Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.
Penn State is 8-1, but many doubts still remain about just how good this team is. So today's Take Two topic is this: Are you buying the Nittany Lions?
Take 1: Brian Bennett
Yes, to the extent that I'm buying Penn State as a team that can win the Big Ten championship. Regardless of the schedule so far, you have to respect the 5-0 conference record, which is 2.5 games better than anybody else in the Leaders Division. The schedule is going to be brutal down the stretch, with road games against Ohio State and Wisconsin sandwiched around a home date against red-hot Nebraska. But Penn State's defense will keep it in every game. The Nittany Lions are allowing just 12.4 points per game, and everybody on that side of the ball seems to be playing great, especially Gerald Hodges and Devon Still. Sure, the offense is pedestrian on its best day, but Matt McGloin is a winner, as he showed by summoning his inner Montana in the final three minutes against Illinois last week. Silas Redd has been the most productive running back in the Big Ten in the past month and should really benefit from this week's bye, while top receiver Derek Moye should be much healthier in two weeks. Penn State is in the driver's seat in the division right now and get to Indianapolis by winning just one of its final three games if things break right. This isn't Joe Paterno's best team, but a championship season is usually filled with the kind of luck and late-game heroics that the Nittany Lions are specializing in right now.
Take 2: Adam Rittenberg
Style points don't win conference championships, and Penn State lacks the former but still could capture the latter on Dec. 3 in Indianapolis. The Lions' defense has been absolutely outstanding, especially without star linebacker Michael Mauti for all of Big Ten play. Silas Redd has emerged as a workhorse running back and one of the Big Ten's best offensive players. But if I had to pick whether Penn State will make the title game, I'd lean toward no. Even though Penn State might only need one win to get to Lucas Oil Stadium, I have a feeling either Wisconsin or Ohio State will win out. I just can't see Penn State winning in Madison -- although the Lions whipped Wisconsin in 2008 -- as long as Wisconsin has a chance in the Leaders Division. While the Nebraska and Ohio State games both are toss-ups, those teams both are playing very good football right now and the Ohio State contest comes on the road. Penn State's defense and run game will give it a chance, but conference champions need their quarterbacks to step up in the biggest games. McGloin answered the bell against Illinois, but the big knock on him is whether he can play his best against the best teams. Strong performances against Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin would quiet McGloin's doubters. Penn State has embraced its lack of respect regionally and nationally and used it as fuel for an 8-1 start. It will be very interesting to see how things turn out for JoePa's crew.