After losing back-to-back road games in a most frustrating fashion, Penn State looks to regroup in front of its home fans this weekend when the Nittany Lions host Rutgers in Big Ten play. The stakes for the game have dropped significantly since the last time Penn State played a game in Beaver Stadium, when it thrashed Michigan to make what seemed like a national statement about being a legitimate playoff contender. But after dropping a pair of tough games against Ohio State and Michigan State to fall out of playoff contention, will the motivation still be there to put on a brilliant display?
Meanwhile, Chris Ash is feeling better about the direction his Knights are headed after three wins in their last four weeks. Will they be able to give Penn State a battle as the Nittany Lions look to get back in the win column and keep their hopes of a 10-win season in play?
Rutgers at Penn State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Penn State -30.5
Three Things to Watch
1. How will Penn State start?
Penn State is the only team in the country to score first in every game this season, and that could very well be the case once again this week. The question is just how much juice the Lions will have at the start of this matchup after having the wind sucked out of their big aspirations for this season. Will they be ticked off and ready to pile on as many points as possible from the jump, or will they be slow out of the gate and struggle to find the drive to take care of business after two emotional losses on the road?
2. Rebooting the Saquon Barkley Heisman Trophy run
With Penn State struggling recently, Barkley's Heisman momentum has declined enough to allow Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield to take the lead. If Barkley is going to regain the top spot on voters' ballots, he needs to have a really strong finish to the season and needs to impress in the box score. It may be too late to make up the ground if Mayfield doesn't let up, but now is the time to make sure Barkley stands a chance in the end.
3. How can Rutgers gain an edge on Penn State?
It is incredibly difficult to find any area where Rutgers can have the upper hand on Penn State, especially on the road. So it will be imperative for Rutgers to find a way to sustain drives and milk as much clock as possible while managing to put any points on the scoreboard, and then hope for a big break or special teams play. That won't be easy with the Big Ten's 14th-ranked offense and 11th-ranked defense. And if receiver/return man Janarion Grant is unavailable for a second straight week, forget about busting open any big special teams plays.
Although the College Football Playoff may be out of reach, there is still an outside chance Penn State can play for the Big Ten championship. That alone should keep the Lions focused. Look for Penn State to find a way to get Saquon Barkley off and running, while Trace McSorley will likely rebound from a rough outing (three interceptions vs. Michigan State) to make some big plays downfield. Penn State should have little problem getting back in the win column and breathe a sigh of relief in doing so.
Prediction: Penn State 52, Rutgers 13
— 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.