Penn State finishes strong, awaits bowl destination

Penn St Maryland Football
Penn State coach James Franklin and quarterback Trace McSorley celebrate TD pass.

Penn State lost two games this season, in back-to-back weeks, both on the road, by a total of four points.

On Oct. 28, the Nittany Lions blew a 15-point lead in the final 11 1/2 minutes and lost by one on a 16-yard touchdown pass with 1:48 to go. Then at Michigan State, they lost on a 34-yard field goal at the buzzer, in a game that was delayed 3 1/2 hours because of weather in the second quarter.

Of course, they also won at Iowa a last-play pass. So it goes both ways.

On Saturday, they rolled at Maryland, 66-3, to reach double-digit wins for the second straight season, something they hadn’t done in nearly a decade. They will play in a New Year’s Six bowl for the second straight season. But like last season, when they barely missed getting into the College Football Playoff and then blew a 14-point lead in the closing 8 1/2 minutes of the Rose Bowl against Southern Cal, it’s about what might have been.

And that’s OK. They’re hardly the only team in the nation feeling that way right about now.

This one was 31-0 at the half. The Terrapins (4-8, 2-7 Big Ten) got a 42-yard field goal late in the third period. They were 1-for-18 on third and fourth downs.

Trace McSorley threw for two scores and ran for another. Saquon Barkley (16 carries, 77 yards) also had two TDs. He should be a Heisman Trophy finalist.

The Nittany Lions (10-2, 7-2) scored 56 last week against Nebraska at home. It’s the first time since 1997 that they reached 50 in consecutive games. Back then it was against visiting Temple and at Louisville in September.

Temple 43, Tulsa 22

The Owls and first-year coach Geoff Collins became bowl eligible, by getting their sixth victory.

It’s the fourth straight year they’ve won at least six times. The only other time the program did that was from 1927-31. Wayne Hardin’s teams in the early 1970s came close, and they were only playing nine or 10 games in most of those days.

Temple won three of its last four. The loss was to unbeaten Central Florida.

Tulsa (2-10, 1-7 American Athletic) had to play its backup quarterback due to an injury. When he got hurt, third-stringer Will Hefley came in for his college debut. His first pass was intercepted by Derrek Thomas and returned 83 yards to the 2. The Owls scored to make it 31-13 at the half.

Tulsa’s D’Angelo Brewer, the AAC’s leading rusher, did gain 255 yards on 34 attempts.

Isaiah Wright’s 72-yard punt return made it 37-20 late in the third quarter.

Frank Nutile passed for 262 yards and three TDs.

The next step is to win a bowl game for the first time since 2011, which was only the program’s second bowl win and first in 32 years. The last two seasons have ended with losses to Toledo and Wake Forest.

In the NCAA Division III playoffs, unbeaten Delaware Valley beat visiting Husson College (Bangor, Maine), 37-15. The Aggies tied a school record with their 12th victory, and extended their school-record winning streak to 16. This week they’ll host unbeaten College at Brockport (N.Y.). It’s their first trip to the quarterfinals since 2005. Brockport advanced with a 49-28 win over Wesley, the team Del Val beat, 24-19, in the opener.

In the Division II tournament, West Chester (9-4) lost at unbeaten Indiana (Pa.), 44-10. Two weeks ago, the Rams had lost to IUP at home in the PSAC title game, 24-7.

Mike Kern’s Top 10

1. Clemson (11-1). Beat South Carolina, 34-10. Saturday: vs. Miami in ACC final (Charlotte). Last played Miami in 2015. Tigers won that one, 58-0. They’re 3-1 in ACC title games.

2. Oklahoma (11-1). Beat West Virginia, 59-31. Saturday: vs. TCU in Big 12 final (Arlington, Texas). Has beaten TCU 3 straight, and 6 of 7. Earlier this month it was 38-20 at home. Sooners are 7-1 in Big 12 finals.

3. Wisconsin (12-0). Beat Minnesota, 31-0. Saturday: vs. Ohio State in Big Ten final (Indianapolis). Lost to Ohio State in 2014 final, 59-0; 2-1 in three other title-game appearances.

4. Alabama (11-1). Lost at Auburn, 26-14. Next: New Year’s Six bowl or playoff game to be determined. I still think Tide has a decent shot to make final four for fourth straight year. But it might need help.

5. Georgia (11-1). Beat Georgia Tech, 38-7. Saturday: vs. Auburn in SEC final (Atlanta). Lost at Auburn three weeks ago, 40-17. First title-game appearance in five years. Last won it in 2005.

6. Auburn (10-2). Beat Alabama, 26-14. Saturday: vs. Georgia in SEC final (Atlanta). Beating two No. 1s in three weeks is a very big deal. Yet ultimately it’s about the body of work. And those losses still count. If Tigers beat Georgia again, I could rethink that.

7. Miami (11-1). Lost at Pitt, 24-14. Saturday: vs. Clemson in ACC final (Charlotte). If nothing else, a win would move Hurricanes past Clemson. They’ve never played in this game.

8. Ohio State (10-2). Beat Michigan, 31-20. Saturday: vs. Wisconsin in Big Ten final (Indianapolis). Buckeyes did lose by 31 at Iowa. Have beaten Badgers 5 straight and 8 of last 9. Are 1-1 in title game.

9. Penn State (10-2). Beat Maryland, 66-3. Next: Bowl TBD. Maybe Lions could play USC again in a bowl. The Rose was one of the best games last season. I was thinking Notre Dame but now not so much.

10. Southern Cal (10-2). Idle. Friday: vs. Stanford in Pac-12 final (Santa Clara, Calif.). Stanford is 3-0 in this game. It beat USC in 2015 final, 41-22. That was USC’s only appearance. Trojans beat Stanford at home on Sept. 9, 42-24.

Next in line: TCU (10-2), Washington (10-2), Stanford (9-3), Notre Dame (9-3) and Central Florida (12-0).

Fraud Five

Miami – No way you can be losing at 4-7 Pitt when you’re trying to get into the playoff. Good thing the Hurricanes scored late to get within 10. Of course, a win over Clemson in the AAC final could still get them in.

Washington State – You can lose at Washington, even if you’re trying to get into the Pac-12 final. But not by 41-14. The other two losses this year were 37-3 at 5-7 Cal and 58-37 at 7-5 Arizona.

Florida – It’s OK to lose to Florida State, even at home. And even if FSU was 4-6 yet still favored by a TD. The final was 38-22. The Gators lost six of their last seven.

Mississippi State – Shouldn’t be losing to 5-6 Mississippi at home, especially as a two-TD favorite. Maybe Dan Mullen was thinking about Florida gig.

Nebraska – I know the Cornhuskers stink, but that doesn’t mean you should be losing at home to Iowa by 42. They can use Scott Frost.