PSU well positioned for future contention

The Wolverines look like they have the inside track to the College Football Playoff, at least this year, but I’ll go out on a limb and say Penn State will get to the CFP first.

Penn State is not a final four candidate this year, having squandered that opportunity by dropping consecutive come-from-ahead losses at Beaver Stadium to Ohio State and Michigan State.

UM is a 10-point favorite Saturday, but even if the Wolverines can take a step closer by beating Penn State, they still have to go through Columbus, which has proven to be a difficult task.

Jim Harbaugh, now in his fourth season, is putting his imprint on the Wolverines, who are ranked No. 5 in the just-released CFP playoff poll.

But we’ll see.

Ohio State has beaten Michigan six straight times, and although Harbaugh’s presence has made the games closer, he’s still 0-3 vs. the Buckeyes and has allowed 30 points in each game.

Figure the Buckeyes to be favored again in the Horseshoe.

Look beyond this year and contrast the programs Harbaugh and James Franklin are building and how they project going forward.

There’s no doubt that Franklin is a players’ coach who builds relationships and is a strong candidate to remain at Penn State indefinitely.

He has on-the-field, game-management issues that need “cleaned up” (his words), but those things are more correctible than, for example, injecting a more dynamic personality into the head coach’s office.

Unlike Franklin, who to a fault wears his emotions on his sleeve, Harbaugh is a more difficult read – quirky — with a shorter attention span.

He hasn’t spent more than four seasons, as a head coach, in any of his four previous stops – San Diego University, Stanford, the San Francisco 49ers and Michigan.

He has a reputation for wearing out those around him, but he’s also now at his alma mater and may well be at Michigan for the long haul.

Then there’s the matter of taking a transfer upperclassman quarterback, which Michigan did with Shea Patterson, who arrived from Mississippi.

While Patterson is a difference maker, taking a transfer at that position sometimes has a negative ripple effect on the remaining QBs on the roster along with potential recruits at the most important position.

The future non-conference schedule is about a draw. Notre Dame rotates off the Wolverines’ schedule, and they’ll play home-and-homes with Miami, Boston College and Boise State. PSU, meanwhile, loses Pitt but will gain Auburn, West Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Though the Lions have let Ohio State off the hook the last two years, Penn State is well positioned for the future, maybe even better than the Buckeyes given Urban Meyer’s reputation took a hit following a three-game suspension this year along with his newly disclosed health issues.

Franklin has done a pretty amazing job in his first five years. He’s generally been able to correct things along the way, and he’s only been a couple points away the last three years from earning a CFP berth.

It will be surprising if he doesn’t raise the program to that next step to elite status — a challenge from which he’s clearly not shied away.

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