Penn State’s latest top 10 ranking comes with benefits and is worth celebrating.

Poo-poo the AP opinion poll all you want, but that thing has been around since 1936, and it means something.

Especially in this day and age of high-tech recruiting, NIL, massive TV deals, branding and the like, recognition matters. Being an attention whore is part of the game. It feeds the beast. Beyond all that, players, coaches and fans have all grown up tracking the Top 25 beauty contest along with the action on field. Those rankings are program resume fodder, and a strong resume attracts ESPN GameDay to State College, keeps 107K visiting Happy Valley 7 Saturdays per year and makes PSU a destination for fabulous young athletes who want to immerse themselves in that atmosphere.

So of course the jump from 11th to 10th in the latest AP Top 25 matters. It means the Nittany Lions have been a top 10 team in each of the past 7 years. Yes, even in 2020, when they opened at No. 8. Most of those years, the Lions weren’t just passing through, either. Other than that pandemic-shortened season, Penn State has spent at least 5 weeks as a top 10 team each year since 2016.

Whether this one lasts past Oct. 15 at Michigan or not, it’s worth reveling in for a while. Penn State earned the status with road wins at Purdue and Auburn and is 5-0 for the 3rd time in 4 years.

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Moving up another notch in the AP poll should be a high for Penn State’s manic-depressive fan base. There were more positives and also some worries in the fallout from the team’s 5th straight win, 17-7 over visiting Northwestern in a torrential downpour. Here are a few to stew over during the bye-week down time.

Low: Fake attendance numbers

Penn State on its website lists Saturday’s attendance as 105,524, just 1,048 short of capacity. I guess the official number goes by ticket sales, but come on. It’d be nice to have an accurate account of what happened Oct. 1 at Beaver Stadium.

High: Fans who used their tickets

As someone who reports from the couch, I tip my hat to those who did sing in the rain on Saturday. I paid my dues 39 years ago as a student, watching the Lions beat Brown of the Ivy League in blustery, 37-degree weather that included spotty rain, hail and the first snow showers of the year. Glory days, they will pass you by. And sometimes that’s a good thing. But here’s to the Nit-wits old and young who showed their faithfulness and defied Ian.

High and low: Beer … lines

Penn State tapped kegs for the general public for the first time at Beaver Stadium, selling 16-ouncers for $10-12.

According to Robert Lingo, friend to Saturday Tradition and Facebook fan page legend, things went fairly smoothly,

“The lines started to get a little bit long, which concerns me for games with a bigger crowd,” he said. He added that getting in and out of the bathrooms on days when there really are 105,000+ might be a challenge.

But other than a little extra work for the stadium clean-up crew, he didn’t see a real downside.

Low: Too much Clifford, not enough Allar

There’s a weird paradox to the Penn State quarterback situation. It’s this:

  • If Sean Clifford plays well, he keeps the starting job.
  • If Sean Clifford plays poorly, 5-star freshman Drew Allar gets few or no game reps. So Clifford keeps the starting job.

James Franklin picked experience over promise to start the season, and that’s fine. But the 24-year-old Clifford played probably his most erratic game of the season Saturday, even after adjusting for conditions. He threw a bad pick, had another bad read/throw that should have been picked, and missed open receivers. His 1 big-time delivery was a 43-yard strike to Parker Washington that set up a breathing-room field goal.

Allar, the big-bodied 18-year-old, didn’t play for the first time. He got time in the first 4 games, displaying poise, accuracy and zip. Truth is, he looked like he might be ready, like he might give the Lions a better chance to win than his elder mentor.

Clifford might prevail vs. Michigan as a gritty game-manager. Penn State is more run-oriented this year, so he isn’t being asked to do as much as in his first 3 years as the starter. He’ll get every chance, because there’s no way of knowing if Allar is ready to face 110,000+ in Penn State’s biggest game of the season so far. Clifford gets a shot for a legacy win, whether he’s really the best man for the job or not.

Manic-depressive speed round …

Defensive tackle PJ Mustipher led the team in tackles for the 2nd straight week, posting a career-high 8. His 4th-down goal line stop preserved Penn State’s 17-7 lead early in the 4th quarter. It was a huge play. His run-stuffing talents will be needed against Michigan, so the timing of his rounding into form couldn’t be better. … Five turnovers, with all 3 running backs losing fumbles. … Barney Amor sticking 3 more punts inside the 10 and winning B1G specialist of the week honors. … Freshman running back Kaytron Allen not playing in the first half for unspecified reasons. …. Allen and fellow true freshman Nick Singleton both getting a career-high 21 carries. … Only 1 sack for the defense. … The defense reaching 54 passes defended on the season, which leads the nation by 17 over Illinois. Joey Porter leads with 10. … ⇑⇓ Veteran reserve RB Devyn Ford leaving the team to concentrate on academics and his future. Good for him, but he’ll be missed. He played a minor role but contributed some big plays this year, including a key 4th-down conversion in the season-opening 35-31 win over Purdue.