This year's Nittany Lions compare well statistically to 2005's Big Ten championship team, but Matthew McGloin and Rob Bolden are leaving room for doubt that this team can earn the hardware.
Few squads in Penn State football history are more revered than the 2005 team.
Coming off four losing seasons in five years, those Nittany Lions finished 11-1 and ranked No. 3 in the country after capping off their Big Ten championship season with a victory at the Orange Bowl against Florida State.
Through seven games, that team sported the same 6-1 record that today's squad does. Its defense was giving up 17.1 points per game compared with the 11.6 points per game that this year's defense is conceding. It's leading receiver, Deon Butler, had nine fewer catches (19) and 64 fewer yards (421) than current receiving leader Derek Moye (28 catches and 485 yards) and its leading rusher, Tony Hunt, had 64 fewer yards (641) than this year's leading rusher Silas Redd (705).
Those statistics would suggest the Lions of the present are, at the very least, on par with their 2005 counterparts when you adjust for the slightly superior competition the 2005 team faced.
They also don't include quarterback play.
Through seven games in 2005, Michael Robinson completed 53% of his passes for 1,347 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions. He'd also rushed for 405 yards and seven touchdowns.
Compare that with Matthew McGloin and Rob Bolden's combined line of 51% completions for 1,429 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions through the air and 38 yards with no touchdowns on the ground, and it's easy to see why the 2005 team was ranked No. 12 by the Associated Press at this point in the season while the current squad has yet to crack the AP poll.
The 2005 team had a dual-threat playmaker under center while this team has a pair of inconsistent, one-dimensional quarterbacks. Where voters saw a position of strength in 2005, they now see a weakness, and as a result, despite similar win-loss results, today's Lions are rarely mentioned as a threat to contend for a Big Ten Leaders Division title, let alone a national championship.
McGloin and Bolden did little to earn the faith of pundits in Saturday's 23-18 win against Purdue, too. The pair combined to rack up just 185 yards, no touchdowns and an interception on 10-23 passing against the Boilermakers, so its not surprising that the accomplishments of the defense and other skill players continue to be overlooked as the Lions approach the two-thirds mark of the season this weekend.
If Penn State is going to make a run with voters down the stretch, it's time for Bolden and McGloin to show their position is the strength coach Joe Paterno has boasted it to be all year. If they can, the numbers say these Lions may have a shot at a Big Ten title in the same way their 2005 counterparts did. If they can't, 2011 will likely go down as an ordinary season that could have been much, much more.
Check out Bolden and McGloin's post game comments from Saturday in the videos below.