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ESPN Power Index Has Penn State Going 2-1 for Season-Defining Stretch

by on October 21, 2018 8:40 PM

For Penn State, it’s now a three-game season.

Iowa this Saturday at home, Michigan in The Big House and Wisconsin back home.

And all three teams are on a roll.

Not counting games against each other — Iowa has already lost to Wisconsin, Wisconsin has lost to Michigan — that Big Three combined have won their last 16 games.

Buzzsaw meets immovable object meets brick wall.

James Franklin & Co. will no doubt be breaking this stretch into 1-0, 1-0 and 1-0 chunks.

But in the end, the Nittany Lions’ 2018 campaign will be viewed through the lens of the upcoming three-game stretch.

Penn State is 5-2 and No. 17 in the latest Associated Press poll, having lost to Ohio State and Michigan State by a combined score of 48-43, before bouncing back with a fairly ugly 33-28 win on the road against Indiana.

So, the question now is: Will they now go 3-0, 2-1, 1-2 or 0-3?

Penn State offensive tackle Ryan Bates likes his team’s chances.

“I know what we’re capable of,” Bates said Saturday night, after the Nittany Lions held on to defeat the Hoosiers. “When we got out there today, there were some execution issues. But we put up 33 points, so we are back on that track of putting up more points. Last week (against Michigan State) was uncharacteristic of us — what did we score, 14 points? (It was 17.) This game put us back on the right track.”

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Penn State erected its 5-2 mark on victories against teams with a combined 16-20 record this season. Only Appalachian State, which lost 45-38 to Penn State in overtime in the season-opener, has a winning record. App State hasn’t lost since that game — thus far, it is Penn State’s signature win of 2018 — and is 5-1 and ranked No. 25 in this week’s AP poll.

Penn State unleashed a 177-40 barrage against Pitt (3-4), Kent State (1-7) and Illinois (3-4). Still, take away the final seconds of the Ohio State and Michigan State games, and the Nittany Lions are 7-0 and in the Top 4.

Running back Miles Sanders, who is ranked No. 3 in the Big Ten and No. 15 in the nation in rushing yards, with 772 (Trace McSorley is No. 52, at 554), looks back at those games with some regret. But he is truly taking the rest of the schedule one game at a time.

“We got four more games left, right? Four or five,” he said Saturday night. “This conference is anyhthing but easy, but we shouldn’t be 5-2. But, a win is a win. I’m happy with that. As long as we get the W, I don’t care how we get it.”

WHAT THE FPI SAYS ABOUT PSU

According to ESPN’s latest Football Power Index, Penn State is a favorite in both home contests, when comparing index ratings. The FPI is measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of a team's performance going forward for the rest of the season. It is based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season using FPI, results to date, and the remaining schedule.

Here are the latest FPI rankings, as they pertain to Penn State:

Michigan, No. 4, at 22.9. Ohio State is No. 6 (21.3), followed by Penn State at No. 7, at 20.7. Iowa is No. 12 at 15.5, and Wisconsin is No. 16 at 4.4.

In the latest Associated Press Top 25, Michigan is No. 5, Penn State is No. 17, Iowa is No. 18 and Wisconsin is No. 20.

It is nearly as brutal a three games-in-15-days stretch as you can imagine.

Combined, Penn State’s upcoming three opponents are 18-4 — Iowa is 6-1, Michigan is 7-1 and Wisconsin is 5-2. It is a cruel round-robin of sorts: Iowa’s sole loss is to Wisconsin, 28-17; Wisconsin lost to Michigan (38-13) and BYU (24-21); Michigan’s only loss came against undefeated Notre Dame 24-17 in its Sept. 1 season-opener.

Franklin is 4-3 against that trio. He is currently riding high against all three teams, his Penn State squad having defeated each in their last meetings:

IOWA — The Nittany Lions beat Iowa in both 2016 and 2017, as last year’s 21-19 win came on a walk-off TD pass from McSorley to Juwan Johnson on the road in Iowa City. Saquon Barkley had a school-record 358 all-purpose yards (211 run, 94 catch, 53 returns). PSU won 41-14 in Iowa’s 2016 trip to Happy Valley.

WISCONSIN — In their only meeting against Wisconsin since Franklin became head coach, Penn State outscored the Badgers 10-0 in the final quarter of the 2016 Big Ten title game to win, 38-31. Penn State trailed 28-7 in the second quarter of that game in Indy.

MICHIGAN — Franklin is just 1-3 against Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines, but they pounded the Michigan men 42-13 in Beaver Stadium in 2017. In the preceding three contests, Michigan won 18-13 at home in 2014, 28-16 in Beaver Stadium in 2015 and 49-10 in 2016, which was Penn State’s last trip to the Big House.

COMPARATIVELY SPEAKING

So yes, the Nittany Lions face quite the challenge before finishing up with 1-7 Rutgers in New Jersey on Nov. 17 and 34-3 Maryland in Beaver Stadium on Nov. 24.

But it could be worse.

Ask Florida State or Auburn. According the NCAA, they rank 1-2 with the toughest finishing stretches in college football in 2018.

Florida State’s upcoming opponents have a combined 30-4 mark (.882). That includes contests vs. No. 2 Clemson, at No. 22 N.C. State and at No. 3 Notre Dame, followed by 5-2 Boston College and No. 9 Florida State.

Auburn concludes its regular season against a group that is 23-6 (.793) — No. 16 Texas A&M, at No. 7 Georgia, 4-3 Liberty and No. 1 Alabama — on the road.



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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