
``A person being in the wrong spot can go for a touchdown,'' defensive tackle Vernon Gholston said. ``Any time you've got two teams competing like Penn State and Ohio State, it's close. We look a lot back at '05, when it was 17-10, and we expect similar things going up there.''
That '05 loss at Beaver Stadium knocked the sixth-ranked Buckeyes out of the national championship picture. It also was the last time the Buckeyes lost a Big Ten game, a string they've extended to a school-best 18 in a row, one off the conference record set by Michigan 1990-2.
Ohio State's players are on high alert that they're walking into a Lions den again.
``Coach (Jim) Tressel definitely harps on that in big games like this,'' wide receiver Brian Robiskie said. ``We know we're going on the road at night in a hostile environment. This is one of those games where your focus has to go up.''
Consider some of the big plays in this series in the last few years.
-In 2001, Zack Mills rallied Penn State from a 27-9 deficit to win 29-27 in State College. That moved Joe Paterno past Paul ``Bear'' Bryant into the career coaching victories lead with 324 (now he's up to 369).
-Chris Gamble, who started at both cornerback and wide receiver, returned a pass by Mills 40 yards for the decisive score in a 13-7 win. The play was one of a number of close calls for Ohio State (14-0) in its 2002 national championship run.
-Backup quarterback Scott McMullen hit Michael Jenkins with a 5-yard TD pass with 1:35 left to give Ohio State a 21-20 win in 2003. Penn State's David Kimball came up just short on a 60-yard field goal on the final play.
-Penn State's defense, led by Tamba Hali, forced Ohio State QB Troy Smith to fumble the ball away with 81 seconds left to preserve a 17-10 win in that 2005 showdown.
``If you stepped back and looked at Ohio State and Penn State and said what makes them most similar, I would say two things,'' Tressel said. ``One, they both pay very close attention to special teams. And they both play excellent defense. It's not that they don't play good on offense. (Those) would be the hallmarks of those teams over the course of years and years and years.''

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