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Does Penn State Football Deserve Its No. 4 Ranking?

For the first time since week eight of the 2017 season, Penn State football is ranked in the top four of the AP Top 25 Poll.

The Nittany Lions improved to 4-0 this past weekend with a win over Villanova, an FCS squad that plays in the Colonial Athletic Association. Penn State earned a 38-17 win over the Wildcats, but even James Franklin and Sean Clifford, who threw for a personal-best 401 yards on the day, noted that the Nittany Lions didn’t play their best football by any means.

“I feel like our guys a little bit were enjoying people patting them on the back,” Franklin said. “We talked about it all week long. I don’t know if we had the same edge today that we’ve had in the previous three weeks.”

Franklin noted that his group didn’t have strong practices throughout the week, likely as a result of the success and praise they’ve gotten so far this season. Clifford echoed his coach’s sentiment postgame, even noting that the Nittany Lions could’ve had a much more productive day on offense.

“I think that it honestly reflected a lot in this game,” Clifford said. “We still won, but there’s a lot of stuff that could be cleaned up.”

The Nittany Lions did impress in a couple of facets on Saturday, most notably with banner days from the wideouts and first-team defense. However, a 21-point victory over an FCS squad isn’t necessarily what’s expected from a squad that’s now ranked No. 4 in the country.

Penn State also boasts wins over an always-competitive Big Ten foe in Wisconsin, plus the White Out victory over then-No. 22 Auburn. Those still stand as serious resume boosters for the Nittany Lions, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the Badgers fell out of the top 25 this weekend after an ugly 41-13 loss at Soldier Field to No. 9 Notre Dame.

Auburn climbed one spot to No. 22, but the Tigers were trailing Georgia State for much of their match-up this weekend before putting together a 15-point fourth quarter.

This isn’t all to say the Nittany Lions don’t deserve their No. 4 ranking. Their wins are impressive up to this point, and they jumped an Iowa team that beat Colorado State by just ten points this past weekend. However, Franklin’s group now has to prove its deserving to be considered the best Big Ten team in the nation.

Penn State’s last trip to the top four in 2017 was fairly short-lived, as it stayed there after a blowout over Michigan, but fell back after a heartbreaking loss to Ohio State in Columbus the following week.

The ranking will be put to the test fairly quickly this time around as well. Indiana comes to Happy Valley next weekend for a prime-time battle, but the Nittany Lions will follow that with a road trip against No. 5 Iowa at the always intimidating Kinnick Stadium. Even if the Nittany Lions survive that, they’ve got battles against three Big Ten squads currently ranked in the AP Poll on the horizon, and two others with teams that received votes this week.

As of now, those squads, including Ohio State and Michigan, have a clear target on Penn State’s back as the top dog in the Big Ten.

It’s fantastic that the Nittany Lions have gotten off to such a hot start are being rewarded with a high ranking, especially after last year’s struggles. But, as Franklin made clear on Saturday, Penn State still has to prove its deserving of the recognition — and avoid the complacency that might come with the added national attention.

“We did not practice the way I think we should practice on Wednesday. We’ve had very little of that since I’ve been here.” Franklin said. “I think they’re getting patted on the back. I think they are reading articles, and we’ll make sure that there’s no leftovers of that come Sunday. I’ll make sure that we clear all those things out of the fridge.”

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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