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Ready Or Not, Penn State Stands At The Doorstep Of Greatness

The 2011 Nittany Lions aren't great yet, but they have a chance to be, and maybe that's all that matters.


It's a perceived trait that many of Penn State's greatest teams have shared in one form or another through the years.

The Nittany Lions have posted seven undefeated, untied seasons since 1887. Of that group, only the 1986 team was voted a consensus national champion.

The 1982 national championship team was left for dead after a 42-21 loss against No. 4 Alabama before rallying to top No. 1 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. The 1994 Big Ten title team boasted perhaps the most prolific offense in college football history, but was picked over for national champion by Nebraska in the final polls. The 2005 Big Ten championship team wasn't expected to make a bowl game.

Even the 1986 national championship squad was supposed to fall in a romp against overwhelming No. 1 Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.

And yet, despite the doubts, those teams overcame and today form the very bedrock of Penn State's storied football tradition.

With that in mind, perhaps it's appropriate that today's Lions, alone atop the Big Ten at 8-1 overall and 5-0 in league play, remain a group of which little is expected. They certainly haven't given outsiders a reason to believe otherwise, winning every game in conference play by 10 points or less.

In 116 seasons of Big Ten football, only this team has ever accomplished that feat. The numbers suggest Penn State won't be able to tempt fate much longer.

So, make no mistake, suggesting this team belongs in the aforementioned group of great Penn State football teams at this point in time is blasphemous in every sense.

Nevertheless, the Lions stand at the doorstep of having a damn good argument, which is a more than can be said of a number of past teams of which more was expected. 

Consider, this group has already delivered coach Joe Paterno his Division-I record 409th victory in dramatic fashion, beating Illinois on Saturday with a late touchdown drive and a shanked Illini field goal as time expired. If it manages the two wins necessary for a Big Ten Leaders Division title, it will play in the first ever Big Ten championship game for a chance to deliver Paterno the trophy that bears his name before any other league foe gets to touch it. And if it gets that far, it will play for just the program's second Rose Bowl title come New Year's Day.

Running the gauntlet of games against No. 10 Nebraska, Ohio State and No. 20 Wisconsin before likely facing another ranked opponent in Indianapolis won't be easy, and there are a host of reasons to doubt these Lions won't survive it. 

Just remember, though, that many had doubts about the celebrated teams in this video, played before every home game at Beaver Stadium this season.

Maybe it's time to stop doubting, and start believing.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.