By Andy Stine
STATE COLLEGE, PA — There aren’t too many holes in Penn State football’s schedule this year. It seems like every couple weeks there is a game where the Nittany Lions could be knocked off.
Saturday certainly wasn’t one of those days, although fans would probably liked to have seen more from the Lions’ run game.
But head coach James Franklin also said after Saturday’s game he doesn’t ever want to have a win that doesn’t feel like a win. It may have been a FCS opponent in Villanova, but it was still a 21-point win in front of nearly 106,000 fans on another beautiful day in Beaver Stadium. (The announced attendance of 105,790 was probably more like around 90,000.)
The Lions will likely have prettier wins than this one this season. Last week’s win over Auburn would qualify as a prime example of that. Not many would call the win over Wisconsin pretty, but it was a pivotal road win in a hostile environment at Camp Randall Stadium that set the stage for the Nittany Lions’ hot start.
Taking all things in consideration, many people thought there was a chance that Penn State would be 2-2 at this point in the season. But here they are at 4-0. After those two key wins over Wisconsin and Auburn, they have their sights set on possibly another New Years’ Six bowl and an outside shot at the College Football Playoff. If they make a New Years’ Six bowl, it would be the Lions’ fourth in the last six years. There are plenty of college programs that one of those bowl games in a decade would be fantastic.
Now with the non-conference schedule behind them, Penn State will shift its attention back to the Big Ten as they host Indiana for another primetime game at 7:30 p.m. next Saturday night.
It would be a good bet that many of the Nittany Lions went home after Saturday’s game and immediately started preparing for the Hoosiers. There is no way any of those players that made the trip to the October season opener last year in Bloomington forgot about that game. Michael Penix’s 2-point conversion to win the game, which probably shouldn’t have been a successful 2-point attempt, sent the Lions home with a painful loss. That loss was just the beginning of an 0-5 start, and largely a forgettable season.
In two weeks, Penn State heads back on the road for the first time in over a month as they visit Iowa. The Hawkeyes are simply a reminder of how rugged the Big Ten is this season. Iowa was ranked fifth coming into Saturday, and everyone knows Kinnick Stadium is no treat for any visiting team.
After a bye week and what should be an easy home win against Illinois, the Lions have their marquee game of the year against Ohio State in Columbus. There’s a chance that the Buckeyes might not be the same Buckeyes they usually are, but it’s a good possibility that might be another night game in another hostile environment.
And besides, they are still Ohio State.
November won’t be a picnic for Penn State either. They visit a much-improved Maryland team, and they also go to East Lansing for the last game of the season where the jury is still out on how good Michigan State is. They also host Michigan and Rutgers in November. Rutgers should be a win, but like Michigan State, the jury is also still out on the Wolverines.
Frankin has always been a big believer in enjoying their wins, and this season should be no different for fans. With the schedule being this brutal, Penn State will have to be able to take the wins in whatever way they can get them.
But it’s a perfect start through four games, and that can’t be discounted.