The State of the Final Slate: Gauging Penn State’s Danger Level in Their Remaining Four Games

Story posted November 3, 2016 in Sports, CommRadio by Jack Milewski

The Penn State Nittany Lions are where few, if any people expected them to be at this juncture in the season: inside the top 20. With four matchups left, all of which Penn State is now favored in, the question becomes what are the Nittany Lion’s chances of winning out? With that in mind, I’ve taken a look at those final four games and gauged the danger level, from 1-10, of the Nittany Lions losing.

Iowa-Danger Level: 4

Some may think that four is a little low, but I don’t think Iowa poses a huge threat to Penn State. Coming off their first road win in seven games, the Nittany Lions seems poised to continue their climb in the national rankings with a primetime matchup at home. Penn State is really, really good inside Beaver Stadium. The Lions have not lost a game there all season and give up just 20 points a game. Couple that with the fact that Iowa just is not the team many expected them to be this season and you have a solid recipe for success. If Penn State can channel the energy of what should be close to a capacity crowd and establish a run game early, the Nittany Lions could have their way with the Hawkeyes. Penn State gets in trouble in this one if they allow Iowa chunk plays on offense, something which the Hawkeyes don’t do well. Overall, though Iowa record-wise might be the best team Penn State faces the rest of the way, home field and primetime give Penn State a large edge in this one.

Indiana-Danger Level: 6

I fully expect Penn State to beat Iowa, which is why I’m labeling this as a trap game for a Nittany Lion team that should be inside the Top 20 when Nov. 12 rolls around. Why is this a trap game? Well Indiana should be coming off of a win over a free-falling Rutgers team while Penn State will have just played a high-octane matchup against Iowa. The Nittany Lions have not been good on the road in the past couple of seasons and Indiana is very good at home. Though the Hoosiers are 2-2 at home, the losses were a sloppy matchup early in the season against Wake Forest and a nail-bitter on homecoming against a Nebraska team ranked inside the Top 10. The only truly solid road game Penn State has played this season was the matchup against Purdue a week ago and even then, outside of that second half, the Nittany Lions struggled. A quick start will be key for Penn State and establishing their own form of energy on the road will determine how difficult this matchup is for Penn State.

Rutgers-Danger Level: 1.5

The only reason this game is difficult for Penn State, or should be, is because of the fact that it’s on the road in front of what should be a loud crowd. Yes, Rutgers is not good this season, but their fans should still get up for a primetime matchup against the Nittany Lions. Rutgers has not won a Big Ten game all season and its two matchups before Penn State are Indiana and Michigan State. At the time of this game, Rutgers will probably be playing for nothing and Penn State could still be looking at a 10-2 season. If that is the case, I expect a mature Nittany Lion team to take care of business against a porous Rutgers squad. Penn State out-skills Rutgers by miles, and the only way that the Nittany Lions get in trouble is if they look past the Scarlet Knights and on to Michigan State before this game is over.

Michigan State-Danger Level: 7

Michigan State is in free fall. It seems like years ago that the Spartans beat Notre Dame in week two to move to 2-0 on the season. Now at 2-6, Michigan State needs to win out to become bowl eligible. A meeting with Ohio State the week before Penn State makes it seems unlikely that the Spartans secure a bowl matchup, but it is exactly why this last game of the season is so dangerous for Penn State. Michigan State may be down, but they are not out and they showed that against Michigan last week. The team still has talent and having nothing to play for may be the worst thing for Penn State to see on Nov. 26. This game will be Michigan State’s bowl game in a sense and it will take a strong showing for Penn State to come out on top. Because of the holiday break, Beaver Stadium may not be as packed as usual, giving the Nittany Lions less of a home field advantage. The one thing that has not changed is the Spartans can still stifle teams on defense in most games. If the Lions can produce offensively in this one, their defense is good enough and Michigan State’s offense is bad enough for Penn State to be okay in this one.

Prediction: While optimism would choose 10-2, my gut tells me a 9-3 season is in the cards for Penn State. Indiana screams for an upset for whatever reason and Michigan State is still a tough opponent to close out the season with, despite the Spartans luck this year. 9-3 is still an amazing record for a Nittany Lion team that has exceeded expectations so far, however, 10-2 sounds a lot better; it just doesn’t sound like it will happen this season.

 

Jack Milewski is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jbm250@psu.edu