STATE COLLEGE, PA (WTAJ) — Penn State football is a little over a week out from playing in the 2022 Outback Bowl, the school’s fifth trip to Tampa. A season that once carried the promise of a college football playoff berth has seen better days, but a bowl win would begin 2022 on the right foot.
THE FAST ASCENT
Penn State football began the year at Wisconsin. A road win against the Badgers was Penn State first top-25 win in an opener in 20-years and it came as fans returned to college football stadiums across the country.
“It was so much fun, I mean, it was so much fun,” quarterback Sean Clifford said after the 16-10 win. “We were away too. It was just fun to be back out there with everybody. That’s what college football is all about.”
The next week, Penn State returned home to face Ball State. The return of fans to Beaver Stadium was one of the school’s top moments of the year. A 44-13 win over the Cardinals set Penn State up for a massive White Out showdown with Auburn where in front of nearly 110,000 people the Nittany Lions snapped a decade-long losing streak against SEC school.
After the White Out win, Penn State tacked on wins over Villanova and Rutgers.
At 5-0 on the season the Nittany Lions found themselves ranked fourth in the nation with one of the biggest games in program history looming.
History won’t likely remember the magnitude of Penn State’s meeting with Iowa in week six. But when no. 4 Penn State traveled to no. 3 Iowa it was the biggest meeting between the two programs. Penn State had the upper hand early before quarterback Sean Clifford left late in the first half with an injury, one that seemingly changed Penn State’s trajectory.
With Penn State’s offense stuck in neutral without Clifford, Penn State lost to Iowa. After a bye things hit rock bottom for the Nittany Lions. A clearly limited Clifford returned, but struggled as Penn State hosted Illinois on a wet and rainy afternoon in Happy Valley. After a painful 9 overtimes, Illinois edged the Nittany Lions 20-18. The following week Penn State lost to Ohio State 33-24. The Nittany Lions losing streak reached three games.
Penn State snapped its losing streak as Jahan Dotson set the single game school receiving record in a 31-14 win at Maryland. Dotson caught 11 passes for 242 yards and 3 touchdowns.
“It’s a kid’s dream, and I’m really put here having fun playing the game I love,” he said following the win. “Games like this our special and I had a lot of family members here today. A lot of them are seeing me for my first time. It was a special night all around. I got the ‘w’ that’s what we came for. It was good to get back on a winning streak.”
Penn State fell late the following week to Michigan, then shutout Rutgers, before falling late to Michigan State. The Nittany Lions alternated wins and loses to end the season, but each loss was close, just as they were all season long.
“It’s tough, knowing that almost every loss we’ve have has come in one possession games,” Dotson recalled following the Michigan State loss. “It really points back to the little details. That’s where games are won and loss when they’re that close.”
Penn State now turns its attention to Tampa, and the program’s fifth trip to the Outback Bowl. Penn State is 3-1 all-time, the loss coming in its most recent trip to the bowl in 2011.