For Penn State Football, the question is a simple one; if not now, When?
I am going to do something I don’t usually do here in my stories and inject myself and my personal experiences into this one. After all, I am one of you, one of us … anxiously awaiting kickoff Saturday at noon.
Candidly, I made the trip to Columbus in 2017.
Two years out from graduating from Penn State, with about $8 to my name, two friends and I made the trip to Ohio. Almost a calendar year later, I was in Beaver Stadium in 2018, when we all seemingly relived the same nightmare and watched it happen again.
Those same two friends and I had no place to stay, we drove back to New Jersey through the thick Pennsylvania fog till the wee hours of Sunday morning.
We didn’t talk, didn’t turn the radio on, we sat in silence, questioning our life choices.
So, now that you know that I ask again, if not now, when?
This Saturday feels eerily similar to 2017, with an undefeated Nittany Lions squad traveling to a seemingly vulnerable Ohio State with legitimate expectations to walk out of the horseshoe with their perfect record still intact.
This expectation of winning that the fan base has isn’t just rooted in eternal optimism, the boys in the desert have Penn State as the shortest underdog they have ever been in the James Franklin era against the Buckeyes.
In 2017, Penn State was a 6-point underdog, this time around, they face even shorter odds at 4.5-point dogs on the road.
Factoring in basic three points for homefield advantage to Ohio State, Vegas is telling us this is a coin flip game.
Play this thing on a neutral field and Ohio State might be favored by a point, maybe.
Penn State Football enters this game with the best defense in the country, first in most defensive categories. Ohio State is right behind in most of those same categories and ranked third in overall defense in the nation, so expect this to be a tight, defensive struggle which is a change up from their past meetings of late.
This is more first to 20 then first to 40, and that benefits the Nittany Lions and who they are and who they want to be.
We have seen Michigan run the Big Ten for the past two years, but the harsh reality is this is the dragon that needs slaying for Franklin and Penn State.
Franklin has beaten them once in his ten years In Happy Valley, and never in Columbus. They are the bully on the block, the kid you cross the street instead of passing on your way home from school.
This is the team that stands up to the bully.
James Franklin’s Best Chance Yet to Knock Off OSU
This offseason, fans and media looked at this as head coach James Franklin’s best team, even better than the ones in ’16 and ’17, loaded with NFL talent and a 5-star quarterback who looks the part of a top NFL draft pick one day.
So far, so good for the Nittany Lions. They are outscoring their opponents 44-8 and barely breaking a sweat in the second half of most games to this point. Despite that they haven’t exactly played a gauntlet of opponents, the Lions rank first in the nation ins Resume SP+.
It looks at how the top five teams in the nation would fair vs the schedule you have played, and Penn State is 7.2 points ahead of that expected average, meaning they are dominating opponents like nobody else is.
Along with the talk of this being Franklin’s best squad, was a narrative that next year, 2024 was really the year.
Quarterback Drew Allar will be in his second year as a starter, the ’21 recruiting class will be in their junior years and they’ll be poised to be legitimate national title contenders.
The reality is the time is now.
This current form of Penn State’s roster may not be this talented again for a long time. This offseason is going to likely see a mass exodus of stars head off to the NFL. Olu Fashanu, Keandre Lambert-Smith, Kalen King, Chop Robinson, Adisa Isaac, Curtis Jacobs are just some of the names we know will not be back.
That list doesn’t even include anyone who will leave early to enter the draft.
On the flipside, this may be the most vulnerable Ohio State we have seen in some time.
Signal caller Kyle McCord is nowhere near the talent they had in Justin Fields and CJ Stroud. There offensive line is void of top NFL talent and their defensive line has only posted six sacks through their first six games.
On the other hand, Penn State leads the nation with 27 sacks, and has 15 players with at least one sack.
The talent, the depth and just being “due” is all on Penn State’s side this Saturday. They head to the ‘shoe’ with the 2021 Ohio Mr. Football at quarterback and it only seems fitting he be the one to slay the dragon.
The time is now for Penn State.