Who else could you imagine writing this post?
The legend of Sam Ficken is one that we all know well. He went from zero to hero. From game killer to game changer. From goat to G.O.A.T. But this isn't about Ficken's rise from mediocrity (that post will come later). Rather, it's about the undeniable truth that Sam Ficken was the most valuable member of the 2014 Penn State Football team.
To say that this year's Penn State offense was deficient, would be a compliment. Hackenberg and co. struggled in every facet of the game on the offensive side of the ball. The way the year started, it looked as if all the Nittany Lions would be able to do was throw the ball. Then, when Big Ten play started, it seemed that the only thing they could do was throw the ball with poor results. Then, it evolved into a run-first and run-only style attack. Finally, we were left with the mess that only managed just 13 points against Illinois and turned three drives that started inside Michigan State's 41 yard line into just three points. There was, however, one constant throughout the year. That constant was Sam Ficken.
The senior captain out of Valparaiso, Indiana had a fantastic season. He connected on 23 of his 28 field goal attempts, with a long of 50 yards against Temple. Those field goals along with the 24 out of 24 extra points that he put through the uprights, made Sam the team points leader with 93.
A true sophomore Sam Ficken was the only realistic kicking option for new head coach Bill O'Brien, so field goals on fourth down were seldom an option. As easy as it was for O'Brien to go to McGloin back then, that's how easy it was for Franklin to go with Ficken this year. Aside from the four kicks that were blocked and one freak kick early in the Michigan State game, he never gave him reason to doubt that trust.
The simple fact is that you can't win close games in football without accurate kicking. Three of Penn State's six wins came by a margin of six points or fewer. Without the accurate and reliable leg of Ficken, there's a very high probability that Penn State's season is already over right now. His consistency gave Franklin a sense of comfort in knowing that as long as they could make it into his range, they were almost always walking away with points.
To be fair, it wasn't all smooth sailing. The blocks, while not completely his fault, were still a bit problematic (except the Rutgers one, because good lord that was a vertical and a half). His inability to consistently put a kickoff through the back of the end zone came back to bite the team more than once as well. But all in all, how much more can you ask of one player? Delivering week in and week out as he did, he kept this offense in the game more than a few times. It's not common to see a place kicker have as much of an impact on a team as Ficken did. Who knows what the state of this program would be right now, had Penn State dropped those three very close games, and ended up at 3-9. Would the same star-studded recruiting class still be in the fold? Would Franklin still have the support of the university? Would the fans still be coming to games?
Sam Ficken was not the only bright spot on this team, and he was not the sole reason for the success this team did have. But without him, things look a lot different, in a very bad way. The Penn State defense was outstanding, and so were Mike Hull and Anthony Zettel. Both were very valuable players. But did either of them impact each and every game as much as Sam Ficken? That's for you to decide.