In the preseason, I banged the drum for why Penn State didn’t deserve a spot in the preseason Associated Press Top 25.

I had my reasons. Plenty of them.

One of them was the loss of Trace McSorley. You lose your all-time leading passer who was a huge part of the resurgence of the program, and yeah, I’m gonna have a question or two.

The other was the significant amount of offseason transfers. Before B1G Media Days, Penn State saw 12 players enter the transfer portal. And even though most of them would’ve had limited roles, I still wasn’t crazy about what that said about James Franklin’s program.

Ah, speaking of Franklin, I wasn’t sold on him. I watched in person how his team failed to show up against Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl, and how it lost all 3 games it played to B1G East contenders Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State. The Lions entered 2019 with a 5-game losing streak to those squads. The last win against one of them? That was the 2017 whiteout game against Michigan.

How fitting that in the same setting 2 years later, Penn State made me eat my words.

The Lions escaped Michigan with a 28-21 win on Saturday night to improve to 7-0. With Wisconsin’s stunning loss to Illinois on Saturday, the Lions are not only worthy of a top-25 spot, one could argue that they’re worthy of a top-5 spot.

I was wrong. Way wrong.

In hindsight, I probably did what I criticize others for doing in the offseason. That is, getting too caught up in reacting to a bowl game. It was awful. If not for McSorley’s response late in that game on a hobbled foot, the Lions would’ve been blown out by Kentucky. Yet Franklin took the ball out of McSorley’s hands and elected for a late field goal, which I thought ultimately cost the Lions that game.

That was the thing that frustrated me most about Franklin. Twice last season — against Kentucky and Ohio State — he took the ball out of McSorley’s hands with the game on the line.

Perhaps Franklin learned from his mistake because with the game on the line twice on Saturday night, Franklin and Ricky Rahne made sure that Penn State’s best player got the ball this time. That was K.J. Hamler. The game plan was conservative at times in the second half, but this was arguably the play of the game on this perfect ball from Sean Clifford to his buddy Hamler:

Why Michigan thought a safety could cover Hamler on a deep ball is beyond me. That seems unwise. Unwise like thinking that running the ball with Miles Sanders on 4th and 5 with the game on the line against Ohio State would work.

Ok, I need to move past 2018. This 2019 Penn State team is totally different.

It actually looks like it doesn’t self-sabotage against quality teams. It has a defense who can get key stops late in games (I realize it helps when Michigan drops potential game-tying touchdowns in the end zone).

That defense is what I underestimated most. And sure, I thought it’d be good, but not top-5 unit in the country good.

Micah Parsons is seemingly everywhere all the time, Brandon Smith looks like a senior when it comes to timing blitzes and Tariq Castro-Fields diagnoses screens like an All-American. Shea Patterson looked like he couldn’t figure out where Penn State was blitzing from until the fourth quarter.

Penn State is the type of defense who can actually win a game 14-7 against a quality team. It’s easily the best defense the Lions have had since Franklin has been in State College.

But be honest, Penn State fans. Didn’t it feel like 2018 Ohio State when Patterson and the Wolverines were threatening to eliminate the 2-score deficit? Or perhaps like 2018 Michigan State? Maybe 2017 Ohio State or 2017 Michigan State? All of those games involved blown fourth quarter leads.

Had Penn State allowed that game-tying score and lost in overtime — there’s no guarantee that would’ve happened — what’s the conversation about Franklin like right now? After all, that would’ve made it 6 losses in a row to those aforementioned East contenders. Five of those games would’ve had blown fourth quarter leads.

That’s not what happened, though. Instead, the popular preseason take that many — myself included — had about Michigan winning the B1G all but died. Penn State beat its second consecutive Top 25 foe. And perhaps more importantly, it closed out a pair of 1-possession games against Top 25 teams.

If you would’ve set the over/under on Penn State’s 1-possession wins vs. ranked foes at 0.5, I would’ve taken the “under.” Wrong again, I’d be.

I won’t bother predicting how I think Penn State will fare in a challenging latter half of 2019, but I’ll say this. If Penn State can get to Ohio State undefeated — a huge “if” considering how well Minnesota is playing and how random this sport seems to be these days — it’ll have a Playoff argument as a potential 1-loss, non-conference champ team. That’s how impressive the Lions have been.

I’m no longer dismissing Penn State as a legitimate Playoff contender. Franklin knew more than I did this offseason. I’ll defer to him until further notice.

Well, except for one thing — is it too much to ask to get Noah Cain some more touches?