Needing to win their final two games in order to have a chance to play for a Big Ten championship, Penn State will hit the road in hopes of avoiding a big upset in East Division play. The Nittany Lions head to the state of New Jersey to take on Rutgers, and are a clear favorite on paper. With things starting to really click for Penn State, getting out of Jersey with a win should be expected but James Franklin and his program are focused on not looking past anybody as they hit crunch time on the schedule.
Penn State at Rutgers
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 19 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Penn State -28
Three Things to Watch
1. Penn State hitting its stride at best possible time
Penn State has won six straight games since being blown out on the road by Michigan in its Big Ten opener. Most of the wins have been no fluke, especially lately. After getting a lucky bounce against Ohio State, Penn State has outscored its opponents 148-69, and the Nittany Lions are closing out games in the fourth quarter with authority.
2. Nittany Lions’ offensive line banged up once again
Penn State may have played itself into a rather favorable situation down the stretch, but the offensive line may be limping across the finish line of the regular season. James Franklin announced this week the offensive line has lost Paris Palmer for the year. Brendan Mahon’s return is uncertain as well, but Connor McGovern may be back this week after missing some late playing time last week against Indiana. Penn State’s offensive line has shown improvement this season, when actually healthy, but how stable it will be the next two weeks will be worth keeping an eye on.
3. Run, Saquon, Run!
Rutgers will enter this game with the Big Ten’s worst rushing defense, allowing just a sliver over 250 rushing yards per game. That should be bad news for Rutgers this week as the Scarlet Knights look to slow down the Big Ten’s leading rusher, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. Even behind a bruised and battered offensive line, the Nittany Lions should have an edge here as Barkley, just a sophomore, looks to improve on his 1,113 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. Penn State should also see some mobility out of quarterback Trace McSorley and may even get freshman Miles Sanders involved this week. It should be a good week for it.
For Rutgers and the way this season has been going, this is essentially the Scarlet Knights’ equivalent of the Super Bowl. While the program may be in a mighty rebuilding project and stuck on Step 1, do not be shocked if they bring their best effort of the season against the Nittany Lions. The problem is Rutgers simply does not have the talent or even the depth to be able to hang with a surging Penn State team at this point in the season. The Nittany Lions should have little problem taking care of what they need to this weekend to set up a Big Ten East-clinching scenario next week with a little help from Ohio State. But for now, it’s all about Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers.
Prediction: Penn State 31, Rutgers 17
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.