Penn State has beaten the teams it was expected to beat and lost to the usual powerhouses of the Big Ten, Michigan and Ohio State.
The Nittany Lions rose one spot to No. 14 in the second edition of the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday, and there’s room for them to keep climbing if they win out, starting with their Saturday game against Maryland in State College, Pa.
James Franklin’s Nittany Lions teams won 11 games in 2016, 2017 and 2019 before a rocky span of 4-5 in 2020 and 7-6 last year. After Penn State (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) got back on track last week by thrashing Indiana 45-14, the team is on pace to exceed last year’s win total, and a 10-2 finish with an at-large bid to a New Year’s Six bowl are not out of reach.
The Nittany Lions have a fine overall body of work but lack a so-called signature win. Penn State drilled Auburn 41-12 in a road game in September, but it looks less impressive now that the Tigers have fallen to 3-6 and fired their coach.
“You’ve got some teams and some programs that have not been consistent but have big-time wins, and then you have others that have been consistent but not the signature win, and obviously what you want is you want both, right?” Franklin said. “You want the consistency week in and week out, which we’ve all seen is hard to do, and the signature wins are hard to do. …
“We’ve gotta do what we’ve gotta do this week to be 1-0, continue to stack wins and stack days and be positive … and then hopefully at the end of the season we’re where we need to be and put ourselves in the best position possible for the bowl season as well as momentum going into next season.”
Freshman running back Kaytron Allen racked up 86 rushing yards and three touchdowns along with receptions of 45 and 27 yards as Penn State downed Indiana to bounce back from a 44-31 loss to Ohio State. The Nittany Lions’ defense tied a program record with 16 tackles for loss.
Penn State will try to notch its fifth conference win Saturday against Maryland (6-3, 3-3) in a battle between third and fourth place in the Big Ten East.
Coming out of their bye week, the Terrapins fell flat at Wisconsin last Saturday in a 23-10 loss. Taulia Tagovailoa was sacked a season-high five times while being held to season lows in completions (10) and yards (77). He threw one touchdown pass and one interception.
Wide receiver Rakim Jarrett (34 receptions, 376 yards on the season) will be a game-time decision Saturday due to a lower leg injury sustained against Wisconsin. Whether or not he plays, the Terrapins will look for more from fellow receivers Jeshaun Jones, Jacob Copeland and Dontay Demus Jr.
“We’ve talked about all year how our (receiver) room was really deep from top to bottom,” Jones said. “I think that gives credit to the whole room and to (Tagovailoa) spreading the ball around.
“I believe I heard something last week that we have like eight guys who have 10 or more catches … I feel like that’s a pretty nice stat to have as an offense and shows that we’re spreading the ball around.”
Already bowl-eligible, Maryland can ensure its best record yet under fourth-year coach Mike Locksley if it wins two of its final three games. Maryland finished 7-6 last year after winning the Pinstripe Bowl.
Though Penn State leads the all-time series 41-3-1, two of the Terrapins’ wins have come at State College in 2014 and 2020.
–Field Level Media