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With nothing left to lose, Penn State in position to have a little fun

Penn State head coach James Franklin greets Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford (14) during an NCAA college football game against Michigan State in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Some nitpicking as Penn State’s home season (for sure this time) concludes:

• With three games canceled, and uncertainty over the availability of some key Ohio State players in the Big Ten title game, there’s an anti-climatic cloud over the entire conference today, and, surely, Penn State’s matchup with Illinois (5:30 p.m., Fox Sports1) is part of that. Absent the emotion of even a fanless Senior Day, and facing a team which has already fired its coach, this is a perfect opportunity for new wrinkles and a little fun on both sides because neither team has anything to lose. Both have already done that.

• James Franklin has been reluctant to address a potential bowl scenario, defaulting to his “we’re just trying to go 1-0” ripcord/mentality. He did say the team will discuss its options after the Illinois game. Franklin has mentioned several times of the void he’s felt this season with his family living in Florida as a coronavirus precaution. Players have indicated they’d like to play in a bowl, so we’ll see — and I’m only half-kidding — if Franklin can talk them out of it.

• We’re reminded all too often that college football is a business. Need another example: Illinois’ firing of Lovie Smith after last week’s game with Northwestern. The Illini just couldn’t wait until after today’s game to do it. Just couldn’t wait.

• Penn State got off to an 0-5 start and was equally inept on both sides of the ball. And yet, nine Nittany Lion defenders — nine — were accorded some level of all-Big Ten status. That’s nine of 11. So how were the Lions 0-5? Talk about an every-player-gets-a-trophy mentality.

Penn State defenders Shaka Toney (18) and Antonio Shelton (55) leave the field following an NCAA college football game against Michigan State in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

• The most worthy All-Big Ten selection Penn State had was receiver-punt returner Jahan Dotson, who led the league in receiving yardage. He made the third team.

• Presuming a win over Northwestern, I look forward to Ohio State in the College Football Playoff field because I think the Buckeyes can beat anybody, and their presence is good for the Big Ten. That said, what is the closest thing they’ve had to a great win? Indiana? Further, what is the best win in the Big Ten this season? Does it have one? Because Penn State and Michigan were down, and Wisconsin had COVID-19 issues. From this view, it was Maryland beating the Lions. Runner-up: Northwestern over Iowa.

• Franklin said after this week’s early-signing period press conference Penn State will be active in the transfer portal. Which begs the question: Will the Lions be open to a quarterback transfer to compete for the starting job next season with Sean Clifford and Will Levis (presuming he’s not moved to fullback)? Clifford is 13-6 in two years as the Lions’ starter but 5-6 in his last 11 starts.

• This week’s snowfall stirred fond memories of the “Snow Bowl” 25 years ago when the prisoners were summoned to clear Beaver Stadium, and the Lions rewarded with a 27-17 win over Michigan, capped when Northern Bedford’s Joe Nastasi, the Nits’ holder, calmly raced in for the decisive touchdown on a fake field goal.

Rudel can be reached at nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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