Seven Penn State Teams in ESPN's 150 Greatest CFB Teams of All Time

By Nick Polak on September 11, 2019 at 9:30 am
Sep 7, 2019; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin pumps up his players prior to taking the field against the Buffalo Bulls at Beaver Stadium.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

To help celebrate the 150th season of college football, ESPN put together a massive poll with 150 participants to compile the list of the 150 greatest college football teams of all time.

Of course, the Nittany Lions were featured prominently throughout the list and were the Big Ten team that appeared the most frequently. Here's where each team finished, and what the rationale behind each choice was.

16. 1994 Penn State

This might have been JoePa's best team, even if the voters snubbed the Nittany Lions in favor of Nebraska. Penn State averaged 47 points (and never fewer than 31), thanks to an offense led by quarterback Kerry Collins, tailback Ki-Jana Carter and tight end Kyle Brady, all of whom were selected among the first 10 players in the 1995 NFL draft. The Nittany Lions defeated four ranked teams and beat nine opponents by at least 18 points. Their gutsiest victory came at Illinois, where they spotted the Illini a 21-0 lead before coming back to win 35-31. But the victory that might have cost them the national championship occurred a week earlier at Indiana. Penn State led 35-14 when JoePa began playing his subs. The Hoosiers' scored two late touchdowns for a 35-29 final that made the game appear close. Penn State dropped from No. 1 to No. 2 and never caught Nebraska. Collins and Carter made the consensus All-America team. Collins won the Maxwell and O'Brien awards, and wide receiver Bobby Engram won the Biletnikoff Award.

26. 1986 Penn State

Coach: Joe Paterno
Led by: RB D.J. Dozier, LB Shane Conlan
What to know: Beat No. 2 Alabama on the road, and No. 1 Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. The Nittany Lions intercepted five of Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde's passes and sacked him four times in a 14-10 upset. The Nittany Lions were outgained 442-116 in total offense by the Hurricanes.

46. 1969 Penn State

Titles: None (Texas won AP, FWAA, NFF and UPI)
Coach: Joe Paterno
Led by: DT Mike Reid, LB Jack Ham, RB Franco Harris
What to know: The Nittany Lions gave up only 8.2 points per game and finished unbeaten for the second straight season. They finished No. 2 in the polls behind Texas, after President Richard Nixon declared that the winner of the Texas-Arkansas game would be the national champion. The slight caused Paterno to famously quip later, "I'd like to know how could the president know so little about Watergate in 1973 and so much about college football in 1969?" Penn State defeated No. 6 Missouri 10-3 in the Orange Bowl.

60. 1973 Penn State

Titles: None (Notre Dame won AP, FWAA, NFF; Alabama won UPI)
Coach: Joe Paterno
Led by: RB John Cappelletti, QB Tom Shuman, LB Ed O'Neill
What to know: The Nittany Lions finished fifth in the final AP poll after beating No. 13 LSU 16-9 in the Orange Bowl. Heisman Trophy-winning running back John Cappelletti paced a Penn State team that won 10 games by double digits, including a 35-13 win over rival No. 20 Pittsburgh.

79. 1982 Penn State

Coach: Joe Paterno
Led by: QB Todd Blackledge, RB Curt Warner, WR Kenny Jackson, WR Gregg Garrity, DB Mark Robinson
What to know: The Nittany Lions went 3-1 vs. AP Top-5 (lost at No. 5 Bama 42-21 in Week 5) on the way to the national championship. PSU topped both Nebraska (27-24) and Notre Dame (24-14) during the regular season. Penn State beat No. 1 Georgia 27-23 in the Sugar Bowl to secure its first national crown in the Joe Paterno era.

83. 1968 Penn State

Titles: None (Ohio State won AP, FWAA, NFF, UPI)
Coach: Joe Paterno
Led by: Lineman Ted Kwalick, LB Dennis Onkotz, QB Chuck Burkhart, RB Charlie Pittman
What to know: The Nittany Lions finished second in the final AP poll. Penn State's 1968 squad had an average winning margin of 21.3 points. After facing no ranked opponents in the regular season, the Nittany Lions beat No. 6 Kansas 15-14 in the Orange Bowl.

99. 1978 Penn State

Titles: None (Alabama won AP, FWAA; USC won UPI)
Coach: Joe Paterno
Led by: QB Chuck Fusina, RB Matt Suhey, DT Matt Millen, DT Bruce Clark, K Matt Bahr
What to know: The Nittany Lions beat No. 6 Ohio State and No. 5 Maryland by a combined score of 46-3. But they fell from first to fourth in the final AP poll when they lost in the Sugar Bowl to No. 2 Alabama, 14-7. The defense allowed just 9.3 points per game.

The Big Ten was well-represented overall on the list (and yes, we're counting all current Big Ten teams). Here's how it all shook out.

Big Ten Teams on the ESPN Top-150
Team Appearances Highest Average
Penn State 7 16 58.43
Nebraska 6 1 21.67
Ohio State 6 13 85.5
Michigan 6 43 86.83
Michigan State 2 72 187
Minnesota 2 127 134
Maryland 1 104 104

It is extremely important that I mention that Penn State's rankings on this list add together to equal 409. Really makes you think.

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