The Glory Days Bowl is heavy on hype, soft on substance for Nebraska and Penn State
If you watched any NFL games on FOX this past Sunday, you saw the advertisements hyping a game between two storied college football programs. Of course, the graphic declined to mention either team’s abysmal record, as that might have put a damper on Penn State’s visit to Nebraska.
Saturday’s game — let’s call it the Glory Days Bowl — between teams with a combined 5 national championships in the 1980s and 1990s (but nothing since) doesn’t have much in the way of stakes other than a brief reprieve from a dismal season.
Nebraska tight end Austin Allen, talking to reporters after the loss to Northwestern last week, said the Huskers want to “shock the world” against Penn State. Unfortunately, there isn’t an outcome between Penn State (0-3) and Nebraska (0-2) that would shock much of anyone. Both programs are struggling — Nebraska ever since Bo Pelini left and Penn State since Micah Parsons left, I guess.
In fairness to Allen, he probably didn’t know that Penn State hit a new low with a blowout loss to 25-point underdog Maryland when he delivered that quote. But his mindset is understandable — both teams just want something positive to cling to. This weekend can provide the allure of a quality win, even if we all know neither of these teams is what it was hyped up to be.
It’s probably more important for Huskers coach Scott Frost at this point, given the lack of progress he has made. Now in his third season, Frost is 9-17. There haven’t been any significant moments for the fan base to get excited about. Sorry, Illinois and Maryland, you don’t resonate.
It’s not just a Frost problem, either. Since 2014, Nebraska is 1-19 against the premier programs of the Big Ten (Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa). These are the programs regularly ranked in the AP poll and that have similar resources as Nebraska, yet the Huskers have a lone win against Iowa in 2014 (Pelini’s final season) to show for it.
James Franklin, meanwhile, has built up a bevy of goodwill for the way he resurrected Penn State’s program, so he probably gets a pass for one subpar season — especially considering the Nittany Lions’ unfortunate luck. And deservedly so, as the guy won 11 games in 3 of the past 4 seasons. Joe Paterno only won double-digit games in 3 of his final 12 seasons. Franklin still has a .683 winning percentage with Penn State despite the poor start to 2020.
Both coaches face quarterback conundrums that may come to a head this weekend, as Frost pulled Adrian Martinez in favor of Luke McCaffrey against Northwestern, and Franklin probably should have pulled Sean Clifford in favor of Will Levis or Ta’Quan Roberson against Maryland. Whichever team can figure out its QB issues first probably wins this game and probably turns its program around first.
The tricky part is that coaches have to play politics with their QBs. How will a move be perceived to recruits or graduate transfers? Or even their own players? Coaches have to constantly be wary of losing their QBs and also creating a positive environment for the hot QB on the transfer market.
The reason Ohio State is a national title contender and Georgia is not is because the former has Justin Fields and the latter does not. Nebraska and Penn State aren’t a QB away from national title contention, but it would surely help to figure out who that guy will be moving forward.
Is Frost married to Martinez and convinced he can still develop him? Or is it time to give McCaffrey a real chance? Is Franklin thinking the same with Clifford? Clifford, in particular, showed promise last season and is now working with a new offensive coordinator. Martinez’s numbers have been in steady decline since he burst onto the scene as a freshman.
In general, Nebraska and Penn State have underachieved offensively. Frost was supposed to ignite the Nebraska offense like he did at UCF, and offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca was supposed to ignite the Penn State offense like he did at Minnesota. Both have fallen short. Nebraska is averaging a B1G-worst 15 points per game, and Penn State is 11th at 26.3 points per game (and it would be even worse if not for 2 garbage-time TDs against Maryland).
If ever there was a time for Nebraska to notch a win that looks better than it is, and thus fire up its fan base, this is it. And if ever there was a time for Penn State to stop the train from completely falling off the track and convince recruits that it is still a top-10 program, this is it.
There may not be much at stake in the Glory Days Bowl, but it’s OK to sell it as something a little more. This is the privilege of being a storied program — and being in promos that identify you as a storied program: You’re always one win away from changing the perception, even if most know deep down that given the state of these two programs, a win doesn’t prove much of anything.