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Penn State football breaks top-10 losing streak heading into 2023

The Nittany Lions officially ended their top-10 losing streak with a 35-21 win over No. 8 Utah in the Rose Bowl game last Monday.



Sep 24, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin gestures from the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Central Michigan Chippewas at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Central Michigan 33-14. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Monday night, Penn State football won its first Rose Bowl since 1995. The win was and is massive for the Nittany Lions’ football program; after all, Penn State came into the season with low expectations yet ended up finishing 11-2 overall. One of the most important aspects of the Rose Bowl win was PSU snapping its top-10 losing streak.

The streak begins

In 2016 — Penn State’s first year back from the sanctions that were set in late-2011 — Penn State football headed into the Ohio State game with a 4-2 record. Just like in seasons past, the Nittany Lions were off to a rocky start, and James Franklin’s seat was starting to heat up. As the No. 2 Buckeyes headed into State College for Penn State’s annual ‘White Out’ game, something seemed to change within the program.

The last truly notable Penn State football season was in 2009 when Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions finished the season 11-2 with a Capitol One Bowl win over LSU. Since then, PSU’s best record was 9-4 (2011) and its worst was 7-6 (2010, 2013*, 2014, 2015). It felt as if the old Penn State — the one that was consistently in the top-10 or at least finished ranked — was gone, and that the sanctions were working.

That being said, everything changed for Penn State football that night. The Nittany Lions trailed for much of that game, yet the second-ranked Buckeyes could not hold off Penn State’s will to win, and eventually lost the game. The Nittany Lions’ 24-21 win over Ohio State was what got Penn State back on the map and sparked a massive season. Fast forward to early-December, Penn State is facing-off against No. 6 Wisconsin in its first-ever Big Ten Championship game.

After getting in an early three-score hole, the Nittany Lions came roaring back and won the game, 38-31. The win was Penn State’s second top-10 win of the 2016 season and marked the Lions’ first Big Ten Championship since 2008. Although PSU could not overcome a solid USC team in the Rose Bowl, James Franklin’s 11-3 campaign was impressive to say the least and had Penn State fans excited for the years to come.

Sadly, Penn State’s 2016 Big Ten Championship game win over Wisconsin was the Nittany Lions’ last top-10 win until last Monday, when PSU bested No. 8 Utah in the Rose Bowl.

Finally, it comes to an end

Although James Franklin has seen many great seasons since his 2016 run, Penn State football has been nationally disrespected due to its inability to win “big games.” The Nittany Lions’ losing streak against top-10 teams has caused fans and national media to put Franklin and Co. under a microscope at every turn and scrutinize everything that Penn State does on the field.

Heading into the Rose Bowl game, Penn State football sat just outside of the top-10 and boasted an 10-2 record. Although the Nittany Lions had only lost two games, those two losses happened to be against PSU’s only two ranked opponents. Still, those ranked opponents were No. 2 Michigan and No. 4 Ohio State — two of the four teams in the College Football Playoff (CFP).

Aside from those two games, Penn State has looked relatively dominant in essentially all 11 of its other wins. Sure, the Nittany Lions aren’t CFP-caliber yet — I don’t think literally anyone is saying they are — however, Penn State is still a top-tier program in the sport. The 2023 Rose Bowl game meant a lot for Penn State’s program as a whole, from Sean Clifford’s send-off game to getting back on the path to a National Title.

Even before Utah lost starting QB Cam Rising, PSU had taken an early lead. The Nittany Lions and Utes were tied at half, 14-14, before Penn State blew the game wide open in the second. Utah made the score look better with a garbage time touchdown against Penn State’s backups, yet the Nittany Lions came away with a 35-21 win nonetheless.

This win means a lot for Penn State football. It was Sean Clifford’s final game, PSU’s first Rose Bowl win since 1995, first New Year’s Six win since 2019, got Penn State back inside of the top-10, and reminded people that the Nittany Lions are a serios threat to a title. On top of that, it broke Penn State’s top-10 losing streak, which was a must for PSU heading into the 2023 season.

Chris, a Penn State University student, founded Basic Blues Nation in 2022. He remains a co-owner of the website today. Throughout a six-year writing career, Chris has been a beat writer, a staff writer, an Editor-In Chief, and more, serving as a member of the credentialed media for a number of Big Ten schools. He has covered everything from non-revenue sports to CFP National Championship matchups, as well as some professional and high school sports.


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