I chuckled whenever someone asked me if Penn State was for real last year.

Goodness, all the Lions did was beat undefeated Ohio State, win eight regular season games in a row, light up Wisconsin’s vaunted defense in the B1G Championship and go toe-to-toe with USC in the Rose Bowl.

I mean, what else did they need to show you?

The Lions’ credentials are legit. They have two bonafide Heisman Trophy candidates on offense and a defense that’s playing as well as it’s played in the James Franklin era. They are every bit deserving of being a top-five team in college football right now because of what they’ve done the last 11 months.

But Saturday at Iowa will be a new kind of challenge.

See, while the Lions have undoubtedly taken down quality foes, all of those matchups were either on their territory or at a neutral site (the Rose Bowl was at least a split crowd). With all due respect to Rutgers, this Penn State team has never had to walk into a hostile road environment and beat a quality team at night.

Ask Ohio State how difficult that was in Beaver Stadium last year. Ask Michigan how difficult that was in Kinnick Stadium last year.

Kinnick Stadium will be every bit as hostile for Penn State as it was for Michigan last year. Franklin will try and shift his team’s focus from the pink locker room (Franklin’s a fan, by the way) and the stripe out in order to accomplish the task at hand. That is, find a way to somehow silence the Hawkeyes on their home turf at night.

As Penn State knows all too well, that’s no small feat.

Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

For any Penn State fans worried about Franklin downplaying his first trip to Kinnick Stadium, fear not. He educated himself on just how challenging Saturday night can be for his team.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people. I’ve called a lot of people. I’ve asked a lot of questions. That place is going to be rocking Saturday night,” Franklin said. “Their sidelines are very tight. Their fans are going to be right up against you. We want to get our players prepared for that.

“We’ve got to get ready for the noise. You know, we’ll be trying to replicate their band and whatever songs they play in the stadium and try to get our guys ready for that for our first road game this year.”

Coaches don’t usually harp on the difficulty of a foreign atmosphere like that. And even for Franklin, who has been known to over-prepare, that’s saying a lot.

For Franklin and the Lions, it’ll be a new experience. For Penn State fans, part of the night will be a painful trip down memory lane. Lord knows this clip from 2008 will be shown at some point in the broadcast:

That play squashed Penn State’s national title dreams, and it also launched what turned out to be a dominant run of Kinnick night game success for Iowa.

Including the 2008 victory, Iowa is 8-1 in home night games (kickoff after 5 p.m. CT) heading into Saturday (Associated Press poll rankings):

  • Nov. 8, 2008: Iowa 24, No. 3 Penn State 23
  • Oct. 10, 2009: No. 12 Iowa 30, Michigan 28
  • Oct. 2, 2010: No. 17 Iowa 24, No. 22 Penn State 3
  • Oct. 15, 2011: Iowa 41, Northwestern 31
  • Oct. 20, 2012: Penn State 38, Iowa 14
  • Sept. 19, 2015: Iowa 27, Pitt 24
  • Nov. 14, 2015: No. 8 Iowa 40, Minnesota 35
  • Sept. 10, 2016: No. 16 Iowa 42, Iowa State 3
  • Nov. 12, 2016: Iowa 14, No. 2 Michigan 13

And that one loss — to Penn State ironically enough — was during a four-win 2012 season for the Hawkeyes. In other words, when Iowa has a halfway decent team, it usually wins home games at night.

Of course the bookend games of that nine-year stretch are the games that will get the most attention. After all, those were the dramatic, last-second victories against top-five teams that have been played on a loop in Iowa City ever since.

Add in Iowa’s 2010 drubbing of No. 5 Michigan State and the Hawkeyes are 3-0 in their last three games vs. top-five teams at home. By this point, that’s old news. So is the fact that when the sun goes down in Iowa City, the home team plays pretty well.

Maybe it’s the tight sidelines. The “Black in Black” blaring from the speakers could have something to do with it or the fact that rowdy Hawkeye fans have 10-plus hours of tailgating under their belts by kickoff. Perhaps Kirk Ferentz is just a night owl at heart. Shoot, maybe it’s all about the pink locker room. Who knows?

There’s always something magical about Iowa under the lights at home. For the last 11 months, there’s been something magical about Penn State.

To me, it’s stunning that the Lions are still favored by 13 points. That likely has something to do with the fact that Penn State humiliated Iowa at Beaver Stadium under the lights last year.

Will Iowa flip the script? Or will the Lions continue to take down everyone in their path? Fire up the old “something’s gotta give” cliché.

If it’s the goalposts that give way, Kinnick at night will have claimed another victim.