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Three Penn State Football Games Crack ESPN’s ‘Top 60 Of The 2000s’

Weeks after the college football season came to a close, ESPN released a new set of rankings of the 60 best college football games of the 2000s. As you might expect, Penn State earned a fair share of inclusion.

In fact, the Nittany Lions are featured three times across ESPN’s latest rankings. All three featured matchups came from the James Franklin era.

Indiana 36, Penn State 35 (October 24, 2020)

The lowest of the three appearances was a game that many fans would like to forget. ESPN ranked Penn State’s 2020 season-opening loss at Indiana as the 57th best college football game of the 2000s.

You might remember this game as the start of a very disappointing season for the Nittany Lions. Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr.’s controversial overtime dive for the pylon gave the Hoosiers the upset win, all but derailing the Nittany Lions’ season just one game in.

The loss sent Penn State spiraling out of control. The Nittany Lions lost their next four games to start 0-5 and earn their worst record through five games since the program began in 1887.

Penn State 24, Ohio State 21 (October 22, 2016)

The next game on the list was one Nittany Lion fans will fondly recall: Penn State’s classic 2016 upset over Ohio State. The game that ESPN’s Chris Fowler dubbed “Penn State’s signature win” came in at No. 49 on the list.

The 2016 White Out win over No. 2 Ohio State turned James Franklin’s program around and, symbolically, put the Nittany Lions back on the college football map. It also sparked some minor student riots across Happy Valley.

Marcus Allen’s block and Grant Haley’s subsequent return will go down as one of the best plays in Penn State’s history. The play sealed the upset and vaulted the Nittany Lions up the rankings, nearly landing them a College Football Playoff berth.

USC 52, Penn State 49 (January 2, 2017)

Penn State’s final spot on the list comes at No. 36 — its 2017 Rose Bowl appearance against USC.

After winning eight straight games, including the aforementioned Ohio State upset, Penn State defeated Wisconsin to win the Big Ten title. The Nittany Lions clinched their fourth-ever Rose Bowl berth after (some would say unjustly) missing the College Football Playoff by just one spot.

The Nittany Lions took on the 9-3 USC Trojans, but despite leading by as much as 14 points in the fourth quarter, Penn State couldn’t hold on. The Trojans, led by star quarterback Sam Darnold, came back to win on a heartbreaking last-second field goal.

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About the Author

Devon Craley

Devon is a junior studying sports journalism. He has the genuine misfortune of being a Philadelphia sports fan...IYKYK. Send your hot takes and preferably your freezing cold takes on Twitter to @devon3134. Devon is also your friendly, neighborhood State College movie nerd.

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