Penn State’s Case for Big Ten King
Penn State has the highest-ranked football team in the Big Ten for the first time since Week 4 of 2009, after coming in at No. 5 in the most recent AP Poll.
Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin join the Nittany Lions in the top 10, giving the Big Ten four teams in the top 10 of the AP Poll. No other conference has more than two. The Big Ten is clearly the most prominent powerhouse in the power five conferences right now around the country. This begs the question with Penn State’s position in the polls: Are they the best team in the Big Ten?
Everyone knows the reigning Big Ten champion boasts two Heisman Trophy front-runners with Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley. That is probably two more Heisman contenders than every other team in the conference. This is the most powerful duo in the country because it is impossible to stop them both.
If you decide to stack the box, Trace can beat you deep as he proved repeatedly last year. Only rush four? Barkley’s eyes will light up and be racing down the sideline before you bat an eye. Unless a dark horse candidate arrives on the scene, the Big Ten’s only hopes for a Heisman are in Happy Valley.
The second bit of evidence is something that James Franklin has been trying to change in State College since the moment he arrived on campus: The mindset of winning one game at a time. Recently he took it a step further, declaring that every game is his team’s Super Bowl. He emphasized this with his controversial yet accurate quote after the Pitt game this past weekend “I know last year for [Pitt’s] win, it was like the Super Bowl, but for us this was just like beating Akron.” The message was simple and clear: It does not matter the opponent he wants his team to prepare and play the same way week-by-week.
When compared to Jim Harbaugh’s antics, this approach works perfectly. From travelling to Rome to throwing fits on the sideline, Harbaugh is a flashy recruiter, but is often a distraction off the field. Michigan has great talent but can appear unfocused and undisciplined at times in between the lines. This, in addition to major turnover after losing a great amount of talent from a year ago, will keep them from being contenders in the College Football Playoff and reaching their full potential.
The aforementioned J.T. Barrett and the Ohio State Buckeyes are one of the best coached groups in the country. They appear to have great discipline, talent and depth but one key aspect of this team is still missing; execution. Missed throws down field keep them from being a powerful offense. And whenever Barrett is able to finally hit a receiver in stride, the receivers look terrified and can’t hang onto a pass. Ohio State has to improve offensively or they will continue to waste stellar performances from one of the best defenses in the country.
Wisconsin has an interesting case for the best Big Ten team. They have the most favorable schedule in the conference. The Badgers do not have to play either the Buckeyes or Nittany Lions in their 2017 regular season campaign. Their only matchup against any team currently ranked is with Michigan but it is in Camp Randall Stadium, one of the toughest places to play in the Big Ten. Unfortunately for the Badgers, they lack what might be the most important trait to match up against Penn State, which is talent.
The best teams in the country have evolved offensively but Wisconsin is one of the few to remain stagnant. The most exciting play in their offense is a jet sweep behind a line full of mammoth lineman and two oversized tight ends. This attack cannot match up with the firepower of elite teams and will not win games in a Big Ten Championship or bowl season.
Penn State, led by Joe Moorhead, has one of the most explosive and progressive offenses in the country. This weapon is one that will continue to reveal itself as the year unfolds and Moorhead unleashes more of his playbook.
In every aspect, Penn State deserves to be the highest-ranked team from the Big Ten in the AP Poll. If they continue to take one game at a time that should not change anytime soon.
Brian McLaughlin is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.