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The moment was again too big for Penn State vs. a Top 5 team

Penn State went into Saturday’s epic Big Ten showdown vs. Michigan at Beaver Stadium ranked ninth in the latest Top 25 poll and 10th in the latest BCS standings.

Unfortunately, the Nittany Lions were facing an undefeated Wolverines squad that came into the day ranked second in the AP and third in the BCS. Why was that unfortunate? Because Penn State had a record of 1-11 vs. top five teams in the James Franklin era.

You can now make that 1-12 thanks to a 24-15 loss before a disappointed crowd of over 110,000 who were decked out in all white with a little blue.

A little blue. That’s now an appropriate way to describe the mood of Penn State and its fans following Saturday’s loss, a loss that dropped the program to 8-2 and out of the running for a Big Ten title. No Big Ten title means no shot at the four-team playoff to determine the national champion. OK, it means that for the Nittany Lions. As for Michigan? It’s had such a stellar season up to this point that it may be able to afford a regular-season loss to the Buckeyes on November 25 and still earn a playoff seed. The same could be said for Ohio State if it loses The Game at Michigan Stadium. The Buckeyes blew out Michigan State, 38-3, on Saturday to keep pace with the Wolverines in the undefeated department.

The loss also dropped Penn State to 3-17 vs. top 10 teams since Franklin became the head coach in 2014. In addition to that, the Nittany Lions are now a combined 4-16 against Michigan and Ohio State over the past 10 seasons.

The loss had to be even more painful for Penn State considering Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh was suspended for the game due to the ongoing sign-stealing scandal that has rocked his program. Even with interim head coach Sherrone Moore in charge on the sidelines, the Wolverines’ defense stifled the Nittany Lions offense the entire afternoon, limiting it to nine points until quarterback Drew Allar found tight end Theo Johnson for an eight-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-15, visitors, with 1:59 remaining. But instead of simply kicking the extra point and then trying an onside kick, Franklin elected to go for two. The conversion failed, effectively ending the competitive phase of the game right then and there.

The Nittany Lions, an extremely popular football program with a huge following, still have a lot to play for over the final two weeks, namely a spot in a New Year’s Day bowl.

That will be a nice consultation prize, but one that Penn State and its fans were looking to avoid in 2023.

It’s been 37 seasons since Penn State last won a national title, and since it can’t find a way to hurdle its obstacles in the Big Ten–the Buckeyes and Wolverines–maybe the expansion of the national playoff field from four to 12 teams starting in 2024 will open up a pathway to success.

Either that or it will create more avenues for failure.

No matter how you slice it, and no matter what they or their fans say, the Nittany Lions are a second-tier college football program, and they will remain one until they can prove otherwise.


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