Following the loss to Ohio State, Penn State head coach James Franklin offered a challenge to his team. He said the Nittany Lions were done being great, and it was time to be elite. Well, the lifted expectations for Penn State quickly came crashing down when Franklin’s team saw themselves upset at home to the Michigan State Spartans.
Another game in which it should have won saw Penn State squander another fourth quarter lead. Blown opportunities on both sides of the ball led to plenty of questions after yet another Big Ten loss.
Franklin’s tone following the loss to Michigan State was a bit more mellow compared to what we saw after the Ohio State game. Franklin talked about how much he loved his players and went into how he would rather have their last five losses were by the slim margins they were, than be elsewhere and be wondering how to lose by less.
Obviously, the point Franklin was making is that Penn State is really close. A few different things here and there could be the difference in where they are now and competing for a national championship.
But those little things are beginning to add up into some big things. A lack of big plays and an inability to put teams away are just two reoccurring trends from Penn State this season that has begun to increasingly become more concerning.
The big lesson we learned last weekend is that, there are going to be some roadblocks between Penn State and elite status, and a lot of them are looking to be self-inflicted.
When looking back at the last two seasons, and Penn State’s four losses, two to Ohio State and two to Michigan State, you can’t pick out one of those four games and say the Nittany Lions got outplayed by their opponents. To state it simply, they beat themselves.
So, for Penn State to take that next step to become elite, they need to start getting out of their own way. That is not something that needs to wait till next year to happen as it is not a talent issue.
The Nittany Lions need to start going out there and establishing themselves as the better team in their matchups.
As hard as it is to believe, Penn State has been the better team in all their games this season, even if the results don’t look that way. Yes, they are young, but they are extremely talented and there is no reason why they shouldn’t be in contention for a Big Ten Championship.
Obviously, a Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff appearance are out of the realm of possibilities this season. But, it is not something to rule out in the near future. Even with quarterback Trace McSorley leaving after this season, the talent is going to be there to make a run.
The Nittany Lions will likely have Tommy Stevens at quarterback next year. Stevens is a player who many believe is one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten already. After him is likely two years of Sean Clifford who, in very limited action, has looked phenomenal.
At the running back position, Penn State will get one more year of Miles Sanders and then two years of Ricky Slade. The Penn State backfield looks to be in very good shape going forward.
There is so much more talent elsewhere for Penn State going forward. KJ Hamler, Justin Shorter, Pat Freiermuth, and Micah Parsons are just to name a few. Add that to the influx of top-level recruits over the next handful of years.
Nothing should be holding the Lions back from competing for a championship. After years of recovering from the sanctions, Penn State is back on the same playing field as other elite recruiters.
The Big Ten Championship in 2016 may have raised expectations for Penn State, but going forward, there is no reason why they can’t return to that level. All the pieces to the puzzle are there. Or are they?
Many people have pointed to and have been very critical of Franklin for Penn State’s shortcomings. Some of that may be unfair as he doesn’t call the plays, but he is still the guy leading the charge.
So, I will leave you with this. With the young talent Penn State has and has coming in as well; if the Nittany Lions are not a perennial contender for the Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff in the next three seasons, then the status of the Penn State head coach can be re-evaluated. But for now, Franklin gets the benefit of the doubt.
Going forward, there is less room for error.
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