Penn State looks for first win vs. No. 1 since 1990


It has been a while since Penn State last defeated the No. 1 team in the country. If history is any indication, the result will not be an all-too-pleasant one for the Nittany Lions. Penn State is 4-11 all-time against top-ranked teams, and just 2-11 in regular season games against top-ranked opponents. But hey, every year is different, right?

Penn State has faced Ohio State when the Buckeyes were on top of the AP poll three times, all since Penn State joined the Big Ten. The fourth will happen on Saturday. Ohio State is the only top-ranked Big Ten opponent Penn State has faced since joining the conference, although the Nittany Lions faced a top-ranked Michigan State team in 1952 and 1966. In the two games Penn State has played in Ohio Stadium when the Buckeyes were No. 1, the defense played admirably but the offense was suffocated in losses by the scores of 28-9 and 28-6 in 1998 and 2006, respectively. Ohio State was also No. 1 when they visited Beaver Stadium in 2007. Ohio State left with a 37-17 victory.


Two of Penn State’s victories against No. 1 teams have come in national championship games; No. 2 Penn State defeated top-ranked Georgia in the 1983 Sugar Bowl and No. 1 Miami in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl. The bowl victories aside, Penn State’s most famous victory over a No. 1 team in regular season play came in 1981 against Pittsburgh. The victory can simply be referenced by its final score, 48-14.


Penn State’s last win against a top-ranked team came three years before the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten. To say it has been a while is quite an understatement. The last victory over a No. 1 came in 1990 in South Bend, Indiana against Notre Dame. Freshman kicker Craig Fayak’s 34-yard field goal with just four seconds remaining gave Penn State a shocking 24-21 victory to ruin Notre Dame’s championship hopes.

“He preached it to us the whole week,” Rick Sayles, former tight end said of the message delivered to the team by Joe Paterno leading up to the game in South Bend. “He said: ‘If you strip Notre Dame down, they look just like us. There’s no ghosts. There’s no such thing as the luck of the Irish.’ ”

Perhaps a similar message could be delivered to Penn State this season as they prepare for the Buckeyes.

Just last season Penn State gave Ohio State its stiffest test on its road to the national championship (well, since the Virginia Tech game). There is only so much that can be carried from one season to the next, but last year’s meeting in State College should allow for the Nittany Lions to enter this week with a certain level of confidence. Ohio State is a big favorite and the Buckeyes are playing at home. Ohio Stadium has been a house of horrors for Penn State since joining the Big Ten, but Penn State is 2-2 in their last four trips to Columbus.

Penn State vs. No. 1

  • 1937: at Pittsburgh, L 7-28
  • 1952: at Michigan State, L 7-34
  • 1966: at Michigan State, L 8-42
  • 1976: at Pittsburgh, L 7-24
  • 1981: at Pittsburgh, W 48-14
  • 1982: Georgia (Sugar Bowl), W 27-23
  • 1983: Nebraska (Kickoff Classic), L 6-44
  • 1986: Miami (Fiesta Bowl), W 14-10
  • 1989: Notre Dame, L 23-24
  • 1990: at Notre Dame, W 24-21
  • 1998: at Ohio State, L 9-28
  • 2006: at Ohio State, L 6-28
  • 2010: at Alabama, L 3-24

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