Freshman backs power No. 22 Penn State past Auburn, 41-12

Penn State v Auburn
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AUBURN, Ala. – Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen combined for 176 rushing yards and four touchdowns as No. 22 Penn State cruised to a 41-12 win at Auburn on Saturday.

The Nittany Lions’ freshman running backs were instrumental in the red zone. Penn State (3-0) scored touchdowns on each of its first four trips inside the 20-yard line. Quarterback Sean Clifford passed for 178 yards.

“The ability to be more balanced and take pressure off the passing game has been really important for us,” said Penn State coach James Franklin. “We also have some dynamic backs that can help create some explosive plays.”

The Penn State defense forced four turnovers by Auburn (2-1) and also held Tigers star running back Tank Bigsby to 39 rushing yards.

Auburn quarterback T.J. Finley had 152 passing yards, an interception and a lost fumble before being replaced in the second half by Robby Ashford.

Penn State led by one point late in the second quarter before Allen scored his first of two touchdowns. After Auburn opened the third quarter with a three-and-out, Singleton broke a 54-yard run and found the end zone two plays later.

The Nittany Lions scored 20 more points in the second half to pull away for the comfortable win in what was the first game against a Big Ten opponent for Auburn inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.

“We’re disappointed in the performance,” Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin said. “We’re disappointed in the loss. … You can look at the stats. It’s pretty matter-of-fact.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Penn State: The Nittany Lions dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, which is a major step forward for Franklin’s program. Penn State still has time to grow, too, considering the number of newcomers who are playing key roles so far this season.

Auburn: The pressure on Harsin will only increase. The loss was Auburn’s fifth straight to a Power Five team. On top of the four turnovers, the Tigers’ offense was unable to establish a consistent rushing attack and allowed a large amount of pressure in the passing game.

“The key is, really, how we handle the disappointment,” Harsin said. “… We still have a long season ahead of us. There’s still a lot of football to play.”

A HISTORIC STATE-MENT

The 29-point win tied Penn State’s second-largest margin of victory over an SEC team, matching the win over Auburn in the 1996 Outback Bowl. The Nittany Lions’ biggest victory over an SEC team came in 1978, a 30-point win over Kentucky.

“There haven’t been too many teams in the history of the Big Ten to come on the road and get a win in the SEC,” Franklin said. “So we’re very, very proud of that.”

GROUND AND POUND

Penn State finished with 245 rushing yards to Auburn’s 119. The Nittany Lions averaged 6.3 yards per carry, which is the most the Tigers have allowed since a 2020 loss to Texas A&M.

“We emphasized it all week long, and we were able to make (Auburn) one-dimensional, to a degree,” Franklin said. “Obviously, there’s some things we’ve gotta get cleaned up in the passing game. But that was the plan. We wanted to put (Finley) in a position to beat us, and I think we did that.”

THE TURNOVER BATTLE

Franklin called Auburn’s four turnovers to Penn State’s zero “the story of the game.” Through three games this season, the Tigers have not had a single defensive takeaway and currently sit at minus-8 in turnover margin.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Penn State made its season debut in the poll this week and has a good chance to move up after a big win on the road.

UP NEXT

Penn State returns home to face Central Michigan next Saturday. Auburn hosts Missouri in its SEC opener next Saturday.

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.

CFP expansion talks head toward October after 7-hour meeting

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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ROSEMONT, Ill. — The conference commissioners who manage the College Football Playoff met for almost seven hours Tuesday to work on expanding the postseason system from four to 12 teams as soon as the 2024 season.

There is still much work to be done.

“We will not wrap up this week,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said.

The CFP management committee, comprised of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director, is scheduled to convene again at the Big Ten offices for a few hours Wednesday morning. They are set to meet again in person in Dallas on Oct. 20.

“That’ll be important,” Hancock said.

Expansion talks were revived by the university presidents and chancellors who oversee the College Football Playoff last month.

By adopting a 12-team plan that had been on the table since the spring of 2021, the presidents pushed the commissioners to try to implement a new format before the end of the CFP’s current contract with ESPN. That deal ends after the 2025 season.

Expanding from four to 12 in 2024 and ’25 will require rescheduling semifinals and championship games that already have dates and sites set, plus adding four new first-round games in mid-December to be played on campus sites.

Squeezing it all into about a month and working around the NFL for television will be challenging.

Hancock said the idea of moving up the start of the college football season to the week before Labor Day to create more room at the end for the playoff has been discussed, but more for beyond the 2025 season.

“I think most people view that as a future item. As long-term item and not an immediacy item,” Hancock said. “Remember, there’s so many details.”

Hancock said CFP officials have spoken to bowl partners and hosts cities that are set to hold semifinals and championship games after the 2024 and ’25 seasons, but they have not been presented definitive new dates.

Atlanta already has been chosen as the host city for the championship game to be played following the 2024 season, on Jan. 6, 2025. The game would have to be pushed back about two weeks if the playoff grows from four teams to 12.

“(Atlanta organizers) have some work to do because of other businesses in the community,” Hancock said. “Other meeting-type business, hotel business and Convention Center business there. They’ve been great to work with.”