Penn State's surprisingly productive football season took a step back on Saturday as the Nittany Lions blew a double-digit lead in the second half to Nebraska. The Nebraska Cornhuskers won the game, 32-23, but all was not lost for Penn State in this game.
If there's one thing the Nittany Lions proved in this matchup, it was that despite their four-year postseason ban, this football team can still compete with the nation's best squads.
Penn State still has two games left on their 2012 schedule. The result of their remaining contests will not have any postseason implications for the team. However, PSU has a golden opportunity to prove to the entire country that Penn State football is not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. With that, you can bet there will be no letdown in Happy Valley for their final two matchups of the season.
Let's take a look at what the Nittany Lions must do to emerge victorious in their final two contests.
11/17 vs. Indiana
Indiana has given up almost 430 yards per game on defense this season. Furthermore, the Indiana Hoosiers are ranked last in the Big Ten in rushing defense, giving up 208 yards per game on the ground. Although Indiana has an explosive offense, it's unlikely they will be able to keep up with the Nittany Lions' two-pronged rushing attack.
Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton are both averaging over four yards per carry in 2012. Penn State is not a run-first football team, but they will be able to run the ball in this contest.
Indiana is not exactly stellar against the pass either, giving up nearly 220 yards per game through the air. So the Nittany Lions will be able to play a balanced, yet effective offense against one of the worst defenses in the conference.
If Matt McGloin takes care of the football and can move the ball with consistency, Penn State should roll to a victory. Indiana's offense will not be able to keep up with Penn State on the road.
11/24 vs. Wisconsin
Wisconsin is one of the best team's in the Big Ten.
Despite their early struggles, the Wisconsin Badgers have rebounded to put themselves in a position to play for the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis. There is a good chance that this game will have a significant impact on the Badger's Rose Bowl aspirations.
Penn State will have everything to play for in this one. Not only will it be their final game of the season, it will be nationally televised in front of their home fans. Furthermore, it will end the first season of the Nittany Lions' postseason ban.
This is one of those games where the statistics go out the window. This will be a hard-fought, emotionally charged game for both teams. The odds will favor Wisconsin in this one, but Penn State is more than talented enough to pull out the upset at home.
On paper, the Nittany Lions have nothing to play for this season. However, there are few, if any schools with more pride in their football program than Penn State University. It may not matter to outsiders how this team fares in their final games because they can't go to a bowl game.
However, this team, this program and the entire Penn State community are going to come full force in these next two weeks. Indiana and Wisconsin better be ready for a physical football game, and don't be surprised to see the Nittany Lions win out in 2012.