For the first time since 2009, the Penn State Nittany Lions are back in college football’s top-10. In Tuesday’s College Football Playoff poll, the Nittany Lions (7-2, 5-1 Big Ten) were ranked 10th, behind fellow Big Ten teams Michigan (No. 3), Ohio (No. 5) and Wisconsin (No. 7) and were in front of Nebraska (No. 19).
The Nittany Lions were ranked No. 12 in last week’s CFP Committee’s release (the first of the season), but a dominant 41-14 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes and some losses to teams ahead of Penn State in the rankings made it easy to move the Nittany Lions up. The move can be almost directly tied to Nebraska falling from No. 10 to No. 19 after losing to Ohio State and to Florida falling out of the rankings from No. 11 after a bad loss to Arkansas.
Penn State first made a huge splash this season when it beat then-No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21, in a whiteout game at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions’ two losses came to then-No. 4 Michigan (49-10) and Pitt (42-39).
The Nittany Lions have had to overcome a multitude of injuries — especially on defense — but they’ve embraced the next-man-up mantra, and their offense, which is third in the Big Ten in points-per-game, has been top-notch.
Quarterback Trace McSorley has been solid, but it’s really been standout sophomore running back Saquon Barkley, a legit darkhorse Heisman candidate, who has stolen the show. He’s averaged more than 117 rushing yards a game to lead the Big Ten (he had 200-plus yards against both Maryland and Purdue) and has averaged a little less than 29 passing yards per game.
If Penn State can win out — in games at Indiana and Rutgers and versus Michigan State — there’s a strong possibility that the Nittany Lions could play in a New Year’s Day Bowl Game, perhaps even the coveted Rose Bowl.
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