STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (WHTM) — Penn State football is unranked in the AP Preseason Top-25 poll for the first time since the 2016 season.
The Nittany Lions received 160 votes, which ranks them outside of the Top 25 FBS programs in the country to start the season. The last time Penn State was unranked at this stage was 2016; PSU went on to win the Big Ten Championship that season.
After the 2021 season and the 2-6 collapse to end the year, perhaps starting with few expectations is better. The team overpromised a third of the way into the season, and under delivered.
Penn State jumped out to a 4-0 start with a lackluster win over Villanova (in which the Wildcats covered). It was then the conversation began to swirl, was Penn State over-ranked at No. 4?
Third year starting quarterback Sean Clifford didn’t seem to think so.
“We’re 4-0,” Clifford said on September 25, 2021. “We’re one of, if not, the best team in the country that’s our mentality right now.”
That didn’t seem to settle well with Head Coach James Franklin, who thought the team looked complacent in practice after being ranked No. 4. It showed on the field against Villanova, and in the following week, Franklin addressed his quarterback’s comments.
“I appreciate Sean and his confidence and belief in his teammates and this program,” Franklin said. “And [I appreciate] the type of support we’ve gotten from the community and the buzz and excitement that we feel in Happy Valley right now. But what I would prefer is that everybody pours their effort and energy into Indiana.”
Penn State would beat Indiana 24-0 enroute to a 5-0 record, keeping their No. 4 ranking. But the season was on the verge of collapse.
The following week was a Top-5 matchup with Iowa on the road, in which a host of Nittany Lions were injured. Ultimately, backup QB Taquan Roberson couldn’t lead Penn State to victory, losing their first game of the 2021 season, 23-20.
It was the start of a 2-6 finish that left a once promising season completely empty, with a fan base and program looking for answers.
Perhaps remaining unranked to start the season will allow Penn State to quietly stack some early wins instead of early accolades that mean nothing in December.
Penn State begins its season on the road at Purdue on Thursday, September 1.