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The Sky Is Not Falling: Reasons For Penn State Football Optimism

It was a tough October for Penn State football, and Nittany Lion fans have reacted accordingly up to this point.

After suffering three straight losses over the past four weeks, most recently a 33-24 defeat to Ohio State in Columbus, James Franklin’s team has fallen to No. 22 in the nation with a 5-3 overall record. Penn State battled the Buckeyes well at Ohio Stadium Saturday night. The first of the losing steak was a defeat to Iowa on the road that was largely due to an injury to Sean Clifford.

However, the ugliest of losses was during Homecoming weekend at Beaver Stadium two weeks ago. After an unprecedented nine overtime periods, the Nittany Lions fell to an Illinois team that came into Happy Valley with a 2-5 record and just one win in the Big Ten.

Since then, the chatter surrounding the Nittany Lions has taken a seriously negative turn.

To be fair, the loss to the Fighting Illini was brutal. Clifford was clearly still dealing with an injury that led to the offensive struggles, but Penn State’s inability to slow down Illinois’ rushing attack was especially confusing. Brent Pry’s unit allowed an absurd 357 yards on the ground, which was the primary reason Bret Bielema’s group stayed alive on a rainy day in Beaver Stadium.

That loss didn’t inspire much of any hope in this team, but Saturday’s defeat to the Buckeyes was a strong reminder of what this team actually is. There’s no way the loss to Illinois can be completely forgotten, but if the team that showed up to Ohio Stadium this past weekend remains for the last month of the regular season, this could be a fantastic finish for the Nittany Lions.

In the immediate future, Franklin’s group travels to College Park to take on Maryland on Saturday. Anything can happen in college football, as we all very well know at this point. But with a healthy quarterback and a hungry team overall, a revenge game against the Terrapins could be the perfect opportunity for the Nittany Lions to get their swagger back.

Mike Locksley’s group boasts a 5-3 record on the year along with a 2-3 mark in the Big Ten, which is right on par with Penn State. However, Maryland allowed at least 50 points to both Iowa and Ohio State and currently has the third-worst overall defense in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions’ offense has had its struggles, but if stars like Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington ever had an opportunity to showcase their abilities, it’d be this one against the Terps.

When healthy, Clifford has looked fantastic delivering passes to his many receiving targets, and he’ll have a chance to do a lot of that against Maryland.

Outside of that road trip, Penn State will also welcome Rutgers and Michigan to Beaver Stadium over the next few weeks. A visit from the Scarlet Knights will likely be a refreshing sight for Nittany Lion fans, but the group will first need to take on the Wolverines.

Michigan dropped its first game of the season this past weekend in a 37-33 defeat to Michigan State, but Jim Harbaugh’s group is still ranked as the ninth-best team in the nation. The Wolverines don’t have a ranked win this season, however, and have had shaky performances, including a three-point win over Nebraska and a seven-point victory against Rutgers.

With a Beaver Stadium crowd behind Penn State, it’s hard not to believe the Nittany Lions won’t have a great chance to grab a late-season win over Michigan.

As of now, the toughest game left on the schedule is undoubtedly Michigan State. The Nittany Lions will travel to East Lansing for the final game left on the regular-season slate for a battle with a Spartans team that is currently ranked No. 5 in the nation. The most impressive win for 8-0 Michigan State is undoubtedly the aforementioned game against the Wolverines. Outside of that, however, the Spartans don’t have any standout victories and will need to deal with No. 6 Ohio State before the Nittany Lions come to town.

You’ve got to think that road battle with the Buckeyes will only play in Penn State’s favor to finish the season in East Lansing. That’s not to say the Nittany Lions will have an easy time against Michigan State in late November, but Franklin’s team proved Saturday it’s still a clear competitor in the Big Ten. If Penn State plays to its full capabilities against the Spartans and competes with the other three squads on its schedule, winning out is absolutely a possibility.

With a 9-3 record and quality wins littered on its schedule, Penn State would be a clear contender for a New Year’s Six Bowl, too.

These past few games have clearly been frustrating, but a quality end to the season is still very much in the cards for Franklin and Penn State. Injuries and midseason letdowns are tough to get over, but there’s plenty left to root for down the stretch for the Nittany Lions.

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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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