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Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Face Tough Challenge, But Not Franklin's First Rodeo

by on November 21, 2019 2:05 PM

I, like everyone else, am pretty sure Penn State is going to lose the football game on Saturday. I, like at least more than a few people, wouldn’t be surprised if the game wasn’t all that close when things are said and done.

Or rather, let me rephrase: Ohio State is probably the best team in America and if the Buckeyes aren’t, they are trailing by a very slim margin.

Maybe that’s why James Franklin appears to be in such a good mood this week, joking with reporters, giving long and insightful answers. As best as you can tell from spending only an hour or two with a guy a week, he appears to be happy to be doing his job.

And maybe he knows what everybody else knows, that this Ohio State team is really really good, and that sort of thing buys a guy -who rarely ever gets it- just a little bit of goodwill and understanding.

This isn’t to say Franklin doesn’t care, because he quite obviously does, that’s sort of the job, but there is a certain peace that comes with knowing exactly what you’re about to go up against.

And heck, Penn State is 9-1 and unless Beaver Stadium falls into a sinkhole in the next week it stands to reason that the Nittany Lions will beat Rutgers, go to a fairly decent bowl game and look at a chance to win 11 games during a season that most people picked them to win eight or nine.

How could Franklin really be in a bad mood knowing all of that? Sure, Penn State had/has a chance to be a playoff team and that’s not a small opportunity to pass up on. It stands to reason that the Nittany Lions will show up to the best of their ability and then whatever happens, happens.

Which brings us to one of the more unique narratives surrounding this game: The extent to which nobody thinks Penn State has a chance.

In 2018, it was a tough ask but an early season game, and hey Penn State probably should have won. 2017, this Penn State team was good, nobody questioned that and again, should have won. 2016, Ohio State was good but not world beating. 2015, Ohio State was good, but Penn State was feisty. And in 2014 Ohio State was a little untested, and Penn State was still carrying around that massive post-sanctions chip on its shoulder.

This season? The year two thousand and nineteen? Can’t remember a time Penn State wasn’t supposed to win more than this.

In fairness Penn State’s recent defensive woes coupled with a still occasionally inconsistent offense doesn’t lend itself to overwhelming confidence.

But let’s not pretend Penn State has stumbled, by complete accident, into what ought to be a 10-win season. Let’s not pretend that you can fake good defensive stats, because if you could everyone would have them. Let’s not pretend that Penn State hasn’t beaten Michigan and gone on the road and won against Iowa and Michigan State.

I don’t have a horse in this race, and I like everyone else will be hung up on the bulletin board for saying that this game could get out of hand.

But maybe James Franklin is in a good mood because his team has played Ohio State close for five-straight seasons and that he has nearly beaten the Buckeyes under far less favorable circumstances. Hell, he's beaten them under worse circumstances. Maybe he's in a good mood because he has made his money winning when everyone expected him to lose.

Maybe that confidence is only the kind that a coach can buy, or maybe it’s rooted in knowing his team better than the rest of us.

Or maybe he’s just in a good mood.

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