Last year, the goal of the Ohio team in the annual Big 33 game was to end a losing skid.
This time around in the 53rd version of the game, the squad from the Buckeye State is looking to start a winning streak of its own.
“Our kids are excited,” Ohio coach Tom Pavlansky said from Hershey, Pa., where the game will be played Saturday night. “They understand the significance of the game. We're in their backyard, and with Ohio winning last year there's going to be an added dimension there I’m sure.”
As was the case in 2009, the Ohio squad boasts of more Division I FBS signees and more kids headed to Bowl Championship Series schools than the home-state team, although Pennsylvania boasts more four-star recruits.
Ohio State signees defensive linemen Darryl Baldwin of Solon and J.T. Moore of Youngstown Boardman, defensive back Christian Bryant of Cleveland Glenville and athlete Verlon Reed of Columbus Marion Franklin headline a group of 20 BCS signees on the Ohio squad, and Pavlansky raved about the contributions of all of them during the week of practice leading up to the game.
“They’re here for a reason. They love the game of football. They're big-time competitors.,” he said. “They have opportunity to interact and grow with kids from all parts of the state and they are enjoying it. Togetherness is not an issue for us.”
Pavlansky said to look for Reed to play quarterback, wide receiver and even a little bit of defense as the coach tries to take advantage of his athleticism.
Bryant, too, figures to play multiple roles. The four-star defensive back prospect will play that position most but also is expected to return kicks, and Pavlansky said there is a package for him on offense.
“Hopefully we'll be able to use that because he's got some ability,” the coach said. “In a game like this he's going to be valuable. He's just an unbelievable athlete. He's unbelievably fast and competitive. Those are two pretty good combinations to have.”
The defenses must use a 5-2 alignment, cannot blitz and are required to play man-to-man in the secondary, so Pavlansky hopes to be able to get the ball to players such as Reed and Bryant with room to make some big plays in a four-receiver shotgun offense.
Reed, who along with Moore was voted a captain by his teammates, will share snaps at quarterback with Mark Myers of Cleveland St. Ignatius, a Pittsburgh signee.
The Pennsylvania roster lists 18 players headed to a BCS school, including six Big Ten signees and nine future Big East players.
Pennsylvania has five four-star recruits: quarterbacks Anthony Gonzalez of Bethlehem Liberty and Tyler Smith of Easton Wilson Area, offensive lineman Seth Betancourt of Philadelphia St. Anthony’s Prep, cornerback Alex Kenney of State College and wide receiver Salath Williams of Harrisburg Bishop McDevitt.
Gonzalez and Williams are headed to Pitt, while Smith will play for Maryland, Betancourt is signed with Boston College and Kenney is headed to Penn State.
Bryant and Moore are the only four-star recruits on the Ohio squad.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m., and the NFL Network will air the broadcast.
Ohio broke a three-game losing streak last year with a 38-31 victory.
Pennsylvania leads the all-time series with Ohio 9-8.