October 21, 2008

Penn State: How they got there

At the beginning of the season, if any Big Ten Conference team would have been thought to be No. 3 in the initial Bowl Championship Series rankings, it surely wouldn't have been Penn State.

Oh the joys of college football.

After being blown out by USC, Ohio State's grip on the season was loosened a tad, slipping them out of the title hunt while the Buckeyes were immediately dismissed as frauds by the media. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions have steadily ascended up the rankings with blowout after blowout of its opponents.

While the major knock on Penn State has been their schedule, or lack thereof, the Nittany Lions have dismissed each of their opponents in blowout fashion en route to a powerful 8-0 (4-0 Big Ten) start, save for wins over Illinois and at Purdue, in which they won by a season-low 14 points.

That being said, the Nittany Lions have essentially negated the "weak schedule" argument by dismantling each of their opponents, given they have scored 45.4 points per game (363 points total) and allowed just 11.8 points per game (94 total). With an average 33.6 margin of victory, Penn State has made its best efforts to show the teams it has played aren't at the same level.

Perhaps the most impressive stat of the season for the Nittany Lions is the way they have been able to move the football at ease and with perfect balance. Of the Nittany Lions' 482.1 yards per game, which ranks No. 11 in the nation, 234.6 comes on the ground and 247.5 comes through the air.

Numbers like the aforementioned statistics are proof that Penn State isn't the same team Ohio State beat up in Happy Valley last season. With a new and improved offense, that frankly nobody has been able to stop, the Buckeyes could be in for a tough night Saturday at the Horseshoe if the defense doesn't show up to play.

The major difference comes in quarterback Daryll Clark, who is in his first year as the starting quarterback. Clark, however, doesn't look like a first year guy, as the dual-threat signal caller has torched opposing defenses.

Through Penn State's first eight games, Clark has accounted for 19 total touchdowns through the air and on the ground. That being said, Clark has passed for 1,531 yards off of an impressive 63.3 percent completion rate and the quarterback rarely turns the ball over as a result of careless play, given he has thrown only two interceptions on the season.

Meanwhile, Clark has plenty of backup in the backfield in running back Evan Royster[db], who has already rushed for almost 900 yards and has found the end zone 10 different times. Penn State has scored 28 rushing touchdowns this season.

What is even more daunting for opposing defenses are the receivers Clark has to choose from. Almost unrelenting in terms of making big plays, Nittany Lions wideouts [db]Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood, and Derrick Williams, have combined for 80 receptions and nine touchdowns on the season.

As if it couldn't get any worse for the opposition, there is no drop-off of the defensive side of the football. With senior stars like defensive end Josh Gaines, linebacker Sean Lee, and safety Anthony Scirrotto, there is no wonder Penn State is one of the most intimidating teams in the nation.

Even so, it is hard to argue the Nittany Lions have been truly tested, particularly in the non-conference slate. With teams like Coastal Carolina, Syracuse, and Temple making p the bulk of the non-Big Ten opponents, Penn State has yet to get that validation win.

After struggling with lowly-Michigan in the first half on Saturday, the Nittany Lions still have some naysayers, whether it is rational or not.

With the Big Ten getting the short end of the stick in terms of nation prowess, the Nittany Lions are surely going to need an impressive win in order for the BCS computers to consider them, assuming Texas and Alabama win out in "more powerful" conferences.

With that in mind, Penn State has only one real game of interest left on its schedule, and that comes Saturday in the Horseshoe against the Buckeyes. After starting as the No. 22 team in the nation, Penn State surely has some style to gain, even with the stable of blowouts on the resume.

While Ohio State needs to win Saturday to find themselves back in the national picture, the fact of the matter is Penn State needs the win just as badly, if not more.

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at [email protected].

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