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Penn State Football Hitting Its Stride As Potential New Year’s Six Bid Looms

You probably don’t know his name, but Kevin Threlkel is Penn State football’s assistant athletic director and chief of staff.

No matter where the Nittany Lions head for their bowl game, Threlkel has a plan. He already finalized Penn State’s schedule for the next two weeks right after its regular-season-ending victory over Michigan State. Whether the Nittany Lions are heading to Texas, Florida, or California, the team just has to plug and play into one of Threlkel’s contingency plans.

But now, the waiting begins.

“There were some interesting games last week. There’s some interesting games this week that impact us, put us in a more favorable position,” head coach James Franklin said postgame. “You want to try to go to the biggest games you possibly can go to.”

Penn State already received some of the aforementioned help with wins by Oregon State over Oregon, South Carolina over Tennessee, and South Carolina over Clemson, among others. It still might need some more help to secure a New Year’s Six bowl bid, but things are coming up blue and white.

Franklin said athletic director Pat Kraft, along with the Big Ten conference, will lobby for Penn State by the time Selection Sunday rolls around. Despite no wins over ranked opponents, the Nittany Lions’ record speaks for itself.

Following its Ohio State stumble, Penn State rattled off four consecutive wins over conference foes. It won those games by an average margin of 41-10 and has a 45-17 White Out win over Minnesota, who finished with eight wins, too. Not to mention road victories at Auburn and Big Ten West champion Purdue.

Despite a dud of a third quarter, Penn State culminated a streak of exceptionally played football with what ended up being a decisive win over the Spartans. Postgame, senior PJ Mustipher harped on just how well the Nittany Lions are playing.

“Even in 2019, I don’t think we were blowing teams out like that,” the defensive tackle said. “It’s no easy thing to do and this is some of the best football I’ve seen played here.”

That’s heavy praise from a guy who came to campus in 2018. He’s played alongside Micah Parsons, Odafe Oweh, and Amani Oruwariye. Still, this recent stretch is among the best he’s seen. Postgame, tight end Tyler Warren also mentioned how he’s excited to have another opportunity to play with this group. It feels special.

It’s not easy to win college football games in November. Plenty of teams around the country stumbled and, in doing so, improved Penn State’s bowl outcome. The Nittany Lions held strong and finished at that elusive 10-win mark.

As Franklin continues to say, the team is getting better every week.

But, carrying this momentum into a potential bowl game might be a challenge. Last year, Penn State was faced with a slew of opt-outs and subsequentially turned in a poor Outback Bowl performance.

Part of Threlkel’s bowl planning includes rest and practice schedules. There’s about a five-week gap in playtime that needs to be managed. Players could declare for the draft, enter the transfer portal, or decide not to play in the bowl.

But, no matter where the Nittany Lions end up, it’s back to work soon. That’s a given.

“I don’t track [bowl projections] at all,” Nick Tarburton said after the game. “I’m just dialed in on where we’re at.”

“Enjoy the 10 wins, relax for these next couple days…once we get back to work, you know it’s go-time,” Mustipher added.

The 10 win-mark is an impressive and much-needed milestone for Penn State, especially given how low expectations were. The Nittany Lions didn’t crack the preseason AP Poll and now are staring down a top-10 finish.

But, a New Year’s Six bid would be the cherry on top. It would be a great payoff for seniors like Mustipher and quarterback Sean Clifford, who were around in 2019 when Penn State reached the Cotton Bowl.

“Man, that’s what we work for. I’m definitely excited,” Mustipher said.

Penn State will add its Michigan State win as another feather under its cap and hope Pat Kraft and the college football powers that be can place the Nittany Lions in the most prestigious bowl possible. But, all the team can do is celebrate the win and begin to wait.

A New Year’s Six bid is not necessary to declare a successful season. But, with the way Penn State has been playing recently, it feels like it’s up to the challenge.

The record-staining losses to Michigan and Ohio State feel like things of the past. The program is poised to dive head-first into a new era with Drew Allar & Co. A big-ticket bowl would be a perfect springboard.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected]

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