Top Five Penn State Football Teams of All Time

Video posted September 30, 2015 in News, CommRadio by Jonathan Gross

Since 1887, Penn State has produced many top-notch teams on the gridiron. In its 128-year history, the program has amassed 852 wins (eighth on the FBS all-time wins list), two consensus National Championships, seven undefeated and untied seasons, and 28 bowl wins.

These impressive statistics bring up a question that the Nittany Lion faithful have debated for years: What are the best Penn State teams ever? Based off of record, postseason accomplishments, and individual players, here are the top five Penn State football teams of all-time:


1. The 1994-1995 Season

While Penn State is known for its defense, this team brought something else to the table: a high-scoring offense. Lead by Heisman finalist quarterback Kerry Collins, they averaged a national best 47-points per game. Heisman runner-up Ki-Jana Carter sliced through defenses and the receiver/tight end combination of Bobby Engram and Kyle Brady was unstoppable. Some consider it to have been the greatest offense in College Football history. Their final record was 12-0, including a 63-14 Homecoming romp of Ohio State and a Rose Bowl victory over Oregon. Despite the perfect season, Nebraska was controversially awarded the National Championship.

2. The 1986-1987 Season 

Unable to crack the top four in the AP Poll through its first six wins, a 23-3 upset of No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa put this team in the National Championship picture. A staunch defense starring Shane Conlan and Bob White, along with a ground-and-pound offense, featuring running back DJ Dozier put the Lions in the Fiesta Bowl against a seemingly invincible Miami Hurricanes team. Pregame antics pitted this as a matchup between the good guys from Happy Valley and the bad guys from “The U.” Penn State’s coaching staff devised an elaborate scheme to shutdown Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde. The Heisman winner threw five interceptions, including a last minute pick to Pete Giftopoulos deep in Nittany Lion territory to seal the victory for the blue and white. The “good guys” had won their second National Championship in four years, 14-10.

3. The 1969-1970 Season

After posting an 11-0 record the previous season but not being awarded the National Championship, this team was hungry for more. All-American running back Charlie Pittman, Franco Harris, and Lydell Mitchell carried the load on offense. On the other side of the ball, Maxell Award winner Mike Reid and Linebacker U legends Dennis Onkotz and Jack Ham solidified the defense. The regular season was highlighted by a 20-0 shutout over rival #17 West Virginia. In the Orange Bowl, the Lions held a Missouri team that averaged 33.2 points per game to only three, in a 10-3 victory over the Tigers. Once again, Penn State was gypped out of being National Champions. President Richard Nixon decided that the winner of the Texas vs. Arkansas match up would be given the trophy. A White House staffer offered Joe Paterno a trip to Washington D.C. to meet with the President for an award honoring Penn State’s accomplishment. The coach replied, “You can tell the President to take that trophy and shove it!”

4. The 1982-1983 Season

Three years earlier, Penn State fell to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the de-facto National Championship game, on a goal line stand by the Crimson Tide. Hungry to avenge that loss an finally get on top, a difficult schedule stood in their way. A home victory against No. 2 Nebraska in one of the greatest games in school history, showed the country that this team was for real. Penn State went on to defeat three more ranked regular season opponents. Featuring the three-headed monster of Todd Blackledge, Curt Warner and Kenny Jackson, the offense averaged 33-points per game, good for fifth in the nation. Despite a 21-point road loss to Alabama, the Lions were selected to face No. 1 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl over Southern Methodist Univeristy, due to the Mustangs’ off the field scandal. The Bulldogs star was Heisman winner Herschel Walker, one of the greatest players in college football history. Walker averaged nearly 160 yards per game, but Penn State’s stifling defense held him to only 103 yards. A late 47-yard touchdown pass from Blackledge to receiver Gregg Garrity sealed the deal, giving Joe Paterno his first consensus National Championship.

5. The 1985-1986 Season

Starting the year at No. 19 in the polls, Penn State faced an intimidating Week One challenge against No. 17 Maryland on the road. The back and forth battle ended in a 20-18 Nittany Lion victory. While they beat up on a relatively weak regional schedule, Penn State did face another Top-10 team when they defeated Alabama in front of 85,000 at Beaver Stadium. The trifecta of DJ Dozier, Steve Smith, and Tim Manoa carried most of the offensive load. Defensively, the team was propelled by strong linebacker play from Shane Conlan and Rogers Alexander to go along with a dominant secondary, featuring Ray Isom, Duffy Cobbs, and Michael Zordich Sr. No. 1 Penn State faced No. 1 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl to decide the National Championship. Despite an early lead, star linebacker Brian Bosworth and the Sooner defense were too much for the Nittany Lions to handle, losing 25-10.

Just Missed the Cut:
1. The 1973 Season
2. The 1978 Season
3. The 1968 Season
4. The 2005 Season
5. The 1912 Season

Jonathan Gross is a freshman Broadcast Journalism and International Politics major. Contact him at jwg5468@psu.edu.