Posted by Jack Tumen
For the first time since 2011, Penn State is eligible to play in a bowl game and the College Football Playoff. This program still has a little ways to go before we can put them in the championship conversation; but it’s very realistic to be mentioning this team as a Big 10 title contender.
Off to a 2-0 start, the Nittany Lions earned an upset win over the favored UCF Knights in Dublin, Ireland, then followed that up with a 21-3 grinder against Akron. The biggest factor hindering this team right now is the current lack of scholarship players. Next year, James Franklin will be able to have his full 85 back but at the moment this program is playing with a few men down.
The Big Ten standings are completely flip-flopped through the first two weeks of play. Penn State sits atop the east division with conference newcomers, Maryland and Rutgers. Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State all have a loss while Indiana has only played one game. In the west, Nebraska, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota are all 2-0. Purdue and Wisconsin each have a loss while Northwestern is winless. It’s safe to say the Big 10 is wide open right now.
For Penn State, this is a prime chance to seize an opportunity. The conference is in shambles and its public perception is at an all-time low. With the sanctions now lifted, the Nittany Lions have the chance to be the team that saves the Big 10 in 2014. This is not your classic Michigan Wolverines; they flat-out stink. Ohio State is clearly not what everyone thought they would be in the absence of Braxton Miller, losing a primetime game at home to Virginia Tech. People will forget about Michigan State following their loss to Oregon, but the Spartans will rise again late in the year and expect to be contending for the conference title. Mark your calendars for the week 13 matchup when MSU comes to Happy Valley – it could decide the Big 10 East.
What Penn State has going in its favor is great coaching, great character players and the best quarterback in the conference. There are even some scouts who have said Christian Hackenberg is the best passer in the nation. Honestly, it’s not too much of a stretch. When he comes out in a year or two, you can bet on Hack being a high first round pick.
But at this moment, Penn State is preparing for its first Big 10 opponent in Rutgers on Saturday night. The winner has a chance to be in sole possession of first place in the Big 10 East division. Rutgers can put up points; they dropped 41 on Pac-12 opponent, Washington State, and followed that up with 38 points against Howard. That said, both of those teams are a combined 0-4. Penn State is in control of its own destiny right now – and with a win over Rutgers, they almost certainly secure a spot in the top 25. In a time where the Big 10 is struggling mightily, Penn State might just be the unlikely hero that the conference needs.
(Photos by Yours truly.)