IN 2011, Joe Paterno's final season, Penn State finished tied with Wisconsin in the Big Ten Leaders Division, although the Nittany Lions did lose the finale at Wisconsin, 45-7.
Now, in James Franklin's third year, they're a win away from clinching a tie for the East title and maybe going to the conference championship game. After being picked to come in fourth in the preseason media poll.
The Nits (9-2, 7-1) won at Rutgers Saturday, 39-0. They close this week against Michigan State (3-8, 1-7). The Spartans, one year removed from the national playoffs, just came within a missed two-point conversion of taking out second-ranked Ohio State (10-1, 7-1). If the Buckeyes beat No. 3 Michigan (10-1, 7-1) in Columbus, the Nits would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. That's not the case should the Wolverines win.
With Louisville losing, the Lions moved up one spot in the poll, to eighth. Wisconsin (9-2, 6-2) - which has lost to both OSU and Michigan and needs a win at home over Minnesota (8-3, 5-3) to take the West - is fifth. It's the first time since 1960 that the league has three in the top five.
Against the Scarlet Knights (2-9, 0-8), Tyler Davis kicked a career-high four field goals. All PSU needed was one. Rutgers had 87 yards of offense, or 462 less than the visitors. This was the fourth time RU has been shutout, the first time that's happened in eight decades. It was 9-0 at the half. Michael Cintron punted 11 times, including one that was blocked. He's punted 89 times this season, a Big Ten record.
Saquon Barkley (92 yards rushing on 16 carries) left in the third quarter after getting dinged in the head and didn't return. He underwent precautionary concussion testing and according to Franklin is "fine."
The Owls (8-3, 6-1 American Athletic Conference) have posted shutouts in back-to-back road games for the first time since 1925.
They've won 18 games the last two seasons, the best two-year stretch in program history.
It was 10-0 at the half down in New Orleans, 24-0 after three quarters.
Tulane is 3-8, 0-7.
The Owls can clinch their second straight East title with a home win this week over East Carolina (3-8, 1-6) or a South Florida (9-2, 6-1) home loss against Central Florida (6-5, 4-3). They hold the tiebreaker with USF.
Navy (8-2, 6-1) has won the West. If the Midshipmen win at SMU (5-6, 3-4), the right to host the Dec. 3 title game might come down to who has a higher composite computer ranking, which is the AAC's fifth tiebreaker. Last year Temple lost at Houston in the final.
The Owls now rank third in the nation in total defense, behind Alabama and Michigan.
They also had a season-high 533 total yards of offense.
Senior Jahad Thomas scored two touchdowns, one rushing and another receiving. Since the start of last season he has 15 games with multiple TDs. Ventell Bryant had career highs of nine catches for 168 yards.
1. Alabama (11-0). Beat Chattanooga, 31-3. Saturday: vs. Auburn. Lost two of last eight to Tigers. One was 28-27 at home in 2010 when Auburn went unbeaten. Other was three years ago on last-play field-goal return.
2. Ohio State (10-1). Beat Michigan State, 17-16. Saturday: vs. Michigan. Won 42-13 last November at Big House. Has scored 42 against Wolves in each of last three meetings.
3. Clemson (10-1). Beat Wake Forest, 35-13. Saturday: vs. South Carolina. Has won last two meetings, after losing five straight before that. Last year it was 37-32 at SC.
4. Michigan (10-1). Beat Indiana, 20-10. Saturday: at Ohio State. Has lost 11 of last 12 to Bucks. Hasn't won in Columbus since 2000.
5. Washington (10-1). Beat Arizona State, 44-18. Friday: at Washington State. Has beaten WSU six of last seven. Last two losses to Cougars were in overtime. Both were at WSU.
6. Wisconsin (9-2). Beat Purdue, 49-20. Saturday: vs. Minnesota. Has beaten Gophers 12 straight. Hasn't lost to them at home since 1994.
7. Penn State (9-2). Beat Rutgers, 39-0. Saturday: vs. Michigan State. Lost to Spartans on road last year, 55-16. In 2014 it was a 34-10 loss in Happy Valley. Those were different Spartans. And different Nittany Lions.
8. Oklahoma (9-2). Beat West Virginia, 56-28. Next: Dec. 3 vs. Oklahoma State. Have obviously come a long way since that 1-2 start.
9. Colorado (9-2). Beat Washington State, 38-24. Saturday: vs. Utah. Has lost four straight to Utes. Goes to Pac-12 title game with a win. If not, surging Southern Cal will be the South champ.
10. Oklahoma State (9-2). Beat TCU, 31-6. Next: Dec. 3 at Oklahoma. Cowpokes will play for Big 12 title in two weeks. Won two years ago at OU, in OT.
Next in line: Louisville (9-2), Florida (8-2), Southern Cal (8-3), Florida State (8-3) and Houston (9-2)/Western Michigan (11-0).
Louisville - It's not really OK to lose at Houston as a two-touchdown favorite, especially when you're trying to make the playoffs.
West Virginia - It's OK to lose to Oklahoma at home, but maybe not by 56-28.
Utah - It's not OK to lose at home to three-win Oregon, especially when you're trying to win the Pac-12 South.
TCU - It's OK to lose to Oklahama State at home as a slight favorite, but not by 31-6. Good thing the Frogs scored first.
Texas - Can't be losing to Kansas, especially when the coach is trying to save his job. Good luck with that.
Dishonorable mention: Notre Dame. It might be OK to lose to Virginia Tech at home, especially this season. But Irish did lead by 17 twice in first 24 minutes.