PSU’s Steve Jones talks to area fans

Ever since Penn State rose from the depths of mediocrity a few years ago, the Big Ten as a whole took a massive step in that same direction. For years, the Big Ten had a reputation of a weak conference that was top heavy. And when bowl season came around, many of those critics were proven right. A 3-7 mark in 2016 preceded a decade in which a .500 bowl season was a success.

But last season that all changed. The Big Ten put together a conference mark in bowl games of 7-1, two more wins than the daunted SEC (5-6) and the Big 12 (5-3). Furthermore, in the Sporting News Way Too Early Top 25, five Big Ten teams are in the top 13 and three are in the top 10, including Penn State (10th), Wisconsin (6th) and Ohio State (4th).

Penn State radio broadcaster Steve Jones spoke to Williamsport Nittany Lion Booster Club last night at the Genetti Hotel and he believes the Big Ten East has overtaken the SEC West as the best college football conference.

“Well I think at one point the SEC West was considered the deepest and toughest division in college football. Now I think most people think it’s the Big Ten East,” Jones said. “The question is, can you keep yourself from knocking each other off in such a way that you can keep somebody alive and get out of that to get to the College Football Playoff? That’s what you have to do. To the credit of Alabama over the years, they’ve been able to get out of the West by beating Auburn and LSU and Ole Miss and people like that. You have to give them credit for doing that and that’s what has to happen within the confines of the Big Ten East. It’s the toughest division in all of college football, so the question is, can the survivor get out of there with no more than one loss?”

Having charismatic and high-profile coaches such as Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Penn State’s James Franklin doesn’t hurt either to shine the spotlight on a conference that may be its strongest and deepest in 20 years.

“It’s been huge because Urban Meyer and James Franklin are both top-flight recruiters. Now they’ve both proven to everybody, and Urban from years ago, but James has proven to everybody here that he can take the talent and he can win with it,” Jones said. “He can take the talent and he can win the big games with it. (Michigan State’s) Mark Dantonio has done a good job with what he’s had over the years. …Michigan is the one that has been the mystery. They have had a lot of talent. Jim Harbaugh inherited a lot of really good talent from Brady Hoke. They were talking last year about, ‘Well, we have 14 NFL draft picks.’ Jim Harbaugh didn’t recruit any of it. They were all recruited by Brady Hoke and what’s been a mystery to me about Harbaugh, it’s not how well he has recruited or anything like that, its been with the quarterbacks. …I’m really shocked at this stage in his fourth year that he hasn’t recruited a guy that started at the age of 18 that’s his guy. That part has been a mystery to me.”

After back to back 11-wins season, and a Fiesta Bowl win in 2017, Penn State has the nation’s attention. After six straight seasons of not reaching 10 wins, Penn State now has high expectations and with everyone’s attention now, that’s a challenge in of itself.

“You always have a target on your back when you’re Penn State, regardless if they’re up or down because you already had the name behind you. It’s very difficult to climb and ascend through the ranks,” Jones said. “Now the next big challenge is to keep it at that high level the entire time with no dip and see if you can go one step further and that’s a challenge onto itself and that’s something that James Franklin and his staff have been preparing for this moment to do something like this. Believe me, as tough as a challenge it is to rise back, it’s an equally tough challenge to keep it consistently high and I think Penn State has everything in place to do that.”