All gripes aside, we’ve got a game to play. It’s round four and the Big Ten opener for Penn State Football. After the first three out-of-conference games, we have ourselves a squad that has improved by leaps and bounds every week, albeit against inferior competition. For an offense that has hung an average of 50+ and a defense that has slowly turned youth into an asset, that’s a scary thought for all those non-conference landmines that await. All the talk this week has circled around the possible return of QB backup-extraordinaire and ‘Lion’ position king, Tommy Stevens, although HIS backup, Sean Clifford, has performed to darn near perfection in limited action. That’s just one small example of how deep and loaded this squad is. Not only have 15 true freshmen seen the field so far but all 15 have had a hand in the past two blowouts. Injuries have yet to impact us. In fact, we're scheduled to get a few back that have yet to play, including the aforementioned Stevens, “WildDog” Shane Simmons, and John Reid who did start game-one versus Appalachian State but has since stayed on the sideline. A scary thought indeed if I were head coach Lovie Smith and the home team playing under those Friday Night Lights in Champaign, Illinois.
For the record, the Fightin' Illini are 2-1 but that record is a bit deceptive. A 7-point win over Kent State that kicked off their season (yes the same Kent State we just pummeled 63-10) was followed by a win over Western Illinois and a pretty sound defeat at home last week to South Florida. A game in which their defense gave up over 600 yards. Any road test in the rough and rugged Big Ten presents a daunting challenge, but to say Illinois is trending in the wrong direction after the first three games would be an understatement. Smith was brought in to right the ship that former head coach and world-class ‘attempted poacher’ Tim Beckman left in shambles. But to date, the Illini have shown little improvement, a taste of karma for the only program that actually had the nerve to step on our campus after those sanctions were handed out back in the summer of 2012. Late in the 2014 season, we took a 16-14 loss on the chin on the same field we travel to on Friday. It was James Franklin’s first season as head coach and all things considered, represented the low point of his tenure in Happy Valley; the loss to Temple in 2015 notwithstanding. We've come a long way since then. With bigger fish to fry on the horizon, history is simply not going to repeat itself this week. As strange as it may be to watch our Nittany Lions under those Friday Night Lights, the outcome will be what we all expect: Penn State 47 Illinois 13.