I’ll repeat it like I did last week. Not many Penn State fans thought the Lions would be sitting right now with two losses, with a CFP shot and a New Years Six Bowl out of the question.
But once again, here they are at 5-0 after pitching a 24-0 shutout of Indiana on a near-perfect fall Saturday night in Happy Valley.
But the question is absolutely on everybody’s minds – just how good are the 2021 edition of the Nittany Lions?
It may have been a surprise to some that Penn State entered Saturday at No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25. It’s also a wonder where they will be next weekend with No. 3 Oregon’s loss to Stanford on Saturday. Maybe the Lions will go to No. 3 and Iowa to No. 4, but just maybe No. 9 Cincinnati’s win over No. 7 Notre Dame might just be enough for the Bearcats to go to No. 3.
It’s probable that no one will argue that Alabama and Georgia are the two best teams in college football today. They have been running over everybody, including a pair of Top 15 teams on Saturday when the Crimson Tide dominated Ole Miss, and the Bulldogs shut out No. 8 Arkansas.
After that, it seems like it’s anybody’s ballgame for who is No. 3. And why not Penn State? Their resume, on paper, looks as good as anybody else after five weeks.
But are the Nittany Lions as good as No. 3 in the nation?
That opening week win on the road at Wisconsin looked pretty good at the time, but the Badgers have fallen on hard times lately with a 1-3 record. Their lone win was against Eastern Michigan, and they also have blowout losses to Notre Dame and to Michigan on Saturday. Albeit, all three of their losses are to ranked teams, but you would think at the beginning of the season Wisconsin was good enough to win at least one of those monstrous games.
Penn State then got a cupcake win over Ball State before the Whiteout victory over Auburn, who was ranked 20th at the time. Auburn struggled in a last minute victory over Georgia State last week, and was in a battle on Saturday night against an LSU team that isn’t as overwhelming as they’ve been in the past.
After another win over FCS opponent and Saturday’s ho-hum shutout win over Indiana, next Saturday’s game with Iowa is an early candidate for Game of the Year in the Big Ten.
Without question, next week’s winner in Iowa City puts themselves in the driver’s seat for an appearance in the College Football Playoff.
Theoretically, Penn State could lose in Iowa and still make the national semifinals as long as they run the table the rest of the way, including beating Ohio State in Columbus. The Lions would still be undefeated in their division and make the Big Ten Championship game. A win in the Big Ten Championship would almost certainly get them into the CFP semis.
As for the Hawkeyes, the same Hoosiers that Penn State beat 24-0 was beaten by Iowa, 34-6. They also have a key road win against in-state rival Iowa State, so you could argue that the Hawkeyes are about as tested as the Nittany Lions.
Penn State will certainly have to run the ball better against Iowa than they have been, and Clifford once again will have to play probably his best game in a Nittany Lion uniform.
There will be more tests to pass after Iowa, and the Lions will have a bye week to get everything sorted out afterwards, but next week we should have a better idea just exactly where Penn State really stands in the national picture.