Job shift: Penn State's new role in the B1G
How do you salvage something that failed to live up to expectations? Looking at you former boat owners.
The clean and easy storyline at the beginning of the college football season was the competitiveness of the B1G East. We knew about the hyper kids table of the B1G West, but conference stallworts Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State all received votes as pre-season choices to win the conference.
Spitting distance from Nov. 1 and it’s apropos that the uncertainty of conference hierarchy is the topic of discussion so close to Day of the Dead.
Michigan State, a team always willing to blow up the general consensus or budding good, destroyed the notion that Purdue would play for the B1G Championship at the end of the season as representatives of the West. The Spartans did not want to let Purdue enjoy anything close to national accolades. Two weeks ago at home against Ohio State was enough. Now a new team shifts into the position of spoiler.
Penn State moves into the role for the game on the road against Michigan this week. Is a win in Ann Arbor enough to salvage the season?
Pre-season rankings put Penn State in the top 10 nationally and second overall in the B1G behind Ohio State. The loss of running back Saquon Barkley and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead were serious losses if for the only reason Moorehead would have dialed up something more creative than running right at Ohio State defensive end Chase Young a few Saturday’s ago.
After the game head coach James Franklin withheld the elite label from his own program due to its inability to close out a tight game. Maybe Penn State plays irritant before it plays elite.
It’s not ludicrous to think Penn State can go on the road and shoot another tranquilizer dart in the conference’s efforts to land a team in the college football playoff.
Starting with the Ohio State game and culminating in the home win against Iowa, Penn State played in four consecutive games decided by six points or fewer. The 2-2 record in the games (losses to Ohio State and Michigan State, wins against the tenacious Indiana Hoosiers and a nice win against Iowa) does not scream dominance, but experience in close games with an unflappable quarterback like senior Trace McSorley means Penn State will be up for the task.
But is it enough? I keep going back to the question since a program, one without the label of elite (just ask Franklin), can recover from the gut-punch of two consecutive losses when college football playoff aspirations started the season?
Franklin’s comments were smart in the fact that it allows him to say the program is in a state of building and not one of complacent supremacy. His recruiting efforts show a program that generates enthusiasm nationally and one that should compete for conference championships and not drop consecutive games in conference. Is it getting late early in Happy Valley?
I don’t doubt Franklin’s job security. He’s stabilized a program badly in need of it, even with his in-game coaching decisions called into question. I wonder how the program shifts from the role of contender to spoiler.
The Nittany Lions built the entire season around the Ohio State game. The loss to Michigan State highlighted a team bummed out by the unfulfilled expectations of the previous week. The program seems to have steadied itself with the home win against Iowa and at least heads into Ann Arbor with the slightest bit of confidence.
Does a win against Michigan on Saturday mean anything more than hand-wringing and consternation from the conference decision-makers since it further muddies the B1G chances to send a team into the playoff?
For a team short of elite it just might.