Defensive tackle Zane Durant #28 of the Penn State Nittany Lions celebrates with fans after defeating the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium
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As Penn State Moves Up the Rankings, It's Time to Start Paying Attention

?The Penn State Nittany Lions were getting written off before the season even started. The team was in an unusual position after being left out of the preseason top 25 for the first time since 2016. Unlike recent years, the question was not if Penn State could beat a team like Ohio State or Michigan, but could they even compete?

?After three games, against teams from three different conferences, the Nittany Lions are proving that they can compete with anybody. They have been improving each week and after last week's win, they find themselves as the 14th best team in the country.

Nittany Lions are Taking Care of Business

Running back Nicholas Singleton #10 of the Penn State Nittany Lions runs the ball past of safety Zion Puckett #10 of the Auburn Tigers for a touchdown

Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)

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?In front of a packed house, and at one of the loudest stadiums in the country, quarterback Sean Clifford and company took care of business last week against Auburn. Clifford only had five incompletions and was able to run in a touchdown as well. Saturday was Clifford's least exciting performance of the season, and he already has 673 passing yards to pair with eight total touchdowns. He has been doing almost everything right for the Penn State offense so far in 2022, and the rest of the offense seems to be feeding off his energy.

?Freshman running back Nick Singleton is definitely one of those guys, and over the last two weeks, he's had 303 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He's been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week the past two weeks and looks like a star already. A five-star recruit out of high school, Singleton had a lot of hype around him as soon as he arrived at Penn State. After a quiet performance in Week 1 against Purdue, he has shown the coaches and fans exactly why he was ranked as high as he was. If he can keep playing at the level he has been, it will be hard for teams to stop the Penn State rushing attack.

?This success at the line of scrimmage will only make it easier for Clifford and should open the field up for the receivers. Mitchell Tinsley, who had 1,402 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns last season at Western Kentucky University, has fit right into the offense and looks like Clifford's favorite target. He has already found the endzone twice this season and had a seven-reception game in Week 1. We can expect to see much more of this throughout the season, as he and Clifford are probably still working out the kinks. Tinsley was brought in to be a playmaker, and fans are waiting for him to have one of the big games that he so regularly had last season.

?Although Tinsley has been the best wide receiver on the team, tight end Brenton Strange actually leads the team in receiving yards. Following in the footsteps of former Penn State and current NFL tight ends Pat Freiermuth and Mike Gesicki, Strange's role is much more than just blocking for the team. He has already had two games this season with over 75 receiving yards, one of which coming last week where he had six receptions for 80 yards.

Penn State's Power Relies on Leadership

Sean Clifford #14 of the Penn State Nittany Lions is seen during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

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For the Penn State offense to sustain success this season, they will need their weapons to do everything they have been doing and some. Teams like Ohio State and Michigan are not going to lose due to just one player, but if all these guys and the rest of the offense perform at the best of their ability, this Penn State team is talented enough to win.

The Big Ten is always a hard conference to play in, so winning it is always rewarding. The last time Penn State won the Big Ten was in 2016, and while that team also had an extremely talented offense, they did it with defense and special teams. The offense this year is already clicking, and the defense has been improving each game to get there.

With potential first-round pick Joey Porter Jr. playing corner, Manny Diaz's job as the Penn State defensive coordinator is easier than most. Porter Jr. can shut down almost any receiver in the country. In his first game this year, he broke up six passes and was inches away from an interception.

Other than just Porter Jr., the rest of the Penn State secondary has been playing at an extremely high level as well. Against Auburn, the defense forced two interceptions, three fumbles, and recorded six sacks. This was a major improvement from the first two weeks where the defense only totaled three sacks, one forced fumble, and zero interceptions. If the defense continues to match the play of the offense like they did against Auburn, this Penn State team has the chance to win big.

Penn State can not play down to Central Michigan and Northwestern these next two weeks. If they want to have a chance against the likes of Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio State, they need to prove that they are good enough to dominate these less-talented teams.

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