Missing Big Ten final wouldn’t hurt progress

Commentary

Penn State even being in the College Football Playoff conversation is a pinch-yourself kind of scenario.

And, obviously, the best way to cap this dream season and program-restoring two-month surge would be to land in the Big Ten championship game, win it and play Alabama in one of the two national semifinals.

Even if the Nittany Lions — or maybe anybody else in this year’s field — would be double-digit underdogs, the amount of exposure that would come from such a giant leap would be staggering.

You talk about putting the scandal in the rear-view mirror? That would surely do it.

James Franklin would have to clone himself to take advantage of the national exposure charting the Lions’ road back from, well, you know where (and it rhymes with well) to college football’s most hallowed ground — the true playoff for which Joe Paterno and the Nittany Nation always longed.

But that doesn’t mean other possibilities aren’t almost as attractive and potentially nearly as beneficial.

Consider this a case that if Michigan beats Ohio State this Saturday and clinches the Big Ten East Division, it won’t be a bad thing for the Nittany Lions.

If the thought of a Wolverines’ win in Columbus — unlikely without their starting quarterback but still possible — is a comedown for PSU, it shouldn’t be.

The Lions could still finish 10-2 — which no one on the beat except guest NitWit Joe Nastasi picked — and it would probably land them in the Rose Bowl against a formidable Top-10 team, maybe USC or Colorado. Or maybe in the Orange Bowl against Louisville.

Secondly, this is still a young team that has been banged up, especially on the offensive line.

The Lions likely would be underdogs against Wisconsin in the Big Ten final, plus stretching this season to 14 games may be a bit much at this stage of Penn State’s development.

And that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Just because Franklin’s rebuilding job has zoomed out in the passing lane and arrived well ahead of schedule, it’s still a process.

This isn’t the 1986 team that was loaded with fifth-year seniors who played for the national title twice.

It’s not even a great team yet. It’s a team that at times has played great.

It graduates just five senior starters, and one of them is the long snapper.

It’s a team with its best days still very much ahead of it.

To beat a USC in the Rose Bowl or maybe a Louisville in the Orange Bowl could give the program almost as much momentum as being on the wrong end of a game with Alabama.

Of course, all is moot if Penn State doesn’t win this Saturday against a Michigan State team whose dropoff this season is almost as startling as the Nittany Lions’ unexpected rise.

The thought of winding up the regular season at 10-2, even without an appearance in the Big Ten title game or a trip to the College Football Playoff, should not sour the taste of anyone’s Thanksgiving Day turkey.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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