After losing to Michigan on Saturday, Penn State has been mathematically eliminated from playing for the Big Ten Championship (pretty amazing that it took this long for that to become official). However, there are still three teams alive in the race to Indianapolis to represent the B1G's East division. Thanks to this fact, for at least one more week, Penn State football will matter within the greater college football landscape.
The Nittany Lions have pretty much put the bow on their season at this point. They've already qualified for a bowl game, they've already assured themselves of a winning record in the regular season and they will finish with a Big Ten record of .500 or better. All things considered, it's not a bad place to be for a team still in the process of rebuilding depth after the sanctions.
This Saturday, the Penn State Nittany Lions hold the distinction of being the most dangerous team in the Big Ten (you could include Nebraska as well, but they're still actually playing for a bowl bid). This is a team that will run onto the field in East Lansing with absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain. They will be the 2007 New York Giants against the previously undefeated New England Patriots. The only team who has something to lose will be standing on the other sideline.
What does this mean for Penn State? It means throw out all the stops. Don't kick field goals on fourth and short inside the 30-yard line. Break out the wide receiver/running back pass plays. Let Hackenberg air it out downfield as often as he would like (which is how you beat Sparty anyway). Let the defense blitz the hell out of Connor Cook/Tyler O'Connor/Damion Terry. Have the corners play aggressive and go after high risk/high reward plays. Don't call the safe plays. Don't shy away from big situations. Make a big play early. Coach to win, instead of coaching to not lose.
And the fans? Don't get caught up in the record. This team will win a minimum of seven games in the 2015 season. Think back to 2011, when the national media declared that Penn State football was dead, and a seven-win season starts to sound pretty good again. Enjoy the last Big Ten game you'll see from Anthony Zettel, Trevor Williams, Kyle Carter, Carl Nassib, Angelo Mangiro, possibly Austin Johnson and Christian Hackenberg and others. Consider what this team has been able to accomplish while being undermanned. Think about the massive droves of talent that the coaching staff has recruited to suit up for Penn State in the coming seasons, and remember that this new era has just begun. Welcome the fans of the winner of The Game to the bandwagon, who will be desperately hoping for one more chance to get to Indy, if only for a few hours. Root for the players who have put it on themselves to continue the Penn State legacy.
Root for the Penn State team that has nothing to lose. Embrace the chaos.