Penn State is ranked No. 12 but looks better every week
Penn State has lost two games this season.
So when the Nittany Lions earned the No. 12 ranking in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season, you were probably left scratching your head. They have one signature win and were beaten by a so-so Pittsburgh team and obliterated by Michigan – though the Wolverines have pummeled just about every opponent they’ve faced.
When you look at Penn State’s resumé, it’s not that appealing. Aside from the 24-21 win over Ohio State in Beaver Stadium the victories are as follows: Kent State, Temple, Minnesota, Maryland and Purdue. Saturday it picked up another win, beating Iowa 41-14.
Is that really worthy of a No. 12 ranking?
Because Penn State is better than the 12th team in the country. For the past six weeks, James Franklin has his team playing like a playoff contender. It’s the best this program has looked since 2009, when the team finished 11-2 and beat LSU in the Capital One Bowl.
Forget about resumé and quality wins and bad losses. Forget about the things the committee takes into consideration that can’t be seen on the field. Watch Penn State play.
The offense has become one of the best in the B1G under Joe Moorhead. Even with the hype surrounding Trace McSorley, Saquon Barkley and receivers Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin, Penn State is exceeding even the highest of expectations on that side of the ball.
In three of the last four contests, the Lions have eclipsed the 500-yard mark. Against Iowa, they racked up 599 yards. McSorley threw for 240. Barkley accounted for 211.
Iowa loaded the box and couldn’t stop it. Kirk Ferentz tried a variety of different coverages and never found an answer. Everything Penn State did on Saturday worked. It’s worked for the past six weeks.
Barkley is better than advertised. McSorley is further along than anyone could’ve predicted.
Everything that Penn State is throwing at opponents has been successful.
That includes the defense, too. Since giving up 49 points to Michigan in the B1G opener, the Nittany Lions are holding opponents to 19.8 points per game. Last week, they held Purdue to 46 rushing yards for the contest. This week, the Hawkeyes earned just 30.
Penn State beat Maryland, Purdue and Iowa by an average of 29.7 points per game. There other two wins in B1G play – Minnesota and Ohio State – each came by three points.
After the rankings came out last week, No. 12 seemed like a generous spot for Franklin’s group. Even ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said he was shocked by that decision.
Herbie probably won’t be shocked much longer. Not after what Penn State did to Iowa on Saturday.
It’s too bad that Penn State wasn’t playing this way earlier in the year. If the kinks were worked out a little earlier, it could’ve avoided the in-state loss to Pitt. The Nittany Lions still probably would’ve dropped a road contest to Michigan, but that’s hardly a bad loss. If that was the only blemish, things might be a little different.
With the remaining schedule, there aren’t any opportunities to pick up another signature win. Indiana, Rutgers and Michigan State remain on the schedule. The Hoosiers are the only team competing for a bowl bid.
At this point, all Penn State can do is take care of business and hope for a break or two down the stretch. It doesn’t control it’s own destiny. That’s the tough part.
The positive? The Lions are playing the best football they’ve played in years. There’s no question, folks in Happy Valley have waited a long time to see the program compete at a level this high. And even with only one signature win, the committee still showed some recognition.
How Penn State will be evaluated this week will be interesting. Iowa is far from where it was a season ago, but another dominant performance shouldn’t be overlooked.
With Nebraska, Texas A&M, and Florida all losing, Penn State is bound to jump ahead a few spots. It’ll likely find itself in the top 10 when Tuesday evening rolls around. That’s something for Franklin to celebrate, even though he’s taking things one game at a time.
Earning the No. 12 ranking last week was an impressive feat for a program desperate to rise back into national prominence. It was no light accomplishment.
But Penn State is even better than what its ranking suggests. Even with two bad losses.