PSU has chance to prove it can handle success
When we last left the Penn State football team – a week ago – it was running around Beaver Stadium like it had just clinched the Big Ten championship.
Or something bigger.
Not that the come-from-behind overtime win over Minnesota shouldn’t have breathed a gust of relief through the Nittany Lions, and not that sprinting across the field for and then raising the Governor’s Victory Bell wasn’t appropriate.
Either way, it’s tough to reach an emotional peak two weeks in a row.
That’s why today’s game with Maryland represents a good gauge to Penn State’s maturity level at this stage of the season and, really, of James Franklin’s program.
The Lions need to show they can handle success and build on it.
Certainly, the success they’ve managed to attain in two-plus seasons they have clearly enjoyed – there were pictures of Franklin being hoisted, feet off the ground, by Saquon Barkley.
If Franklin can get the Lions as fired up this morning as they were
Saturday evening, it will be an accomplishment since noon starts, especially with rain in the forecast, typically don’t bring immediate crowd engagement.
Through two seasons in the Big Ten, Maryland has twice played Penn State to a one-point game, winning at Beaver Stadium 20-19 two years ago and losing 31-30 at M&T Bank Stadium last season.
At least until the sanctions, the Terps have been as close to an automatic out as Penn State has ever played, and that’s one reason why the game has traditionally meant more to Maryland than it has to the Lions.
That can’t be the case today.
Progress under Franklin has been measured in more than wins and losses mainly because the wins and losses add up to 7-11 against Big Ten competition and just 17-13 overall.
Beating Minnesota was one of the bumps the Lions needed to clear if Penn State is going to piece together a season its fans can feel good about for the short term, and on the heels of it, Maryland is a game the Lions need to reinforce their long-term foundation.
For sure: To get where Penn State wants to go, the Lions can’t be going .500 against Maryland, Rutgers, Temple and even Pitt.
Interestingly, for the first time ever, the Terps arrive as favorites in Happy Valley. Somewhere, Jerry Claiborne, Bobby Ross, Joe Krivak and even Lou Saban ought to be smiling.
But while Penn State’s timetable has been slowed by recovery from the sanctions, a young roster and a collection of more key injuries than at almost any time in school history, we’re not talking about a Maryland program that has been riding high for several years.
For one, the Terps fired their coach, Randy Edsall, not just last season but in the middle of it.
Maryland comes in 4-0, but today is expected to be its toughest test to date. No doubt Penn State will have the Terps’ full attention.
We’ll see if the Lions have fully come down from last week as a win here will get them to 4-2 and allow them to feel good about themselves through the open date and – almost as importantly – allow their fan base to feel good about them.
Neil Rudel covers Penn State from the Altoona Mirror.