HEISER: Penn State proves doubting columnist wrong
- Penn State is coming off a 24-21 upset of No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday night at Beaver Stadium.
- The Nittany Lions improved to 5-2 overall and are riding a three-game winning streak.
- Penn State will travel to West Lafayette, Indiana, on Saturday to take on Purdue.
The trouble with writing a weekly sports column is that you're expected to give opinions.
Occasionally, those opinions turn out to be wrong.
OK, probably more than occasionally.
Just more than a month ago, on the eve of Penn State's Big Ten season, this space was used to make the following assertion:
If that wasn't bad enough, this little nugget of wisdom was added:
“The PSU program appears to be years away from challenging the Buckeyes, Wolverines and Spartans in the stacked Big Ten East Division.”
Those opinions appeared validated when the Nittany Lions, in their Big Ten opener, got embarrassed by Michigan in the Big House, 49-10.
That loss dropped the Lions to 2-2. James Franklin's crew appeared to be stumbling toward another mediocre season and another third-tier bowl — or maybe even no bowl at all.
It's amazing how things can change over the course of just a month.
Lions riding high: Penn State is now riding a three-game winning streak, capped by Saturday night's scintillating 24-21 White-Out victory at raucous Beaver Stadium against then-No. 2 Ohio State.
Who could've predicted that the unranked and unappreciated Lions could stun an Urban Meyer-coached team packed with four- and five-star recruits?
Certainly not the writer of this column, who has been proven (dare I say it?) wrong.
It was a signature triumph for Franklin, who had previously struggled mightily to beat Top 25 programs, much less a team ranked No. 2.
Now, however, the looming question is this: Can the Lions keep the momentum rolling?
Some members of Nittany Nation are already going off the deep end in predicting future success. Just check out social media. More than a few PSU fans are already forecasting a 10-2 regular-season record and a New Year's Day bowl bid.
Some even think the Lions could earn a berth in the Big Ten title game, provided the Lions win out and unbeaten Michigan suffers a couple losses.
Tapping the brakes: At the risk of being proven wrong again, it may be time to tap the brakes, just a bit, on the Nittany Lions bandwagon.
Yes, there's a decent chance that PSU will be favored in each of its remaining five games (at Purdue, at home vs. Iowa, at Indiana, at Rutgers and home vs. slumping Michigan State). Iowa is the only one of those five teams with winning record.
It may sound obvious, but just because the Lions may be favored in each of the last five games doesn't necessarily mean they'll win all of those games.
The favorites don't always win. Just ask the Buckeyes.
It starts Saturday at West Lafayette, Indiana, against the scuffling 3-4 Boilermakers. PSU is a 11 1/2-point favorite and has enjoyed a successful history vs. Purdue, owning a 13-3-1 edge in the series.
Still, Franklin's PSU teams have gone just 2-8 in true road games, including seven straight road losses.
That doesn't bode well for the rest of the season, with three true road games remaining.
Possible letdown: In addition, after Saturday night's huge victory, it's easy to envision that the Lions will suffer at least a small letdown vs. the Boilermakers. It's only natural. It's also dangerous.
Purdue is not a good team, but it's not without talent. The Boilermakers, under a new head coach, were very competitive last week on the road against unbeaten and No. 8 Nebraska. Purdue led 14-10 midway through the third quarter before the Cornhuskers took control.
So, chances are, Saturday's game in West Lafayette will be very competitive. Any Nittany Lions' win, no matter how small, should be considered a success.
If the Lions can win by double digits at Purdue, however, it would go a long way in proving that Saturday's win over Ohio State was the start of something truly big and not just a one-game fluke.
With five games left in the regular season, the six wins needed for a bowl game appear to be a foregone conclusion.
Best guess: The best guess here is that PSU goes 3-2 during that closing stretch and finishes 8-4.
Of course, that's just a guess.
After all, this columnist has occasionally been proven wrong before.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.