Nittany Lions Road to the Big 10 Championship: Not as Easy at it Looks

By: Thomas Frank Carr

Beat Writer

I can admit when I was wrong.

I didn’t think that Michigan would lose this year. If any team looked complete and ready to challenge Alabama, it was the Wolverines. Yet their 14-13 loss to Iowa, the 42-40 stunner that Pitt put over on Clemson, and the more predicted 26-13 loss by Washington to USC, proved thrice over that anything can happen in sports.

Things changed dramatically for the Nittany Lions this weekend. But not all of this was good.

The good is obvious; Nittany Lions fans had their dream scenario come true this weekend when Michigan handed them the easiest path to the Big 10 championship game in the East. As of today, PlayoffStatus.com predicts says the Nittany Lions have a 54 percent chance of making it to the Championship game and a 28 percent chance of winning. The only team with better odds is Wisconsin.

There is also the question of the college football playoff rankings. There are a crowd of one-loss teams ahead of Penn State, but the reality of ‘anything can happen’ should be pretty well cemented after this weekend.

In all of the jubilation, Penn State fans cannot forget the biggest point of this; Penn State has to win out.

Are you ready for the bad news?

That should be in question after this weekend.

No it’s not because they played Indiana down to the wire or that they didn’t blow out another team on their schedule. The fact of the matter is that the Nittany Lions are beat up right now. It’s been well documented that they’ve gone through this already, losing seven linebackers at times this season. Now it’s their offensive line’s turn on the injury table.

As of right now, with no further information after the game (and likely not much more coming before Saturday), the Nittany Lions are down four offensive tackles (one by suspension) and their starting right guard.
For whatever it’s worth, Penn State came into the game with one of the most veteran offensive lines in college football with 91 starts among the starting five (only Michigan had more in the Big 10) After tackle Paris Palmer left the game on the 2nd drive of the game, that number was cut down to 59 total starts….34 of those were from center Brian Gaia (who is in his 9th game at a new position). That is also before Connor McGovern left the game late in the 4th quarter, taking all four of his starts with him.

So if things stand for this weekend as they did at the end of the Indiana game, the Nittany Lions will have a grand total of 20 games started outside of Gaia when they line up vs Rutgers.

Another problem on the injury front will rear it’s head of Trace McSorley is limited by his apparent ankle injury. McSorley’s running ability has been widely attributed to the team’s recent success on the ground. After he was injured on the third drive of the game, He ran for a grand total of 22 yards. Phenom Saquon Barkley was held under two yards per carry in the game.

It seems that if McSorley can’t run, neither can Barkley.

 

All of this simply means one thing; Nothing is guaranteed. If there isn’t significant good news by Saturday on the injury front, no game (even against Rutgers) is guaranteed.

I think this weekend should have proven that.