This is more like it.

Penn State is treating this postseason as a reward rather than a chore. Apparently, the Granddaddy of Them All still holds some sway 100 years after the Nittany Lions first played in the Rose Bowl.

Pasadena provides the light at the end of the tunnel for James Franklin and his team after a miserable couple of years navigating the post-pandemic and dawning NIL eras. It’s amazing what a 10-2 season will do.

On Monday, Jan. 2, at 5 p.m. ET (ESPN), Penn State will take on Pac-12 champion Utah in what very well may be the best non-CFP bowl matchup of the season. The Utes (10-3) are favored by 2.5 points.

Opt-ins, opt-outs

Both teams will be without their leading receiver and a highly touted cornerback.

For Penn State, Parker Washington Jr. and corner Joey Porter Jr. — who both dealt with health issues late in the season — have declared for the NFL Draft and out of the bowl game. But otherwise, even players declaring for the draft — center Juice Scruggs and tight end Brenton Strange being the latest — or finishing out their eligibility plan to play. Barring a late announcement to the contrary, QB Sean Clifford, DT PJ Mustipher and safety Ji’Ayir Brown — among others — will have a last hurrah in college before moving on.

For Utah, tight end Dalton Kincaid — who has team-high receiving totals of 70 catches, 890 yards and 8 TDs — is out. So too is All-America corner Clark Phillips III, who has 2 pick-6s among his 6 INTs this season. Like Porter, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year is among the top 5 cornerback prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Scouting the Utes

Quarterback Cam Rising runs the show on offense. Utah lost its top running back to an injury early in the season. With Kincaid now also out, Rising will work with committees in the backfield and at the receiving positions.

The 6-2, 218-pound Rising will make his 25th and likely final start for Utah, and the Lions will have to track him from sideline to sideline and start to finish. He has 2,939 yards on 66.2% passing this season, with 25 TDs and just 7 INTs. He has another 409 yards and 6 TDs on the ground, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. He even has a 9-yard reception.

Rising runs a high-powered attack and spreads the ball around when he’s not calling his own number. The Utes average 40 points (7th in nation) and 472.7 yards (17th) per game. They hung 73 on Southern Utah and 63 on Colorado, and have topped 40 points in 7 of their 13 games.

On defense, Utah is the Pac-12 leader in points allowed (20.4 per game), total defense (325.3 yards per game) and sacks (38). LB/DE Gabe Reid leads the team with 5.5 sacks, and 4 others have at least 4.

The rush defense ranks 1st in the Pac-12 and 16th in the country, allowing 107 yards per game. Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen likely will need to beat that number for Penn State to prevail. Either that, or Clifford will need to have a strong final game in his quest for a program-record 32nd win as Penn State’s starting quarterback.

PSU in the Rose Bowl

The Lions will be looking for their 2nd win in 5 tries in the Rose Bowl. They’ve lost 3 times to USC (1923, 2009, 2017) and beaten Oregon (1995) to cap an undefeated 1994 season.

Lions chasing numbers

In addition to pursuing a school-record 32nd win as a starter, Clifford needs 199 passing yards to climb to No. 6 all-time among B1G quarterbacks in career yards.

Nick Singleton is 59 rushing yards short of 1,000 and fellow freshman back Kaytron Allen is 70 away from 900.

Prediction …

Utah boasts a rock-solid program under long-time head coach Kyle Whittingham. Including time as an assistant, the 63-year-old has been in Salt Lake City for nearly 30 years. He has a record of 154-73 over 18 seasons since taking over when Urban Meyer left for Florida in 2005. He trails only Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz for tenure among FBS head coaches. His Utes have played in 4 of the past 5 Pac-12 championship games, winning the past 2.

In facing Utah for the first time, Penn State will kind of be looking in a mirror. The Utes use their tight ends often running a balanced offense, play solid, aggressive defense and love to get after the quarterback (PSU 3.1 sacks per game, Utah 2.9).

With OLs Olu Fashanu and Caedan Wallace possibly returning from injuries and/or other issues, Penn State should be healthier and deeper than it was while blitzing its 4 November opponents by a combined 165-40.

No. 8 Utah owns 2 wins over a USC team ranked in the top 10 both times, and only 1 loss by more than a field goal (42-32 to UCLA). No. 11 Penn State will be looking for its first win over a top-10 team since its 2016 victory over Ohio State.

After skipping bowl season in 2020 and succumbing to Arkansas last year with a depleted roster, the Lions appear to be raring to go.

“There’s really no reason to opt out,” Franklin said after the Rose Bowl invite. “We will be flexible with all of our guys. I want our guys to be as successful as they possibly can. I want the bowl experience to be a great experience. … I look at this season more as getting back to who we are. The last two years, specifically last year … was probably an outlier.”

In regards to opt-outs and in general, PSU fans hope that is true. A win would be the final chapter in a changed narrative as the program looks ahead to Franklin’s 10th year at the helm in 2023.

I’m expecting Clifford and the other outgoing players to finish strong, and Singleton, Allen and LB Abdul Carter to put an exclamation point on their true freshman seasons. I picked this squad for 11-2 back in August, and I’m not flinching now.

Penn State 31, Utah 24