Don’t look now but the prospects for the 2012 Penn State football season look a lot brighter.
That’s what back-to-back wins will do.
Yes, the wins were over Navy and Temple but tell that to the players, coaches and fans that marched out of Beaver Stadium Saturday. After losing the lead to Ohio in the opener and falling to Virginia in the worst possible way, any win would be a good one.
Combine that with the predictions such as Lee Corso’s, “they’ll be lucky to win three games all year,” and, well, back-to-back wins must feel pretty good.
But it’s more than just the final scores.
Look how this team has played. The Nittany Lions have dominated the last three games. No, they didn’t win at Virginia but they clearly should’ve. They were never threatened by Navy or Temple in games they were anything but perfect.
This team has been dominant while still showing room for improvement – and it would be surprising if it doesn’t continue to improve throughout the season.
The strides Penn State has made since Labor Day weekend are vast. Quarterback Matt McGloin continues to look better. The receiving corps is more impressive each week and the running game, amazingly, looked solid against the Owls.
That’s a running game without Bill Belton, without Derek Day and without Curtis Dukes. Michael Zordich and Zach Zwinak combined to grind out yardage all day. The offensive line continually opened holes. Imagine when a healthy Belton returns to the lineup.
On the other side of the ball, the defense continues to excel. It’s hard to imagine this group falling apart.
Are there concerns in the secondary? Yes, but it will take a quality passing game to exploit them.
Which brings us to another reason for Penn State fans to have significant hopes that their team will far exceed three wins.
The Big 10 schedule.
Okay, so some may pooh-pooh back-to-back wins over Temple and Navy but did anyone take a look at some of these early season results?
Oregon State 10, Wisconsin 7. Or maybe you’re impressed with the Badgers’ 16-14 win over Utah State or the 26-21 victory over Northern Iowa.
Central Michigan 32, Iowa 31. Iowa State 9, Iowa 6.
Or maybe you were impressed with the Hawkeyes’ big 18-17 victory over Northern Illinois.
How about this one from Saturday? Louisiana Tech 52, Illinois 24.
Umm, Penn State travels to Illinois for its Big 10 opener next week. Throw in the fact that Illini coaches angered many in the program by having six coaches hanging out on Penn State players doorsteps in August trying to recruit them and I’m doubting that the Lions won’t be ready to play.
The point is that the Penn State conference schedule isn’t all that scary. No, the Lions probably won’t go 10-2, but it’s doubtful they’ll go 3-9 either – despite what many think and hope.
A winning season is a legitimate goal and, right now, there is no reason that Penn State and its fans shouldn’t feel optimistic heading into the Big 10 conference schedule.
Marty Valania covers football for nittanylionsden.com. Follow him @EastRecruiting on Twitter.