Who would have thought this is where we would be after two weeks of play? Not you, not me, not even the local beat writers, who always seem to follow a Penn State loss with a smirk and an ‘I told you so.’ None of us had Penn State off to an 0-2 start and yet, here we are in all our doom and gloom. A hard-fought loss to the big, bad Buckeyes is one thing. Indiana? Now that’s just 2020 for you, with all due respect. It turns out, it’s the Hoosiers who are now teetering on the brink of the Top 10 with only hot-seat Jim Harbaugh and Michigan standing in their way. Now how’s that for some early season Big Ten drama, our own rocky road start not withstanding?
Make no mistake about it, an 0-2 start to a pair of current Top 15 squads is in no way the end of the world but with a red-hot Maryland squad rolling into town, Penn State finds itself standing at a crossroads. It’s not so much ‘Fear the Turtle’ as much as they’d like you to buy in, but more like a fear of the long-term ramifications a loss to our southern neighbor would bring. Sean Clifford put it best this week when he said the Nittany Lions were playing with their backs against the wall. In fact, if you dug a little deeper beyond the 60 minutes of the actual game, I’d call Saturday’s contest versus the Terrapins a day of reckoning.
Whether you blame it on COVID, assistant coach attrition, or perhaps a combination of both, recruiting has not been up to the standards we’ve grown accustomed to in 2020. Some of that can be explained by the small size of the class Penn State is expected to haul in this year, but it’s been a long time since we put together such a ho-hum class like the one that currently ranks outside the Top 25. Lose to Maryland on Saturday and we could very well lose the coveted DMV for the foreseeable future. As the gap between Penn State and the Buckeyes appears to be inching wider than it was a year or two ago, a win on Saturday is urgent. Now how is that for a must-win situation, Nittany Nation?
Of course, Penn State is a three-touchdown-plus favorite at home so don’t count Vegas among those who feel this is do-or-die. The Nittany Lions have outscored the Terps 206 to 20 over the past 3 games and haven’t even sniffed any resemblance of a fight out of Maryland since the early days of the FrankLion-era and that infamous no-handshake of 2014. The Lions and Terps are polar opposites, as Northwestern took Maryland behind the woodshed on opening day. But we must remember to be cautious after seeing their performance last week, as they also managed to surprise us and complete a furious fourth quarter comeback to defeat Minnesota. Home field may not have the advantage it used too, but all things considered, I don’t think turtle soup stands a chance inside the Lion’s den: Penn State 45, Maryland 13.