STATE COLLEGE — On just the second snap here Saturday, Saquon Barkley looked like he was shot from a cannon, and he sprinted 65 yards to the end zone.

Later, there were brilliant catches in traffic, and yards-after-catch rumbles, by wideouts DaeSean Hamilton and Juwan Johnson, and tight end Mike Gesicki.

And quarterback Trace McSorley running the show, evading tacklers or splitting them, rifling strikes to all those playmakers.

There was even Tommy Stevens, the backup QB and lightly-used secret weapon, in the same backfield with Barkley and McSorley for some old-school triple-option action.

It added up to 609 yards, 32 first downs, 263 yards rushing (!) and 56 points, and it didn't surprise the head coach, James Franklin.

"I think we've got a good football team here,'' he said.

Two hundred miles southeast of here, in Philadelphia, a group of Nebraska fans were spotted at, of all places, the Temple-Central Florida game.

One of them wore a Grant Wistrom jersey, for Huskers' sake.

They brandished a sign reading: "Scott come back home.''

Scott is Scott Frost, coach of undefeated UCF, a former Nebraska QB and Husker legend. Nebraska is 4-7, which means its current coach, Mike Riley, will coach his last game for the Huskers Friday.

Frost seems, to many in Husker Nation, an ideal replacement.

Frost reportedly isn't sure he wants to go home again, and it's not at all clear that Nebraska can attract a bigger name.

It wasn't that long ago, in the 1990s, that Nebraska was pretty much what Alabama is now. From 1993-97, the Huskers went 71-4 and won three national titles.

Then they went through Frank Solich and Bill Callahan and Bo Pelini — none of them indefensible hires, given what was knowable at the time — to Riley, 64, a jovial and gentle-seeming man who's had a long and mostly successful career on college and the NFL.

"I still like what I do,'' he said Saturday. "I'd like to continue to do it with more engagement, on offense in particular.''

You can say he's a bad fit, and he might be. But as recently as last October, Nebraska was undefeated and ranked eighth in the country.

You can say that Riley had no shot to recruit at Nebraska, that only one of its own, like Frost, can make that part work.

But the current roster is supposedly stocked with high-level recruits who aren't ready yet. Scott Frost knows for sure he can recruit Florida.

The truth is Nebraska and Penn State are more alike than not. Both have long traditions and histories of winning, the bulk of it before either school joined the Big Ten.

Both were known for stodgy, old-school football, defense and ground game, for generations. No longer.

Penn State has not only its backyard but New Jersey and Maryland and Northern Virginia to recruit. Nebraska has … Missouri? Kansas?

That may be the biggest hard-wired difference.

But it wasn't that long ago that Penn State had a bigger burden, of its own doing, than trying to find players in the Great Plains.

Bill O'Brien wasn't an obvious grand-slam hire. Neither was James Franklin.

(OK, Joe Moorhead seems to have been.)

Barkley wasn't a five-star. Neither were McSorley or Hamilton of Stevens.

Yet Penn State is "back,'' is that's the right word. It's a win over Maryland away from 10-2, and it's scary how close it is to undefeated and in the middle of everything.

If the Lions' ability to win up front on offense was a three on a scale to 10, they'd be undefeated. That's what you saw at the Beav Saturday, in the first half.

You saw what the offense can do when it can block somebody: 42 points and 400 yards in two quarters.

And thus we have Saturday's two overarching themes: The space between this Penn State team and greatness, and the space between where Penn State's program is, or could be, and where Nebraska is right now.

Neither of those spaces are all that big.

Mike Gross covers Penn State football for LNP. Reach him at mgross@lnpnews.com.