Penn State ranked No. 5 is right where they should be as one of eight undefeated FBS teams in the country
As Penn State fans get ready for the second football free weekend of the season with the Nittany Lions enjoying their second bye week of the year, James Franklin’s undefeated squad is smack in the middle of the college football playoff picture.
At 8-0 and ranked No. 5 in the country, Penn State is exactly where it should be. The Nittany Lions are a very good football team. They are not, however, in the same category as the four teams in front of them – Alabama, Ohio State, LSU and Clemson.
I would stack the Penn State defense up against anybody in the country and have no doubt they can hold their own. When it comes to the four teams currently in front of the Nittany Lions, the biggest difference between each of those schools and Penn State is the quarterback position.
Sean Clifford is having a stellar first year as the starter and is getting better. However, he is nowhere near the same caliber of starting quarterbacks the Crimson Tide, LSU Tigers, Buckeyes and defending National Champion Clemson start.
I’m not saying Penn State can’t compete or play with any of the top four teams. Right now during this bye week, the Nittany Lions are not at the same level at one key position as the top four ranked teams in the country.
Here’s the crazy part, despite clearing a major hurdle that saw Penn State win at Iowa, subdue a surging Michigan team at home in an emotional whiteout game and thumping a hot mess of a program at Michigan State, the hardest games lie ahead for the Nittany Lions.
Minnesota is also undefeated and playing the Nittany Lions is the biggest game for the Golden Gophers in decades. Undefeated Ohio State is still lurking and the sandwich game of the next three is an Indiana team that is 6-2 overall.
We knew during the preseason this was going to be a tough schedule, but who knew if the Nittany Lions managed to navigate their recent three-game gauntlet and head into the second bye 8-0, their hardest work was still ahead.
During this bye week, the lone area of concern I have about this team is special teams. And it has nothing to do with kicking or punting.
K.J. Hamler is an electric lightning rod with the ball and in addition to all the catch-and-run scores this season, he’s feeling it in the return game. Each of the last two games he’s had a kick return called back – 100-yard kickoff return against Michigan and a 50-yard punt return against Michigan State.
Each of those was called back for penalties. Hamler has more big returns in him. You can feel it. And while those two getting called back didn’t hurt Penn State, eliminating special teams penalties and allowing Hamler to impact the game in another facet could be a difference maker in one of these final four games.
This bye week could not have come at a better time with three players who didn’t finish the Michigan State game, John Reid, Noah Cain and Trent Gordon, able to recover from injuries. And after a killer three-game grind, an extra week to get ready for what looks like an even tougher final push is a game changer.