Despite loss to OSU, positives outweigh negatives
A record of 9-2 and a chance for a double-digit win season for the third time in four years with a probable win over Rutgers this week — that’s the positive.
Yet another loss to Ohio State (third straight) and a missed opportunity to qualify for the Big Ten Championship — that’s the negative.
There are plenty of positives to analyze this season for the Nittany Lions. In my opinion, they’re a season ahead of schedule. With the loss of one of the best quarterbacks in program history in Trace McSorley, talented running back Miles Sanders, and key offensive linemen, it was well documented that analysts, writers and fans were all predicting Penn State to be a three or four-loss team in 2019.
But a solid effort from McSorley’s replacement in sophomore Sean Clifford (2,521 passing yards. 22 TDs, 6 INTs), an explosive year from wide receiver KJ Hamler (836 yards, 8 TDs) and an improved late-game rushing attack all tied together by a talented defense has the Nittany Lions at 9-2 with a chance to once again qualify for a New Year’s 6 Bowl under head coach James Franklin.
But as it usually does with the Penn State football program, the negative is seeming to outweigh the positive. All season long there have been stories linked to Coach Franklin’s departure either to USC or Florida State, and it seems a part of the fan base would welcome that change. Fans across the board in college football are tough on their coaches and I get it, they’re passionate about their team and they want to see them win, but it really does frustrate a certain columnist that Franklin has so many critics.
Penn State has been a perennial top 10 program over the past three seasons and is positioned to finish in that grouping again this season. Franklin has led them to a 40-11 record over the past four seasons and he kept them above .500 in his first two seasons in 2014 and 2015 (14-12) inheriting a team that had NCAA sanctions, a bowl ban and a reduced amount of scholarship players.
Franklin is building something here, he has the program in the top in recruiting every season and he cares about academics and graduating his players.
Look at historic programs in Nebraska, USC, Texas, Tennessee and Florida State — which have all struggled immensely in recent years. Criticizing a coach is fine and it has been deserved at Penn State with Franklin at times, but wishing Franklin would move onto another school to me is outrageous. It’s tough to win in college football year in and year out and Penn State is winning.
Now, just because I don’t think a change needs to made at head coach doesn’t mean I don’t have some criticisms of my own. The one thing I would like to highlight this week does have to do with winning, but it’s not what most Penn State fans have been clamoring about. Most fans are upset because they don’t think Franklin can win the “big game.” Namely Ohio State and the past few Michigan games on the road.
My problem isn’t with the big games, but rather the fact that Penn State has dropped a few games in this four-year run that I don’t think it should have and it’s kept them from the conversation for a College Football Playoff berth. In 2016, the Pitt loss kept them out of the CFP. In 2017, a Michigan State loss on the road after a lengthy weather delay kept them out. Another loss to an average MSU team at home in 2018 ended any hopes of a CFP run. This season, a loss to Minnesota on the road made last week’s game at Ohio State a do-or-die scenario for the CFP.
All these losses are games where I think Penn State had more talent and didn’t come away with the win. My criticism on Franklin is that these games must be wins in order to give yourself the best shot of still getting in the CFP even if you happen to drop a game to either Michigan or Ohio State.
Now, onto this week’s opponent in Rutgers (3:30 ET, BTN). The Scarlet Knights (2-9) are a team in turmoil after the firing of head Chris Ash midway through the season. Since then, Rutgers starting running back and quarterback have entered the transfer portal and the Scarlet Knights’ only two victories are over UMASS and Liberty.
The numbers have not been good for Rutgers as they have been shutout four times and rank among the poorest teams in the country in scoring offense (13.9 points per game) and total offense (263.1 yards per game). The defense hasn’t been much better, giving up 442.7 yards per game, which ranks 104th in the country.
Coming off a tough 28-17 loss to the Buckeyes, the Nittany Lions will be looking to finish the season strong on their Senior Day. The Nittany Lions have been very good at home as of late, going 31-3 over the past five seasons and they’ve been even better against unranked opponents, going 32-2 over the past four seasons.
Las Vegas has Penn State as a 40.5-point favorite.
It looks like Will Levis will be starting at quarterback this week after Clifford was banged up last week against the Buckeyes. Look for Penn State to focus more on the run game as that is more Levis’ style. Rutgers is giving up almost 200 yards per game on the ground, so it could be a long day for the Scarlet Knights defense, especially with bruised Noah Cain back fully healthy at running back.
My pick is Penn State 51, Rutgers 6.