Despite his legendary status, Penn State's Joe Paterno has encountered a number of coaches who've had his number through the years. He was winless in four attempts against the late Bear Bryant, suffered a nine-game losing streak at the hands of former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and has struggled to a 2-7 record against Iowa's Kirk Ferentz.
Jim Tressel, who resigned in disgrace from an Ohio State program racked by scandal last week, has won seven of his 10 meetings with Paterno. Despite that record, though, Tressel will likely never join Bryant, Carr and Ferentz in the club of coaches who can say they "own" Paterno, as Tressel struggled in the biggest of games against Penn State.
When the two coaches first clashed in 2001, Paterno's Nittany Lions came from behind to deliver their leader his 327th career victory, allowing him to move past Bear Bryant for first all-time on the major-college win list. Then, in both 2005 and 2008, Paterno earned the upper hand against Tressel in games that were critical in swinging the Big Ten championship in Penn State's favor.
Though Tressel won his share of games against Paterno, his Buckeyes faltered when the lights were brightest and the stage was largest.
With that in mind, it's hard to see Penn State fans getting too excited over Tressel's demise. He certainly didn't dominate the Lions the way he did blood rival Michigan. Nevertheless, he did have a large degree of success against Penn State, and with his departure from Ohio State, even brighter days could be ahead for the Lions against the Buckeyes.
The 2011 season will mark the dawn of the divisional era in the Big Ten, and both Ohio State and Penn State will take up residence in the conference's Leaders Division. Joining them will be defending conference co-champ Wisconsin, along with Indiana, Purdue and Illinois.
Through the spring, many prognosticators speculated that Ohio State and Wisconsin would battle it out for the league crown. With Tressel's resignation, however, and rumors that senior Buckeye quarterback Terrelle Pryor might not return for 2011, the Leaders race may open up a bit for Penn State, which is coming off a 7-6 season in 2010.
Ohio State interim coach Luke Fickell will have to contend with not only his own inexperience, but the effects of Ohio State's offseason scandal in his first campaign. The Buckeyes will be without at least five starters, including Pryor and running back Dan Herron, for the first five games of the season, as they were suspended in December for violating NCAA rules. Even worse, Fickell with have to reshuffle his roster when those players return, right in the heart of Ohio State's league schedule, which includes meetings with Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin in three of the Buckeyes' first four conference games.
Penn State, on the other hand, will not play a conference game against a team that won nine or more games last season until Nov. 12 against Nebraska. Paterno and the Lions will have to settle a quarterback controversy, but won't face the meat of their schedule until the very end, with Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin all in the last three weeks of the season. The Lions will have months to make sure they're playing their best football of the year by the time crunch time arrives.
With that in mind, by the time Ohio State and Penn State clash November 19 in Columbus, the Lions may well be in a position to battle the Buckeyes for the Leaders division title. With Tressel's old squad facing suspensions, distractions, and an inexperienced head coach, you have to like Paterno's cool hand in another big game.