Penn State is not the class of the Big Ten.
Yes, they are one of the last two undefeated teams in conference and could be the only team without a blemish after Nebraska's matchup with Miami tonight. They have done what they needed to do to eek out wins against a Blake Bortles- and Storm Johnson-less Central Florida squad and a Rutgers team with a whole stadium behind them. And a 'W' is all that really matters in the end.
But Penn State is not the class of the Big Ten.
The Lions could have just as easily been 1-2 as they were 3-0 heading into today's game with Massachusetts. They probably would absolutely have come into this game under .500 if not for the magic summoned on a weekly basis by Christian Hackenberg and the vastly-improved defensive scheming brought to the program by new coordinator Bob Shoop. Hell, they even struggled with Akron for three quarters.
That's why, even with all the complaining that paying ticket holders dish out every year, a team like UMass is scheduled. I don't mean any disrespect to UMass and, maybe, I shouldn't even give them this distinction after their performances against Colorado and Vanderbilt this year, but games such as this are a scrimmage. They're scheduled so that the team can work on the flaws that have been investigated and established through summer practice and the early non-conference schedule.
And Penn State had a glaring one through three games.
The Lions have been saddled with an inexperienced offensive line that had its worst performance of the season a mere seven nights ago when neither a running game could get going nor could they keep Christian Hackenberg on his feet for more than two plays at a time, problems that needed to be fixed before the meat of the Big Ten season begins next weekend. And working on those problems was exactly what James Franklin and John Donovan did in the Lions' 48-7 victory today, running the ball 45 times for 228 yards and five touchdowns. Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak and Akeel Lynch all scored on the ground. Two of those touchdowns came out of the Wildcat which showed another new wrinkle of Belton handing off to Lynch on a fly-sweep. Yes, it was against UMass, but you can only hope a certain confidence has been instilled into the offensive line now that they've proven they can open up running gaps against another FBS team.
Hackenberg looked off early, but threw for 179 yards before handing the controls over to D.J. Crook early in the second half. The defense remained its dominant self, allowing only 259 yards (only two of those on the ground) and one fourth-quarter touchdown. Many second-teamers, talented, yet inexperienced, got their first prolonged work in in a Nittany Lion uniform, something that will pay dividends down the road, whether it be when depth plays a role this year or they are thrust into new roles in 2015.
It wasn't exciting. It wasn't memorable. It was in no way a game that will leave an imprint in your mind.
It was business.
And it was certainly needed. Needed to continue developing this team's identity and needed to help establish those exciting and memorable moments down the road. Because, guys, they are coming.
Penn State is not the class of the Big Ten.... yet.