A friend of mine was joking recently about the reason why the folks are so passionate about getting Penn State’s wins restored that were stripped by NCAA sanctions.
He said maybe it is because it seems like the Nittany Lions will never get another one.
Relax folks, it was only a joke.
But it does seem like it’s been an awful long time since Penn State has won a game.
Heading into Saturday’s clash against Maryland, the Nittany Lions will have gone nearly six weeks since walking off the Beaver Stadium turf after a 48-7 win over Massachusetts.
Since then there’s been losses to Northwestern (29-6), Michigan (18-13) and Ohio State (31-24 in double overtime) with two bye weeks folded in.
The losing stretch certainly has tempered the rising expectations from a successful start to the season.
And it’s thrown a wet blanket over postseason aspirations.
Just 12 days prior to that UMass triumph, the NCAA finally showed some common sense and rescinded the Nittany Lions’ bowl ban (and returned lost scholarships) that was imposed following the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.
And with the win over the Minutemen, the prospects of a bowl game were looking pretty good.
Now six weeks later, they’re a little dicey.
Penn State needs two more victories to become bowl eligible. And given the way things have gone the last three games, nothing is a gimme at this point.
That’s why these next few are important. Penn State does not want to go into the finale against No.8 Michigan State needing a win to become bowl eligible.
Penn State showed some signs of revival last week.
Hopefully not overshadowed in the officiating debacle, the Nittany Lions showed character against Ohio State. Trailing 17-0 at the break, Penn State had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation and led the Buckeyes in overtime.
That’s a start in the right direction.
Now, Penn State has to get over the hump.
The Nittany Lions are 3-point favorites against Maryland, a team they have dominated 35-1-1 over many years.
The Terps have been one of the more schizophrenic teams in the Big Ten. When they’ve been good, they’ve been really good, lighting up the scoreboard for 30 or more points five times. They gave a really good West Virginia team, currently ranked 20th, fits before falling 40-37.
Receiver Stefon Diggs will be playing on Sundays. He’s certainly among the best players in the league.
But, when they’re bad, the Terrapins are awful. They were hammered by Ohio State (52-24) and Wisconsin (52-7 last week).
Penn State hopes it gets the latter.
If the Terps put up big numbers on the PSU defense, the Nittany Lion offense has shown it does not have the ability to keep pace.
Even with Christian Hackenberg throwing to DaeSean Hamilton (57 catches), the Nittany Lions have broken the 30-point barrier just once — against UMass. The offense has just 15 touchdowns so far.
Those offensive struggles indicate why it’s important for Penn State to make the postseason. After the two years of full sanctions, the Nittany Lions need those extra postseason practices that a bowl bid allows.
James Franklin and his staff have a lot of work to do, especially on the offensive line.
Starting with the Terps, Penn State certainly will be favored in the majority of its final five games. That, of course, excludes the contest against the Spartans.
The defense has shown that it will keep Penn State in games, but close won’t put the Nittany Lions in a bowl game, even one in Detroit.
The Nittany Lions need wins.
And that’s no joke.
Centre County, PSU ties
A former Centre County standout is on the sidelines for a team that still has a shot at making the NCAA Championship Playoff.
Chris Achuff, who starred at linebacker for Bellefonte High School and Bloomsburg University, is the defensive line coach for the 12th-ranked Baylor Bears (6-1).
Achuff, whose father Ken was a coach and athletic director at Bellefonte, is in his seventh season with the Bears after a vagabond road to Waco, Texas.
Achuff has coached at Bloomsburg, Bryant College, Kutztown, Penn State, Chattanooga, Charleston Southern and Tennessee-Martin. While a graduate assistant at Penn State, he worked alongside Brian Norwood, who is an associate head coach working with safeties for the Bears.