Penn State is done playing the best teams in the Big Ten. On the one hand, you had a game in Michigan where everyone watching knew the Nittany Lions had no chance. Yet, they still found themselves up a point in the third quarter.
On Saturday, Penn State played the other kind of game, in which they gave you hope that a win was within their grasp. Up 21-16 with 9:26 left in the game, Penn State needed one, maybe two more stops to put the game away. Instead, Ohio State struck quickly, retaking the lead. The Lions fumbled in the next drive, and Ohio State turned into another seven points. Deficit went from two to nine. The Lions got the field goal back, making the deficit six again. And, if the fumble wasn’t the indication that the wheels were coming off, the next two drives certainly were. Another quick score by the Buckeyes and a pick-six by Clifford sealed any shot at the win, turning a competitive game for 52 minutes of the contest, into the laugher that it ended up being.
Now, Penn State will play out the rest of their season, likely finishing as the clear third best team in the conference (no, Illinois fans, your team is not the third best). This is where perspective sets in. In order to meet the average prediction between us writers and our commenters, Penn State would need to lose two more games in the next four. It’s possible, of course, as the Nittany Lions seem to always have a dumb game against an inferior opponent in them. The real world likelihood that it happens, however, is pretty low.
And that’s where perspective is a Chad. It forces us to look through our own expectations from the lens of what we hoped for. It allows us to look at how our expectations have shifted as the season has gone along, and decide whether our current feelings of the season align with the reality of what’s happening on the field. It gives us the opportunity to, maybe to our own chagrin, decide whether being the third best team in the conference, after coming off two seasons where they decidedly were not the third best team in the conference, is something we should be satisfied with.
I sincerely hoped for a 2016 redux on Friday. At around 3 PM on Saturday, I was dreaming of a three-way tie come season’s end. Then, Ohio State scored three times in the span of seconds, and reality, like a Chad, kicked me in the nuts. I’ll say this, however. Give me the anguish of defeat 100 times over the helplessness of futility.
If Penn State needs to lose to the best teams in the country, I want them to go down swinging. I want to believe Penn State has a chance, even if they break my heart in the end. It gives me hope that a better future is ahead. Witnessing a game, like the one we saw against Michigan, does not give me the hope for a future where it is they who have to look up in the standings. So, watching the team fall apart in the last minute, as frustrating, infuriating, disheartening, and exasperating as it may have been, it left me feeling like yes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And that light is not an oncoming train.
So we go back to perspective. The best case I can make for our own dose of perspective is this one. Since 2010, the last year 247Sports has a full set of rankings, Georgia has had a class outside of the top 10 twice. In 13 years, Georgia has had two classes outside the top 10. In that same time span, the have exactly one win against Alabama. They also have exactly one SEC title. And, of course, last season’s win against Alabama coincides with their national championship.
Penn State, in contrast, has had two top 10 classes in the same time period! Think about that for a second. Penn State has as many conferences championships as Georgia in the past 13 seasons (one), they have one more victory against the top team in the conference (two: 2011 and 2016), and they’ve done it with far worse talent than Georgia has had! Because, ultimately, winning is hard. But when you put things in perspective, the Lions have been overachieving for a very long time.
If you include Tennessee in the conversation, you’d have to go back 16 years find their second win against Alabama. Because winning is hard.
So back to the point. Penn State’s season will likely be a decent one. They’ll go to a nice bowl game, use the bounce back to keep recruiting, and they’ll keep fighting. And next year they’ll give Ohio State everything they can handle, like they always do. And who knows, maybe then will be the time when the Lions finally finish the job.
Stats and Storylines
4 - The amount of turnovers in the game. Penn State survived the first two, but they couldn’t survive four. You can win against Northwestern with four turnovers, but you can’t beat the No. 2 team in the land playing like that.
482 - Total yards by the Nittany Lions. That’s 30 more than the Buckeyes. Penn State was moving the ball, they just couldn’t get out of their own way.
No, he wouldn’t have - People cope in different ways. One of those ways is relitigating the Drew Allar question. Let it go people. Let’s finish the season with dignity and dream of reaching new heights in 2023, like we all wanted to back in the spring.
A bounce back is a bounce back - Barring major disaster, Penn State will finish third in the East, go to a New Year’s Six bowl, and re-establish itself as a relevant program in the country. What comes next we shall see!