Can you believe it’s been more than a month since Penn State wrapped up its 2017 campaign? While we now are stuck in the doldrums of no college football, at least it means the 2018 season will kick off nearly seven months from now.
But before we turn our focus to APPALACHIAN STATE APPALACHIAN STATE APPALACHIAN STATE APPALACHIAN STATE APPALACHIAN STATE APPALACHIAN STATE APPALACHIAN STATE APPALACHIAN STATE, let’s take another look at the 2017 season with our annual power rankings.
1. Fiesta Bowl- Washington (Penn State- 35, Washington-28)
After not being able to put together a complete game against the two highest-ranked teams on its schedule, Penn State did just that with an impressive performance in the Fiesta Bowl. The Nittany Lions scored early and often, and held on to the lead to defeat the nation’s #11 team on a huge stage. The game featured several electrifying plays and was the perfect send off for an outstanding and senior class that will be fondly remembered by the Penn State community for years to come. Most importantly, the offense went on a long, sustained fourth quarter drive to help eat up clock and prevent a late Washington rally.
2. Iowa (Penn State-21, Iowa-19)
You know how rare a walk-off game-winning touchdown in regulation is? The last time it happened for Penn State was the closing seconds of the 1995 victory against Michigan State, when Wally Richardson connected with Bobby Engram. After the severely underrated Akrum Wadley nearly single-handily gave Iowa another major upset victory in Kinnick, Trace McSorley cooly led a game-winning drive down the field with just over a minute remaining. It all came down to fourth-and-goal with a few ticks left on the clock, where he found Juwan Johnson over the middle, giving Johnson his first career touchdown and the Nittany Lions one of the most heart-pounding wins in recent memory.
3. Michigan (Penn State-42, Michigan-13)
Penn State beats the pants off Michigan in the ABC prime time game of the week in front of a raucous White Out crowd of 109,000-plus. It doesn’t get much better than that. This was probably the high point of the 2017 season- at the time, Penn State seemed poised for a playoff spot and Saquon Barkley the apparent Heisman winner. All of that would be washed away in the next two weeks, but it was one hell of a fun evening while it lasted.
4. Northwestern (Penn State-31, Northwestern-7)
This game seemed pretty ho-hum at the time, but in retrospect this was Penn State’s best quality win of the regular season. Northwestern was just 2-2 at the time, and it seemed as though the Nittany Lions were sleepwalking throughout most of the game before gradually pulling out an impressive victory. This game easily could have ended as a 38-0 rout, but a holding penalty negated DeAndre Thompkins fourth quarter punt return touchdown, and the Wildcats offense eventually was able to find the end zone- against the Nittany Lions second-string defense in the game’s waning moments.
5. Pitt (Penn State-33, Pitt-14)
This game started with a bang, as Penn State jumped out to a very early 14-0 lead thanks in part to a huge interception and return by Grant Haley. The offense became sluggish for a bit after that, but it was still nice to have a convincing victory following a difficult loss in 2016. Marcus Allen also gave us the highlight of his Penn State career with an incredible game-sealing safety. This also proved the separation between the two programs- most Penn State fans likely don’t remember the exact score, while the 800 Pitt fans who regularly attend games will be wearing their 42-39 t-shirts for the next two decades.
6. Maryland (Penn State-66, Maryland-3)
Penn State needed one more victory to secure a 10-win season and NY6 bowl appearance, and this one was never in doubt. The Nittany Lions played near perfect football on offense, defense and special teams, and all but ended any whispers of a rivalry from a Maryland program so desperate to start one since joining the Big Ten. Mike Gesicki contributed two highlight-reel touchdowns, Trace McSorley picked apart the Maryland secondary and Tommy Stevens put on a show in the second half by rushing for 113 yards and three scores.
7. Indiana (Penn State-45, Indiana-14)
How much fun was that first quarter? Penn State jumped out to a 28-0 lead in the first stanza on the strength of two early special teams touchdowns, including Saquon Barkley taking the opening kickoff for six. A big victory is always a nice touch on any Homecoming weekend, and like a sign from above, the clouds parted just in time for kickoff to transform a gloomy day into a beautiful afternoon for some football.
8. Georgia State (Penn State-56, Georgia State-0)
Sure, it was against a widely unknown opponent, but man was it fun to watch a blowout victory on a gorgeous September evening under the lights of Beaver Stadium. The clear highlights of this game were Saquon Barkley’s 85-yard touchdown reception where he straight-up ran past three defenders who had the angle on him near the sideline, as well as James Franklin calling a timeout in the closing seconds to preserve the shutout- 56-point lead be damned.
9. Nebraska (Penn State-56, Nebraska-44)
This was a somewhat odd game that ended in 100 total points. Penn State’s offense blew the doors off the ‘Huskers in the first half, building a 42-10 lead despite the sloppy conditions. The second half was a different story, as Tanner Lee and Nebraska’s passing attack came alive as Penn State’s defense took its foot off the peddle. The outcome was never in doubt, but Nebraska sure did all the could to make the score look close. Barkley returned to form in this game, rushing for 158 yards and three touchdowns on just 17 carries, while adding another 66 yards through the air.
10. Akron (Penn State-52, Akron-0)
Kicking off the season with a dominating shutout is a great way to start. The opponent may not have been the cause for much excitement (especially considering they played Akron again in week two for some odd reason), but it was encouraging to see the offense and defense both playing at such a high level from the very start.
11. Rutgers (Penn State-35, Rutgers-6)
This was about a ‘blah’ victory as you can experience. Despite winning by 29 points, the hangover from the consecutive losses during the previous two weeks was all too real. The Nittany Lions still looked out of sorts at first, but fortunately were able to put it together for a convincing conference win. The Scarlet Knights continued the trend of shutting down Barkley, officially distinguishing the embers of his Heisman campaign.
12. Ohio State (Ohio State-39, Penn State-38)
If you aren’t a member of the Penn State fanbase, this was a wildly entertaining game. However, for those of us who bleed blue and white it was perhaps the most heart-wrenching game we have witnessed (I’ll go ahead and make that claim after following the team for almost 25 years). Penn State jumped out to a big lead and looked destined to stake its claim among college football’s elite and be in the drivers seat for a Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoffs berth. But watching the lead gradually slip away was slow torture, as Penn State’s offense couldn’t find a way to move the ball in the fourth quarter, while J.T. Barrett was perfect, completing every pass attempt to bring the Buckeyes back just in time. Looking back, this game still really stings.
13. Michigan State (Michigan State-27, Penn State-24)
A week after a stunning loss to Ohio State in the closing moments, things somehow got even worse. The hangover from an emotional loss in the final moments in Columbus was evident, as the offense had its poorest showing of the season in a game where they just couldn’t put it together. The defense also struggled, finding it near-impossible to get off the field on third downs. And this isn’t even to mention the hours-long weather delay that meant a game that kicked off at noon didn’t finish until after the 3:30 p.m. games. This game slammed the book shut on any chance of a playoff berth, and removed Barkley from the top of the Heisman frontrunner list as he eventually became an afterthought to the voters.