Well, here we are.
Penn State is undefeated, #6 in the country, bowl eligible, and has generally made life miserable for opposing teams until now.
And not a lot of that matters.
This season, the last one with the Big Ten in existence with its current East/West divisions, will come down to two games. This isn’t news, most people have said since the end of last year that that would be the case for the 2023 season.
But the “warmup” portion of the season is over, and the first of those two games is upon us.
Penn State heads west to Columbus this coming Saturday, where they will take on the #3 Ohio State Buckeyes.
Lose that game, and it is an uphill climb to get to 11-1, given that Michigan still remains on the schedule. Lose that game, and it’s likely a New Year’s Six bowl destination, as the team finishes outside the four-team College Football Playoff once more. Lose that game, and it’s a lot of the same discussions that have swirled around Penn State since they just missed on the playoffs in 2016. In 2017. In 2019. Shoot, even in 2022.
They can’t get over the hump. They’ll never be able to beat Ohio State. They’ll never be able to beat Michigan. They’re just not good enough.
Are any of those things true? Penn State has had leads on those teams in the last few seasons, but has been unable to hold onto them. They’ve clearly been competitive, if perhaps a step slower.
This time next week we’ll know if they’re still a step slower, or if they’ve finally been able to take that next, elusive step. To join their competitors at the top of the Big Ten. Or if their best hope of making the playoffs is to rely on the looming expansion.
Time will tell, and with kickoff set for Saturday at 12:00 ET, the clock is ticking.