Decades ago, the Big Ten Conference was known as the Big Two and the Little Eight.

That was a testament to the longtime dominance of Ohio State and Michigan, who simply owned the tradition-bound league from 1968 through 1982. During that stretch, either the Buckeyes or Wolverines earned at least a share of the conference crown in each and every year.

In the 30-plus years since then, a certain level of parity has developed in the Big Ten, with seven other schools gaining at least a piece of a Big Ten football championship -- Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Northwestern and Purdue.

Still, in many respects, Ohio State and Michigan remained the league's bellwether programs.

Then Urban Meyer arrived on the scene in 2012, and he's quickly threatening to change the Big Ten into the Big One and Little 11. Next season, with expansion, that could become the Big One and the Little 13. (Yes, I know the math is a little fuzzy -- blame the Big Ten for that).

Meyer has not lost since taking over the Buckeyes' program, going 12-0 in 2012 despite being on NCAA probation and 7-0 so far in 2013. That followed an ugly 6-7 Ohio State season in 2011.

That kind of record is no fluke. Meyer was also hugely successful in his previous stops at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. His career record is 123-23 with two national titles while with the Gators.


Advertisement

Meyer is also a master recruiter, landing top-five classes in 2012 and 2013 at Ohio State, and he's well on his way to another top-five class in 2014.

It's becoming increasingly clear that the Buckeyes are now the Big Ten gold standard.

Saturday night in Columbus, Penn State and Bill O'Brien will see how they measure up to that standard.

It's clear that the Vegas wise guys don't have much faith in the Nittany Lions (4-2), making them 15-point underdogs vs. the Buckeyes. That seems about right. Meyer and Ohio State pulled away in the second half for a 35-23 victory over the Lions last year in Beaver Stadium.

A similar outcome seems likely Saturday at the Horseshoe.

Ohio State just looks too talented for a Penn State team lacking in depth and defensive playmakers, and featuring a freshman at quarterback. Christian Hackenberg has tremendous potential, but asking him to pull off a stunning upset in one of the storied cathedrals in college football seems a bit much, especially for a teenager starting only his seventh game. But stranger things have happened.

Even if the Lions lose, as expected, they can still learn something very important on Saturday night.

They can discover the exact size of the gap that separates them from the Buckeyes, and O'Brien can get quickly to work on narrowing that chasm. The recent decision by the NCAA to ease the scholarship sanctions that were imposed on PSU in the wake of the Sandusky scandal should help in that endeavor.

And in his short tenure with the Lions, it's become evident that the ultra-competitive O'Brien will not back down from any challenge -- including the one presented by Ohio State and Meyer.

The Lions may take their lumps Saturday night, but O'Brien will do everything in his power to make sure that doesn't become trend in this border war.

O'Brien, more than anyone, knows that Meyer and the Buckeyes are unlikely to come back to the pack in the Big Ten anytime soon. That leaves only one option for Penn State and the rest of the conference. They must raise their games to Ohio State's level.

It's really pretty simple.

Get better, or get run over.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dis patch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.