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Power Ranking Penn State’s 2016 Season

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Ranking the 14 games that comprised a wonderfully memorable 2016 season for the Penn State Nittany Lions.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

14. Sept. 24: Michigan- 49, Penn State- 10 “The One Where Penn State Ran Out of Linebackers”

When you think back, this game almost felt like it occurred ages ago, not just this past September. At the time, Michigan was playing as well as anyone in the nation on both sides of the ball, while Penn State was missing the majority of its starters on defense and was still struggling to become comfortable in the new offense. The linebacker depth was so poor by the end of the game that anyone wearing a Penn State jersey in the Big House was getting waved down from the stands by the coaching staff.

13. Sept. 3: Penn State- 33, Kent State- 13 “The One Where the Offense Looked Like they were Wearing Paste Pants”

Penn State looked pretty much exactly like you would expect in week one for the second youngest team in the nation with a brand-new offensive coordinator and quarterback. The offense made some plays here and there, but it was obvious they still had a long ways to go before becoming the productive unit we were expecting under Joe Moorhead’s leadership. It was a building block win, but there was nothing to it that would make you think Penn State was destined to become Big Ten champions.

12. Sept. 10: Pitt- 42, Penn State- 39 “The One Where Penn State Ran Out of Time”

During the first half I remember thinking this was going to be Penn State’s worst defense in more than a decade. The team looked rattled and overmatched on both sides the ball as Pitt easily controlled the line of scrimmage. Things took an abrupt turn in the second half, with Penn State nearly surmounting a three-touchdown deficit if not for a dropped pass by DaeSean Hamilton and a Trace McSorley heave to the end zone being intercepted by the Panthers. While the loss stung, this game offered a glimpse into Penn State’s potential on offense and its penchant for being a second half team.

11. Sept. 17: Penn State- 34, Temple- 27 “The One Where We Didn’t Realize We Were Watching Two Eventual Conference Champions”

Penn State did what was needed to recover following the loss at Pitt and not lose to Temple for the second consecutive year. Saquon Barkley and Mike Gesicki each made eye-popping plays in the second half to deliver the victory. At the time, it seemed like a ho-hum win with plenty of uncertainty on the way.

10. Nov. 12: Penn State- 45, Indiana- 31 “The One With All the Negative Plays”

Penn State’s offense struggled to get much going, with Saquon Barkley repeatedly getting hit behind the line of scrimmage as the offensive line seemed helpless against the Hoosiers front seven. Just as it seemed the Nittany Lions’ division title hopes were about the slip away, the offense came alive. Penn State would outscore Indiana 31-7 in the final 16:09 of the contest and a Brandon Bell strip-sack that led to Torrence Brown’s scoop-and-score sealed the win in Bloomington.

9. Nov. 19: Penn State- 39, Rutgers- 0 “The One Where All the Rutgers Fans Gave Up”

Penn State’s defense easily handled the Scarlet Knights overmatched offense, leading Chris Ash to quip that his team can’t even be called one-dimensional after the dismal showing. All four of Penn State’s regular running backs found their way to the end zone, with Mark Allen again demonstrating his playmaking ability whenever he sees the field. By the end of this so-called “rivalry” prime-time game, the Rutgers fans had cleared the stands and white-clad Nittany Lion faithful took over the student section.

8. Oct. 8: Penn State- 38, Maryland-14

This was the first taste of the Penn State team that would go on to become champions of the Big Ten. The offense found its groove under Moorhead’s system and never looked back, while the defense offered a dominating performance. Offense, defense and special teams all played to their potential, with each offering big plays to swing the results in Penn State’s favor.

7. Oct. 29: Penn State- 62, Purdue- 24 “The One with the Second Half Explosion”

Despite Purdue’s recent struggles, many were expecting a young Penn State team to have a let down following an emotional win against #2 Ohio State and drop a game to the Boilermakers on the road. Not this team. While the Nittany Lions looked somewhat lethargic in the first half that ended 17-17, Penn State came out firing on all cylinders in the second half as they completely thrashed Purdue. The team proved to be very well-focused despite their youthfulness as they reached bowl eligibility.

6. Oct. 1: Penn State- 29, Minnesota- 26 “The One Where Penn State Got Its Groove Back”

Penn State’s offense looked absolutely dismal in the first half, and it seemed as though the Nittany Lions were headed for a 2-3 record and an uncertain future. But the team and the Beaver Stadium crowd was awakened by an 81-yard touchdown reception by Irvin Charles, followed by a late hit on Joey Julius on the ensuing kickoff. The team came together and showed some swagger, and ultimately tied the game with the help of an epic drive led by McSorley in the closing seconds. After the defense held Minnesota to a field goal in overtime, Barkley would seal the deal with a 25-yard scamper to the end zone on the first play of Penn State’s OT possession.

5. Nov. 5: Penn State- 42, Iowa- 14 “The One Where Penn State Put it all Together”

What seemed like a dangerous match-up quickly became one-sided as Penn State put together a complete game to dominate the Hawkeyes. This game offered some of the biggest highlights of the season: a stunning 57-yard touchdown run by Barkley, Jason Cabinda going over-the-top to stuff Iowa on fourth-and-one, a beautifully thrown wheel route to Barkley for another score, and backup quarterback Tommy Stevens plowing through several Iowa defenders on a jet sweep. It was a beautiful November night under the lights of Beaver Stadium, as the Nittany Lions rolled past the Hawkeyes and proved they were the real deal.

4. Nov. 26: Penn State- 45, Michigan State- 12 “The One Where Trace Air Delivered a Division Title”

Shortly after kickoff, the Beaver Stadium crowd erupted after learning Ohio State had defeated Michigan, meaning Penn State was now playing for a division title and a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game the following week. Penn State again looked sluggish in the first half, trailing Michigan State 12-10 at halftime. With Barkley playing hobbled and not himself, McSorley took matters in his own hands. He went deep to Chris Godwin to give Penn State the lead, then followed suite with a 59-yard strike to Mike Gesicki in the end zone before finding Godwin deep again for six. Andre Robinson found the end zone twice to officially put the game out of reach. The Beaver Stadium crowd remained long after the clock hit 0:00 to watch the team accept its Big Ten East Division Championship trophy and celebrate a long and tumultuous journey back to the top.

3. Jan. 2: USC- 52, Penn State- 49 “The One Where the Fourth Quarter Magic Went Poof”

If Penn State held on to win, this is #1 on the list with a bullet. Alas, Penn State’s fourth quarter magic went out the window as they were outscored 17-0 in the final stanza. Regardless, this was easily one of the best Rose Bowls in history, filled with spectacular moments for both teams. May this team remember the feeling of walking off the field as fuel as it trains for the 2017 season.

2. Oct. 22: Penn State- 24, Ohio State- 21 “The One with the Block Six”

It looked like the Buckeyes were ready to run away with the victory following a safety off of a high snap that increased its lead to 21-7 late in the third quarter. But Penn State proved their was no quit in them as they dominated the fourth quarter 17-0. McSorley scored on a two-yard run following big plays by Barkley and Saeed Blacknall to give Penn State life. Then a blocked punt set up a field goal to put Penn State within striking distance of the lead. Then it happened- with Ohio State attempting a field goal to make it a seven-point game, Marcus Allen plowed through the line to block the field goal, which was scooped up by Grant Haley and returned all the way for the winning score. The Buckeyes got the ball back with 4:24 remaining, but were dominated by Penn State’s defense and gave the ball back on downs following consecutive sacks. The Whiteout crowd swarmed the field, and James Franklin finally had his signature win.

1. Dec. 3: Penn State- 38, Wisconsin- 31 “The One Where Penn State Became Champions”

If there was any question going into this game, this is the one that proved this team had the most heart out of any team in the nation. Down 28-7 and looking completely outclassed, Penn State kept its cool and continued to make plays to gradually erase the deficit. McSorley and Barkley continued to shred one of the top defenses in the nation, as Blacknall finally had the coming-out party fans had been hoping for. Brandon Bell’s Lavar-esque strip-sack in the third quarter seemed to be the turning point, and even though Penn State was still down at that point, it felt like it was now the Nittany Lions game to lose. Barkley’s incredible wheel route touchdown put Penn State up for good, and Marcus Allen and Grant Haley again teamed up for a season-defying play- this time stuffing the Badgers on fourth down and clinching the victory- and the Big Ten Championship- for the Nittany Lions. The visions of the players and coaches holding up the trophy as confetti fell from the ceiling will be a cherished memory for any Nittany Lions fan lucky enough to follow along as the boys in blue and white won a conference championship that seemed completely unimaginable earlier in the season.