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Ben State Football: Can Penn State Run The Table?

by on October 24, 2016 12:00 PM

In 2005 it was Ohio State.

But then it was Michigan.

In 2008 it was Ohio State

But then it was (a bye week) and then Iowa.

And that's the challenge that comes with a big win, following it up with a normal win, a victory against the teams you already expected to beat. In the case of 2005 facing Michigan in Ann Arbor was hardly automatic but in 2008 even a still probably concussed Daryll Clark led offense should have beaten Iowa on that windy and rainy day.

Easy games or not, so often just winning one game, just getting that upset is the easy part. It's following up the upset with more wins that is the challenge.

So in 2016 it's Ohio State.

And now it's Purdue.

The Boilermakers are by in large an exploding program more than usual. Going through the motions with an interim head coach makes Purdue an easy target on paper, but sometimes the crippled programs are the ones fighting the hardest simply for their pride. Sound familiar?

So there is an argument to be made, in a very weird way, that Penn State's biggest game under James Franklin isn't the upset against No. 2 Ohio State or the span of wins against Minnesota and Maryland. It's a Purdue team that has gone 3-4 so far this season and nearly found a way to upset No. 7 Nebraska 27-14 on the road. A confused, somewhat headless football team, but a dangerous one nevertheless.

And that means Franklin will have to address his team, one which he reminds everyone so frequently that is still so young, and tell them about 2005 and 2008. Two of the biggest wins in the modern era of the program that were followed up by losses. Both losses knocking Penn State out of the national title picture.

To be fair this team isn't and has never been a title contender nor has it pretended to be as such, but a win on Saturday and suddenly things get interesting when it comes to that final win count. If nothing else the feeling of forward momentum lives to see another week.

After Purdue it is:

Back at Beaver Stadium to face Iowa, a not too far off midwestern version of Penn State at 5-3 with no real wins under the belt but no less an easy out. Regardless a potentially 6-2 Penn State team returning home two weeks removed from the Ohio State win ought to be refocused, and confident. Two important keys in keeping the ball rolling.

From there it's back out to Indiana to face a team that scored 17 against Ohio State and beat Michigan State to start the Spartans dive to the bottom of the standings. Indiana is an odd bunch but a beatable team, regardless this isn't an easy out even with the Hoosiers sitting at 3-4 currently.

Then it's at Rutgers before heading home to close out the season against Michigan State. The Scarlet Knights are 2-6 and have otherwise been lifeless all season. A night game and a quasi rivalry game on the road is (as Penn State has just shown) not an easy task, but on paper Penn State is the better team by far, especially when healthy. 

Michigan State's collapse has been one of the more interesting and surprising things to see in college football this season. Closing out the year against the Spartans and closing out the season with a win seems far more probable than it did several weeks ago.

So can Penn State win out? It's safe to say that Penn State ought to be favored in every game the rest of the season.

But favored isn't the same thing as a team without issues. Penn State's left tackle position has been a disaster, the offense has been reliable but can also go three-and-out nearly faster than you can type it. The team's saving grace currently seems to be a defense that has found itself and has found itself healthy. That can change in the blink of an eye though so it's impossible to assume the Nittany Lions will be still healthy by the end of the season.

And so this weekend will be a big test against a bad team. Penn State has won big games before, only to see that momentum die before it ever really got going. Win on Saturday and a 10 or 11 win season is amazingly on the table. A win and we all learn something about a young team that might just be getting older.

Lose and those games don't become any harder to win, but it makes Saturday night's upset feel more like a blip on the radar than the start of something special.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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