In the near future we’ll have a prediction thread about Penn State’s record this season - please note, this is NOT the prediction thread! But it got me thinking about best case for the Lions, and of course my Penn State Pessimism™ led me to thinking about the worst case for the team. So what do you think best case/worst case is?
Penn State starts the season by destroying Idaho and Buffalo. The offense puts up gaudy numbers and the defense pitches two shutouts. Sean Clifford appears to have no shortcomings in his game, and the offensive line actually looks good.
Pitt comes to town, and the Panthers hang tight with Penn State for a quarter before the Lions pull away, outscoring their rivals 48-14. The Lions go on the road to face Maryland in a night game, but no new quarterback is going to help the Terps against this defense, and the Lions improve to 4-0 on the year. A week later a game Purdue squad comes to town, but they lost too much from last year, and the Lions breeze through a cakewalk.
Then comes the three-game gauntlet in the middle of the season, at Iowa, home against Michigan, and at Michigan State. While on paper they can beat any of those teams, especially with how the offense has been performing, a stumble is not unexpected, and the Lions take a loss somewhere in this stretch, sitting at 7-1 as they enter their second bye week.
Minnesota leads the West when they Lions visit them, but Penn State is undaunted in a rout. Indiana gets rolled in Beaver Stadium, and then the Lions head to Ohio State.
Under new head coach Ryan Day, and with new signal caller Justin Fields, the Buckeyes have had an overall successful season, though not unblemished, as OSU enters this game also sitting at 9-1. The offense has some jitters early, but a long touchdown catch by KJ Hamler seems to settle the team. The defensive line gets to Fields early and often, disrupting the first-year quarterback.
The Lions surge ahead to a 38-27 lead with just 5:42 to go in the game, only for the Buckeyes to score a touchdown of their own with 4:20 to go. A missed two-point conversion leaves the score at 38-33, and just a few moments later OSU is driving for a touchdown again. Sitting at the 16 yard line with 1:48 to go, Fields spots tight end Luke Farrell in the end zone and passes the ball his way, only for Micah Parsons to intercept the pass for a touchback. The Lions go on to win 38-33, and then obliterate Rutgers to win the East at 11-1.
In the Big Ten Championship Game, the Lions get a 8-4 Nebraska squad that managed to be the best not good team from the West, and Penn State wins 70-31, finishing the season 12-1 and #3 in the polls.
In the first round of the playoffs Penn State takes on #2 Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl, where once again the defense wins the day, shutting down Tua Tagovailoa a la Justin Fields, and the Lions cruise to a 44-16 win and a berth in the championship game.
After shutting down #4 Oklahoma, #1 Clemson awaits the Nittany Lions, and it’s a game for the ages. Both defenses are world class, and both offenses can light up the scoreboard. The tale of the game is that Sean Clifford outperforms Trevor Lawrence, as Clifford puts up 347 passing yards and three touchdowns, while Lawrence manages a meager 150 yards through the air and three interceptions.
The Lions win their first national championship since 1986, and every single contested blue chip player flips to Penn State, which finishes with the #1 overall recruiting class.
The Lions struggle with Idaho and Buffalo, as the defensive tackle and safety positions can’t find a solid starter. Clifford can’t find a groove as the offensive line can’t protect him long enough to make reads, and the receivers still struggle with drops. PSU gets two wins, but when Pitt comes to town it’s another story entirely. The Panther defense bottles up Hamler, and Pitt runs all over the Lions, winning 48-14 and leaving the good guys at 2-1.
Maryland uses their newfound passing ability to drop the Lions to 2-2, before the Lions right the ship against Purdue. Penn State manages an upset win in the next three weeks, going 1-2, and entering the second bye week at 4-4. West dark horse Minnesota runs all over PSU, earning a 29-26 overtime win, but the Lions grind out a win against Indiana to go 5-5 entering the OSU game.
Ryan Day is Urban Meyer 2.0, and Justin Fields is a Peyton Manning/Vince Young hybrid, shredding the Lions through the air and on the ground. Will Levis takes over at quarterback as the Lions fall 63-14. Rutgers brings their absolute A game, as they are already bowl eligible and a win over PSU would keep the Lions from the post season. They throw everything they have at Penn State, but with just 1:13 to go, Ricky Slade breaks through for a 5 yard touchdown run, giving the good guys a 13-10 victory, and ending the season at 6-6.
The Lions earn a bid to the Quick Lane Bowl, where upstart Akron is waiting. After being the running joke around Happy Valley for two years, the Zips are angry, and they unload on the Lions, earning a 52-0 victory.
Meanwhile, both Ohio State and Michigan make the playoffs, where they easily dispatch Clemson and Alabama, setting up The Game 2.0. Michigan wins the national championship, and the two
lovebirds bitter rivals finish with the top two recruiting classes in the country.