Looks like the Lions are better,
see 3-1 over the next four
By Neil Rudel
Sean Clifford said earlier this month that the Nittany Lions “I want to win every game this season.”
While that might be obvious, it was also a surprising revelation given the team’s 11-11 record over the past two years – with Clifford at the helm.
Penn State is not in an unusual position. For the fifth time in the last six seasons — 2020 being the only outlier — the Nittany Lions started 4-0 or better.
And now that the appetite has been whetted, everyone is pointing to October and a season-defining gauntlet at Michigan, against Minnesota (whitewash) and against Ohio State.
Northwestern will be first at bat this Saturday, but by the odds (25.5), the Wildcats wouldn’t be favored to win the Mid-American Conference, let alone threaten the top echelon of the Big Ten.
Hardly anyone expects the Lions to lead the October table.
Then again, few thought they would win at both Purdue and Auburn – maybe one but not both, although neither has lived up to their own expectations this year.
Which brings me back to today’s question.
I picked Penn State 8-4, and I have to fall on my sword. The Nits are better than I expected, and I think they have a decent chance of going 3-1 in October.
That means parting ways with Michigan or Ohio State and beating Minnesota.
James Franklin is 2-2 in Ann Arbor, winning 18-13 in his first season and 27-17 in his last trip, 2020 (Covid year, when the Wolverines were even less interested than PSU).
The middle two games have not been kind – 49-10 in 2016 and 42-7 in 2018.
Praise Michigan for dismantling Ohio State last year and then finally winning its first Big Ten championship game.
It’s hard to say if the Wolverines are that tough this year. Their Colorado State, Hawaii State, and UConn non-conference schedule is no indication. Last weekend’s home fight with Maryland might be.
Either way, Penn State should go 5-0 and rest a bye week.
Assuming an improved performance over what the Lions showed against Central Michigan, bettors will see this as a field goal spread – likely with Michigan favored.
It will be about being able to physically cling to Michigan. But the Lions are probably quicker and have enough playmakers on both sides of the ball to win the game.
Whether it was the humble pie Franklin served up in 2020 and 21, or some tweaks he made by prioritizing depth, or Manny Diaz’s new style – nothing against Brent Pry, who made solid work – or offensive line improvement, whatever it is, this year is different.
It feels like the Lions are better, and it looks like Franklin will thankfully improve to 7-17 against Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, especially with the Spartans limping.
Regardless of the outcome at the Big House, Minnesota is on the rise, and you can be sure offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarracca — who was unfairly fired after a year at PSU — and the Gophers will be ready.
It was Ciarracca’s work that split the Lions’ secondary in 2019 and handed Penn State its first loss after an 8-0 start. And who was Minnesota’s quarterback that day? Tanner Morgan, who – like Clifford – is still there.
With Purdue and Illinois coming up, it’s highly likely that the Gophers will arrive on Oct. 22 undefeated, and no matter what happens in Michigan the week before, it’s going to be a game Franklin can’t afford to lose.
Oh, his contract says otherwise, but the court of public opinion won’t.
That brings us to Ohio State on October 29, and if you’ve seen much of the Buckeyes, they’re on another level, but Beaver Stadium will be ready – especially if the Lions are 3-0 in October at that time.
Which is very possible.
Rudel can be reached at 814-946-7527 or [email protected]
Still not sold on PSU
flying OSU, Michigan
By Cory Giger
Penn State has a good team. I’m convinced. But I’m still not at all convinced that the Nittany Lions have a very good team, the kind that can enter the Big House and beat Michigan on October 15th.
I still consider that one a loss on my side.
And since I don’t see Penn State beating Ohio State on October 29 either, I can’t predict anything better than a 2-2 record for October.
To be fair, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if the Lions end up going 1-3 for the month, if history repeats itself.
I’ll explain why I’m picking Michigan to beat Penn State in a moment.
First, there’s this tidbit about James Franklin: his post-loss record as head coach is 15-28-1, which ranks him in the bottom five of all FBS coaches. .
One of the biggest warts of Franklin’s coaching career is that once his team loses a game, he struggles to get everyone to regroup for the next game.
So if my pick of Michigan is indeed correct, we’ll have to take a close look at Penn State’s next game after that — a visit from Minnesota on Oct. 22.
This is the whiteout game. There’s no way right now that I’m picking Penn State to lose that, because of the program’s success in whiteout contests.
But while I won’t pick Minnesota, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to Lion fans if the Gophers enter Beaver Stadium and win that one.
Minnesota is good. The Gophers just crushed Michigan State on the road last week, 34-7, and have Purdue at home this week, then a trip to Illinois.
They should be 6-0 and brimming with confidence when they visit Penn State, and will be a very tough opponent.
Alright, so you can see how it’s possible — despite a lot going well for Penn State right now — that the Lions could actually go 1-3 back in October.
It’s not just me that’s negative about this Penn State team, which I’m sure some fans will think. It’s about respecting the fact that Michigan is a road game, Ohio State is a much better team, and the possibility of this tricky Minnesota game coming after a potential first loss.
OK, so why don’t I think PSU will beat Michigan? Same old, same old, really: Sean Clifford’s inconsistency and lingering questions about the game being played.
Yes, Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen have been outstanding so far, and it will be very exciting to watch these guys develop throughout their careers. But I’m still not convinced that Penn State is going to Michigan and running the ball very effectively.
If the Lions aren’t performing very well, it will put more pressure on Clifford to have to win the game on his own. I have very little confidence that he can pull that off in Michigan.
The 4-0 start was great and the PSU players have a lot of confidence right now. But I can see a situation where they lose to Michigan, everyone is deflated – especially the younger players – and the loss lingers with the team longer than it should.
And hey, even if they beat Minnesota the following week, the Buckeyes will end Lions’ College Football Playoff hopes at the end of the month.
Cory Giger covers Penn State for DK Pittsburgh Sports and hosts “Sports Center” weekdays from 4 to 5 on WRTA. He can be contacted at [email protected]