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After Reigning Over Sparty, Penn State is Now a Surprising 8 and Oh My

by on October 26, 2019 9:10 PM

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Penn State is 8…and Oh my!

Oh, as in surprise: Penn State doesn’t have any losses.

And oh, by the way:

Didn’t many of you predict the Nittany Lions to go 8-4 in 2019?

Penn State coach James Franklin knows who you are.

Especially now that the Nittany Lions have completed the 15-day hellish stretch that was Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State — which on Saturday night Franklin called “three really challenging games in a row.”

“You talk about a game like Iowa on the road that’s been a horror story for a lot of people in Kinnick Stadium,” Franklin said after Penn State defeated Michigan State here, 28-7. “Then next week a Whiteout against one of the most talented rosters in the country at our place. Tough, physical, emotional game. And then come back and having to do it again against this group.”

It was 1-0 x 3. Squared, as Franklin himself even admitted.

“As much as I want everyone to take it one game at a time,” he said, “every single one of our 700,000 alumni and every single one of you guys (the media) looked at this three-game stretch on our schedule and knew this was going to be a challenge.”

The Penn State players knew it as well. In the words of Shaka Toney after the game, “these three teams, they play grown-man football.”

And now, Penn State is 8-0 and has a week off, before facing the final third of its schedule that is 8-0 Minnesota (away, Nov. 9), 6-2 Indiana (home, Nov. 16), 8-0 Ohio State (away, Nov. 23) and 2-6 Rutgers (home, Nov. 30.)

“For us to be able to get through that stretch and get into this bye week,” Franklin said, “is really important.”

8-0 = 5

With that 8-0 comes a 5 as well. On Sunday afternoon when the polls come out Penn State is going to be ranked fifth in the nation. Remember, Penn State was ranked No. 15 in the initial Associated Press preseason poll.

Juxtapose that 15 against this Tuesday, when the first official College Football Playoff rankings of the season will be announced. Expect Penn State to be hovering just outside the year’s first offering of the CFP’s Final Four, also at No. 5.

Who’da thunk it?

Franklin & Co. will now have a full two weeks to ponder the possibilities.

The Nittany Lions, now 5-0 in the Big Ten and tied for first in the East with nemesis/rival Ohio State, don’t play again until they face Minnesota — an even more surprising 8 and oh! — in TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

If Penn State sinks the Gophers’ boat the in that game, a spot in the Top 4 will likely follow in the second CFP poll of the year — released on Tuesday, November 12. That’s because on the same day Penn State plays Minnesota, LSU (8-0) plays at Alabama (8-0). Like Penn State and Minnesota, both LSU and Alabama do not play this coming Saturday (Nov. 2).

When they meet, either LSU or Alabama has to lose, and thus tumble out of the top five — barring a one-point loss, or something like that.

So, if Penn State advances to 9-0, it should sneak into the CFP top four rankings for the first time — the first time — since the playoffs, and their weekly countdown, began in 2014. Think back to 2014, which was Franklin’s first year at Penn State, when the Nittany Lions needed an OT win in the Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College to finish with a 7-6 record.

Oh my.

THE RARITY OF 8-0

Penn State’s 8 and Oh start is just the fourth time in 27 Big Ten seasons — PSU joined the conference in 1993 — that it has started a year with eight consecutive victories and no losses.

Here are the other three times, with one involving a unbeaten Penn State vs. Minnesota game and another a bye week:

1994 — Penn State won all 12 of its game, but a week after demolishing Ohio State 63-14 as the No. 1 team in the country, the Nittany Lions squandered a big lead against Indiana and then needed a final-second comeback to defeat Illinois in successive weeks. They remained at No. 2 the rest of the way.

1999 — Penn State started 9-0, and then as the second-ranked team in the nation lost to unranked Minnesota on a Hail Mary pass that led to a Gophers’ field goal and a 24-23 victory. (The Lions then spiraled downward, losing three straight before winning the Alamo Bowl to finish 10-3 and be ranked No. 11. A true disappointment.)

2008 — Penn State started 9-0. After defeating Ohio State 13-9 in Columbus for a ninth  consecutive win to start the season, the Nittany Lions had a week off. The next week, they traveled to Iowa and blew a 23-14 lead after three quarters to fall 24-23 on a walk-off Hawkeye field goal.

But, that was then. This is now.

A 24-23 loss by Penn State in Minneapolis after a bye week doesn’t seem likely. Through eight games, Penn State’s defense has yielded just 77 points. Of course, Minnesota’s offense has scored 307.

Either way, in two weeks, one surprise team in the Big Ten is going to be 9 and Oh!



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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