Penn State’s stunning 24-21 win over then-No. 2 Ohio State proved to be one of the biggest in school history. (The Nittany Lions last beat a top-two team while unranked themselves in 1964.) It also thrust Penn State into the Associated Press Top 25 – at No. 24 – for the first time since Week 15 of the 2011 season.
That’s caused many to take a closer look at the Lions and to re-evaluate expectations for this season. So we decided to check in with our Big Ten crew and ask them: With a win over the Buckeyes, how many victories will Penn State wind up with this season (bowl included)?
Jesse Temple: 10 wins
Penn State's upset of Ohio State has cleared the way for the Nittany Lions to win their final five regular-season games. I certainly would not have said that after the 42-39 loss to Pitt or the 49-10 drubbing from Michigan. But Penn State, at 5-2, already has its most difficult Big Ten games behind it, and the Nittany Lions should be favored in their last five. A home game on Nov. 5 against Iowa looks like the toughest remaining test, but the Hawkeyes have three losses and don't look anywhere near the team that won the Big Ten West a year ago. Penn State plays Michigan State at home in the regular-season finale, and the Spartans are in a free fall. They've lost five straight games for the first time since 1991. Add that all up, and Penn State could reach double-digit victories in a season for the first time since 2009, though I'll hold off on picking the Nittany Lions in a potential New Year's bowl game for now.
Austin Ward: Nine wins
There is now some evidence that James Franklin has turned a corner with the Nittany Lions. But pulling off a stunning upset doesn’t magically cure every flaw on the current roster or turn Penn State into an overnight contender. It’s also worth remembering that while the Nittany Lions deserve credit for continuing to fight and make extraordinary plays down the stretch, that marquee victory could have just as easily eluded them once again without the special-teams blocks. So, if the turnover margin doesn’t improve in the coming weeks from the current level of minus-three, Franklin’s surging team might find itself on the other end of an upset -- and a visit from Iowa and a road trip to Indiana could be tricky spots.
Brian Bennett: Nine wins
The rest of that schedule looks like it was designed in a lab by a PSU alum. The Nittany Lions very well could be favored in their final five regular-season contests and have a chance to win out. However, this is still not a team that dominates anyone, and there are depth concerns that could cause problems at any time. For that reason, I’ll say they go 4-1, with a loss against Iowa or at Indiana the most likely. That would still set Penn State up for a really nice bowl game. Right now, I have them in the Holiday Bowl -- woo, San Diego! -- but they could climb even higher. That would mean a strong opponent, and perhaps an additional loss. Either way, Franklin’s club looks poised to exceed all but the most optimistic projections this season.
Dan Murphy: Eight wins
Remember a couple years ago when Penn State took Ohio State into double overtime in a feverish, bleached-white Beaver Stadium? It felt like maybe the tide was turning for then-first-year coach Franklin. Do you remember the five games that followed? The losses to Maryland, Illinois and Michigan State? The offense that failed to put up 20 points against any of its conference opponents in that stretch? The Nittany Lions are showing signs of improvement, but gauging their current station on the results of a 'White Out' game is a bad idea. Iowa and Indiana are both still good enough to give Franklin and company problems in November. Maybe a bowl win could get them to nine (not a bad year at all), but that's far from guaranteed.
Josh Moyer: Nine wins
Franklin might’ve said it best two seasons ago: “Winning minimizes issues; losing magnifies issues.” And the issues -- subpar offensive line, inconsistent offense, health at linebacker -- are still there. This is a good team, and it’s deserving of its No. 24 ranking. But it’s premature to say the Lions will run the table. Both Indiana and Iowa should provide stiff challenges, and I think PSU most likely drops one of those games. The Lions should also draw a tough bowl matchup. But as long as they don’t implode -- which is unlikely, given this team’s mentality -- Penn State will finish 2016 by exceeding expectations. And I think we’re all in agreement that’s exactly the path that PSU is on now.