No. 2 Penn State (7-0) passed its first true test of the season Saturday night, dominating Michigan 42-13 in front of a record crowd in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions have won 16 of 17 dating back to last season and are allowing an average of just 9.6 points per game this year.
CBS Sports Network college football analyst Aaron Murray, however, has doubts.
“I don’t think they can win the national championship,” Murray said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I think they have a great chance to obviously get into the playoff. I think they’re playing at an extremely high level right now. Saquon Barkley at running back, he’s everyone’s Heisman favorite right now. He’s going to be a top-five draft pick if he stays healthy for the rest of this season.”
Barkley rushed 15 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan. He also had three catches for 53 yards, including a juggling 42-yard touchdown reception.
Barkley’s dominance created one-on-one match-ups for wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, who had six catches for 115 yards, and tight end Mike Gesicki, who had two catches for 52 yards.
“If you’re able to run the ball that well and dominate the line of scrimmage, you’re going to create one-on-one opportunities on the outside,” Murray said. “I think you saw this week when they went up against Michigan, Michigan had to load the box, they had to play one-on-one, and all of a sudden you’re getting these inside fades. Trace McSorley was throwing it left and right that entire time. If Trace can continues to beat man-to-man coverage when teams load the box to stop the run, it’s going to be very difficult for teams to stop this offense.”
So what’s the problem? Why can’t Penn State win a national championship?
“I just think the Alabamas, the Georgias – I’m an SEC guy,” Murray said. “I just think the SEC has bigger, faster, stronger guys. They just have better teams. They’re better-coached. I think that’s the (difference) at the end of the day. I think James Franklin is a great coach; I just think Nick Saban is on a different level than everyone else. When he has a great team, which he does offensively and defensively, I think you look at the coaching. He just has more experience, more knowledge, and that’s what it comes down to a lot: better coaching.”
Murray, 26, starred at Georgia from 2009-13. He believes Kirby Smart is a better coach than James Franklin.
“I do. I do think he’s a better coach,” Murray said. “Look at the team in his second year. To be doing what he’s doing at Georgia, I think he’s building an absolute powerhouse right now. Obviously I’m a little biased because I went to Georgia, but the way he’s recruiting, the way he’s getting those guys to play – I think it’s a mindset. He has that Alabama mindset with these Georgia players, where, they’re not going into games thinking, ‘We have a shot to win’ or ‘This is going to be a close game.’ They’re going into every single game saying, ‘We’re going to win this game. We’re going to blow this team out of the water. We don’t care if they’re unranked or ranked No. 5 in the country. We’re just going to knock them out. So they have the talent, they have the mindset, and I think Kirby is a phenomenal coach.”
No. 3 Georgia (7-0) squares off against Florida (3-3) this Saturday in Jacksonville, while Penn State travels to Columbus to take on No. 6 Ohio State (6-1). Both games kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET.