Penn State Football: Debating Whether Nittany Lions Are Best Team in Big Ten

Barry Leonard@@barryleonardjrAnalyst IIIOctober 23, 2012

Head coach Bill O'Brien has quarterback Matt McGloin and the PSU offense hitting on all cylinders.
Head coach Bill O'Brien has quarterback Matt McGloin and the PSU offense hitting on all cylinders.Reese Strickland-US PRESSWIRE

The 2012 Penn State Nittany Lions are in the middle of an amazing five-game win streak and are currently 5-2 on the year and 3-0 in the Big Ten Conference.

The Lions are tied atop the Leaders Division with Ohio State and are one of the biggest surprises of the year.

There's no question that the Nittany Lions are rolling, but are they the best team in the conference?

Two months ago, if anyone would have mentioned Penn State as one of the best teams in the Big Ten they would have been ridiculed. Now, it's a legitimate question to ask.

Along with Penn State, the usual teams are in the conversation. Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin can all make their own cases for the best team.

Let the debate begin.

Ohio State is the highest ranked team in the division at No. 9 in the AP poll. Michigan, No. 20 in the AP, is fifth in the Big Ten in total offense and second in total defense. Nebraska is tops in total offense in the conference. Wisconsin is third in total defense in the Big Ten.

Every team that could be considered the best has a flaw.

The Buckeyes can't play defense. Michigan is too inconsistent. Nebraska struggles against the run. Wisconsin can't throw the ball.

Heading into the year, Michigan State was thought of as the favorite in the conference, but the Spartans already have three losses on the year with two coming against conference foes.


At this point in the season, Penn State is the most complete team in the conference. The Nittany Lions are the only Big Ten team who ranks in the top four in both total offense and total defense in the conference.

The Nittany Lions have always been known for a having a stellar defense. New head coach Bill O'Brien has made sure that Penn State has a prolific offense to go with the defense.

Penn State is fourth in the conference in total offense, averaging 322.7 yards per game. Senior quarterback Matt McGloin has shown that he has the ability to be a solid starting quarterback. Penn State ranks second in passing offense, racking up 257.1 yards per game.

Numbers wise, the running game has been a weakness for the Lions. They rank ninth in total yards, though that has been improving over the last few weeks with a 100-yard rusher in each of the last three games.

As shown in the Week 8 game at Iowa, a healthy Bill Belton at running back adds another dimension to the offense. Belton rushed for 103 yards and three touchdowns against the Hawkeyes.

On the defensive side, the Nittany Lions have been dominant. Led by seniors Michael Mauti, Jordan Hill and Gerald Hodges, the Lions are fourth in total defense (322.7 yards per game) and second in scoring defense (15.7 points a game).

The weakest area for Penn State in 2012 has been special teams.

The Lions rank ninth in the conference in kick return yardage, 10th in punt return yards, 12th in punt yards and 12th in field goals.

Penn State has several tough games remaining, including a Nov. 10 trip to Lincoln, Neb. The Lions get to host both Ohio State and Wisconsin.

There is still a lot of football to be played, but at this point, Penn State has to be considered one of the top teams in the conference along with Ohio State and Michigan.

A Week 9 victory over the Buckeyes will help solidify the Lions' spot as the best in the Big Ten.