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Penn State Football’s Top-Five Matchup History By The Numbers

No. 4 Penn State football is heading to Iowa City this weekend for a huge matchup against No. 3 Iowa.

When the game kicks off at Kinnick Stadium, it’ll be the 11th time the Nittany Lions play in a top-five regular-season matchup while ranked among the top five themselves. Penn State owns a 4-6 record in regular-season games where both teams are ranked in the top five of the AP Top 25 Poll.

Its first regular-season game of that kind came back in 1978 when No. 2 Penn State took down No. 5 Maryland 27-3. The most recent game was played in 1999 when No. 3 Penn State blew out No. 4 Arizona 41-7. In fact, that game featured the largest margin of victory the Nittany Lions have had in such a game.

In those 10 games, Penn State has been ranked No. 1 zero times, No. 5 once, and No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4 three times each.

This Saturday, it’ll be the No. 4 Nittany Lions up against the No. 3 Hawkeyes. Only once has a No. 4 Penn State team played against a No. 3 opponent. Ironically, it was on the road, and it was a 38-7 loss to Ohio State.

Speaking of road games, only three of Penn State’s 10 top-five matchups have been on the road. The Nittany Lions sport a 1-2 record in those games, with the only win coming when Joe Paterno’s No. 3-ranked team beat No. 5 Michigan 31-24 in Ann Arbor.

Other than Ohio State and Michigan, Penn State’s only other top-rive road matchup came against No. 4 Alabama. The No. 3 Nittany Lions lost 42-21 to the Crimson Tide.

Three of Penn State’s regular-season top-five matchups have come against Big Ten opponents. Besides the previously mentioned games against Ohio State and Michigan, the Nittany Lions played the Wolverines again in 1997. No. 2 Penn State got blown out by No. 4 Michigan 34-8 at Beaver Stadium.

Yes, two of the 10 matchups were against now-Big Ten foes Maryland and Nebraska. However, back when those games were played, neither Maryland nor Nebraska had joined the Big Ten just yet.

In addition to Penn State’s 10 regular-season top-five matchups, it’s played in six bowl games of that kind. The program is 2-3-1 in those games. The six bowl games are the 1948 Cotton Bowl, 1972 Sugar Bowl, 1979 Sugar Bowl, 1983 Sugar Bowl, 1986 Orange Bowl, and 1987 Fiesta Bowl.

The one tie came in the 1948 Cotton Bowl when Penn State tied SMU 13-13. The two bowl-game wins came in the 1983 Sugar Bowl 1987 Fiesta Bowl.

The No. 2-ranked Nittany Lions beat the No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs 27-23 in the 1983 Sugar Bowl. In the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, No. 2 Penn State beat No. 1 Miami 14-10.

Overall, including bowl games, Penn State has a 6-9-1 record in top-five matchups.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a junior majoring in journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]


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