Perhaps the biggest mistake one can make when assessing Penn State is thinking that this season was an accident.
Yes, James Franklin went 7-6 in each of his first two seasons with the Nittany Lions, but in many ways, that was by design.
“He walked into a situation where Penn State was in a recovery mode from the sanctions,” Penn State play-by-play voice Steve Jones said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “When he walked in, he had 65 scholarship players. Then he got to 75. This year he’s at 81. So he finally had a full boat this year, and I think he’s been smart about how he’s done this. When he had the 65 scholarship players, he still redshirted two-thirds of his class thinking about the future – instead of panicking and stripping off red shirts (so he could win a game). He did the same thing last year. He probably redshirted two-thirds of that class, again, thinking of the future. He’s been thinking long-term the entire time. And what’s happened is that this year some things have come together they’ve run off the eight straight wins and they’re now playing with maturity and confidence.”
Unfortunately for No. 7 Penn State (10-2), it could beat No. 6 Wisconsin (10-2) in the Big Ten Championship this Saturday and still miss the playoff, especially since Michigan (10-2) remains at No. 5 despite losing two if its last three games.
Usually when a team loses two out of three to end the season, it falls out of the top 10.
“That’s not what has happened here,” Jones said. “Look, Michigan is a really good team, but at the same time, they played eight games at home this year. The two games they lost were both on the road. They were both tough, hard-fought games. Now they beat Penn State and they beat Penn State with ease, so that counts for something. But at the same time, the two teams they lost to Penn State beat. The two toughest divisions in college football are the SEC-West and the Big Ten-East. Well, Penn State won the Big Ten-East.”
One thing is certain: Penn State must beat Wisconsin to have a chance at the final four. The key for the Nittany Lions against the Badgers is quite simple: start fast.
“You have to get the lead on this team,” Jones said. “Wisconsin, I think, is the best frontrunner in all of college football. They were No. 1 in time of possession this year, so you’ve got to put them in an area where they’re not comfortable. Well, the area they’re not going to be comfortable in is the one where they have to throw the football a little bit more and have to play from behind. Because if they get the lead, they’ll just keep grinning it and the time dwindles down.”
Kickoff is at 8 p.m. ET.