I am anxious. We spoke a while ago about how if Penn State could go 3-0 in the Iowa/UM/MSU stretch then they would be a national championship contender ranked somewhere in the top 6 of the nation. Well late last night, it was revealed that Penn State would be starting their CFP Committee rankings at #4. Number four. For the first time in committee history, Penn State is ranked in the coveted top 4 meaning that if the season ended today, they would be playing for a national title. This is huge. Just from an optics standpoint and in terms of national conversation, being ranked in the top 4 this late in the season, at any point, is a massive achievement. The work that PSU players and coaches have put in get recognized in a way that no other ranking system could and it really does prove that under Franklin, this program is up there with the nation’s elite. Seeing Sean Clifford in the ESPN top 4 graphic along with the top 3 QBs was enough to give me and most PSU fans alike goosebumps. The excitement has now reached another high and the stakes are now even higher.
The only problem… the season isn’t over. Not even close. The last 3 game stretch was hard but this upcoming one may be even harder. Starting with a trip to face off against an undefeated Minnesota team, followed by the best Indiana team since the Franklin era began, and concluding with the game that has been circled on everyone’s calendar against the team from Columbus. I’m not going to go through all of the scenarios again because there are really only two: win all three or nothing. I know there are different circumstances that could sway what happens and PSU can find a way to sneak into a B1G championship with a loss, but there is no point in even thinking that way. The College Football Playoff Committee has just told Penn State that they believe they are ELITE and now it is Penn State’s turn to prove it. We must go into Minnesota with swagger and confidence and play our best football because we all know damn well they will be just as motivated as we are.
There are plenty of people already underestimating the Minnesota team because of their weak strength of schedule, but we all need to remind ourselves that they are 8-0 just like us. They beat the opponents that they had ahead of them and we are no different. They have not faced a defense or offense like ours, but that doesn’t mean they are not up to the task. They have 3 wide receivers who are playing at an extremely high level and will be the toughest core that PSU has seen this far into the season. They have depth at running back and a big strong offensive line that is likely to be another unit that is either the best or close to the best that PSU has seen. And oh yeah – their QB isn’t too bad himself. Truth is, this offense is going to be the best that Penn State has faced this season. We cannot assume that we have more talent and that alone will win us this game, because it will not. A confident team is a dangerous team and Minnesota does not lack any.
Good news? Penn State doesn’t either. I think we match up well with the Gophers. Their QB is non-mobile which should open up some opportunity for our rested defensive line who I expect to be hungry. They have RB depth but we stop the run really well. Their RBs and TEs don’t pose much of a threat in the passing game, so our DBs can focus their attention a little more straight-up than against an Iowa or Michigan offense. Minnesota has a tough senior filled defense with a lot of talent at DE and LB, but I expect Penn State’s offense to have a great game plan to find ways to get our playmakers the ball and keep the Minnesota defense guessing. And guess what, Noah Cain is listed as RB1 for the first time this season, finally answering Kyle’s question.
This should be a great game and I expect Penn State to win. I expect the Nittany Lions to go into the game hungry and play their best football late in the already impressive season. I expect that nobody in that locker room is underestimating the talent that the Gophers bring and will understand that the opposition is just as hungry as them. I expect Penn State to be 9-0 and ranked #3 in the country next Tuesday night.
This team has come a long way. Penn State Football was supposed to be handed the death sentence 8 years ago and they have been nothing but resilient and impressive since. Bill O’Brien and then James Franklin have done a tremendous job not only keeping the program afloat, but allowing it to thrive and continue to grow. What Franklin has done with this program is not talked about enough. In the past four years only Nick Saban (Bama) and Dabo Sweeny (Clemson) have more wins attached to their program than James. If bringing his team to #4 in the country for the first time in program history under the new playoff system WITHOUT Barkley and WITHOUT McSorely and WITHOUT the rest of the superstar talent that left between 2016-2018 (Gesicki, Godwin, to name a few) doesn’t show you that he is one of the best coaches in the country, then I don’t know what will. The talent keeps reloading and it is time to prove that We Are among the elite programs that are contending year in and year out. I couldn’t be more excited than I am right now to say that I support Penn State Football and I am ready for the game this Saturday. We Are 8-0. Lets get that 9th.