The 2016 season for the Penn State Nittany Lions was one to remember. After a 7-5 regular season last year, the team finished 2016 with a 10-2 record, including 8-1 in Big Ten games. Perhaps the season’s most memorable moment was the upset over #2 Ohio State, which propelled Penn State to #24 in the AP Poll. It was the team’s first ranking since 2011.
After a come-from-behind win against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game earned the Nittany Lions a spot in the Rose Bowl, they played tough, barely losing 52-49 against USC. USC went on a 17-0 run in the fourth quarter to seal the comeback, with USC kicker Matt Boermeester drilling a 46-yard field goal to take a three-point lead as the clock struck zeros. It was a roller-coaster of a game, and left a lot of fans heartbroken. However, most of them held their heads high. After all, nobody expected them to be in the Rose Bowl. Nobody expected them to be any good at all. That’s all about to change.
2017: A Year of High Expectations For Penn State
After several seasons of not ranking, Penn State is sure to face high expectations going into their 2017 campaign. With such a strong finish and the return of several key players, the team should begin the year ranked in the top 10 of preseason polls. Analyst Kirk Herbstreit believes they will be in the top 5, which would be Penn State’s highest ranking since 1999.
Any team with its potential highest ranking in nearly two decades is going to have higher expectations than usual, though coach James Franklin plans to take it in stride. He described the next several years as a “a long, steady, difficult climb,” mostly noting fellow strong competitors like Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Florida State, Washington, Southern Cal and Oklahoma as also having high expectations for 2017.
Returning Key Cogs
Several key cogs of the Nittany Lions’ 2016 success have vowed to return for 2017. Specifically, the team could have 18 starters, including Saquon Barkley, who could very well be a Heisman candidate after combining for nearly 250 yards against USC. QB Trace McSorley also saw promising improvement in the season’s second half.
The team also received a prospective boost when safety Marcus Allen, who made 110 tackles in his junior year, said that he is returning to school. Tight end Mike Gesicki and linebacker Jason Cabinda also vowed to return, despite receiver Chris Godwin and end Garrett Sickels electing to opt for the NFL draft. Still, there are not many heading to the NFL compared to other top-tier college programs. Undoubtedly, Penn State will have plenty of ammunition to meet and potentially exceed lofty expectations for their 2017 season.
This upcoming Penn State team has the strength of endurance, as they turned things around completely after an embarrassing loss to Michigan on September 24. Since then, James Franklin, whose impressive work has made him coveted by NFL teams with open jobs, has led a formerly tentative team into one that’s a legitimate contender. A team that barely finished over .500 a year prior made the Rose Bowl and was leading for a good chunk of it. Especially after the scandals that plagued the team several years earlier, Penn State football is hoping to enter a new era of success.