After four weeks, we have a pretty good idea of where most all Big Ten teams stand. Ohio State is really good. Michigan has some issues. Wisconsin is really good. Michigan State has some (offensive) issues. Iowa is typical Iowa (gritty and formidable). Northwestern is Northwestern (starting slow but there’s potential). And on and on.

The one Big Ten team that is still tough to get a read on is Penn State. Just who are the Nittany Lions? For one, they are the only team in the conference that has yet to play a road game. That’s one reason their strength of schedule is 70th in the country, according to

Penn State has been good in their first three games, but are they really the 13th best team in the country, as their ranking indicates? Well, it’s hard to say. We should get some clarity on Friday night when Penn State visits Maryland (2-1), which was the talk of the country after two weeks and is averaging 53 points through three games. In the loaded East Division, Penn State can rise to the top — or finish fifth.

The Nittany Lions were ranked 15th in the preseason, and they’ve done nothing thus far to show they were unworthy. I was skeptical, mostly because Penn State was one of the least-experienced teams in the country (124th out of 130 teams on Phil Steele’s Experience Chart) and replacing its all-time wins leader at quarterback, Trace McSorley. The Nittany Lions had six players taken in the 2019 NFL Draft, tied for the seventh most in the country. That includes second-round pick Mies Sanders, who was the second running back taken.

Penn State is loaded on defense, and that is the strength of this group, unlike the last few years when the offense put Micah Parsons, Yetur Gross-Matos and company have allowed just three touchdowns thus far. While the Nittany Lions allowed Pitt to pass for 372 yards, they yielded just 10 points. And that’s with forcing no turnovers, which come in bunches and can be random. When those starting coming, look out.

But the bigger issue: Penn State’s offense took a step back without Joe Moorhead, who was the offensive coordinator and perceived mastermind behind Penn State’s high-powered offense that averaged 37.6 points per game in 2016 and 41.1 points per game in 2017. When Moorhead took the Mississippi State head coaching job in 2018, Penn State dropped to 33.8 points per game — good, but certainly not great. The Nittany Lions won 11 games in 2016 and 2017, but they dropped to nine last season.

In three games in 2019, Penn State is averaging 47 points per game, but that number is very heavily inflated by scoring 77 points against Idaho. Scoring 17 points against Pitt — which has a middle-of-the-pack ACC defense, nowhere near the type of defenses that Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa have — was a bit concerning. Scoring seven points in the first half against Buffalo was also concerning. At this point, let’s give Penn State’s offense the benefit of the doubt, but as the opponents get stronger, it’s going to be interesting to see how good the Nittany Lions are.

Sean Clifford, a 4-star quarterback ranked 13th in the 2018 class by 247Sports, has thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions this season, but he is completing only 58.7 percent of his passes after going only 14 of 30 against Pitt. As Clifford told the media this week, he has played well enough to win games, but there is room for him to improve. And going against a Maryland offense that has a 77-point game of its own and also hung 63 on Syracuse, Clifford is going to need to be more accurate. He has been sacked three times in each of the last two games.

Among the key questions: What kind of help will Clifford get in terms of carrying the offense? Penn State hasn’t had a running back shoulder the load yet this season as Journey Brown (10 carries against Pitt) is the only ballcarrier to hit double-digit rushing attempts. McSorley had the luxury of leaning on Saquon Barkley (19.4 carries per game in 2016 and 16.7 in 2017) and then Sanders (16.9 carries per game in 2018). Through three games, Clifford leads Penn State with 25 rushing attempts. It’s a big ask of a first-year starter.

On the other hand, Clifford can firmly establish himself as a player with a good showing. With it being a Friday night game, many casual fans (and gamblers) who would normally be distracted by a host of other games on a Saturday will turn their attention to this game.

And the same goes for Penn State. As crazy as it sounds, this may be Penn State’s easiest road game of the year, with Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State still on the slate. But a good performance at Maryland reaffirms what the rankings indicate, that Penn State is a contender in the Big Ten.