Penn State football never went anywhere. We made damn sure of that during the past two seasons. Despite facing crippling sanctions, the shorthanded teams of 2012 and 2013 still managed to put together winning campaigns, even playing spoiler to Wisconsin to end each season. The team helped create plenty of fond memories on the field, while each week the fans showed up in droves to cheer the young men in blue and white while keeping the many traditions unique to the Penn State community alive and well. Despite not being able to strive for a national championship or Big Ten title, a group of committed Nittany Lions fought on as best they could as chants of "We Are" continued to reverberate.
However, while Penn State managed to thrive when the entire nation expected them to collapse, in truth, we were still of on our own in the sandbox while the big boys played tackle football at recess. No matter how much pride we could take in never truly losing our way, no matter how much we denied that we needed outside accolades to validate our success, there was something missing.
Now that has all changed. Penn State is back, and part of the larger picture once more. We're part of the puzzle, and suddenly, everything matters.
The rankings matter. The silly way-too-early bowl predictions matter. The conference records matter. Penn State has the same opportunities as everyone else. Every time a team ranked ahead of Penn State falls, it's one more slot for the Nittany Lions to move toward the top. Whenever a fellow Big Ten East Division member drops a game, it impacts Penn State's opportunities to play for a conference crown.
This Penn State team is certainly far from perfect. We all know the struggles of the offensive line in the first quarter of the season, and it's nearly impossible to be too confident going into ANY game without a dependable running game. But all that matters is that this young teams finds itself at 3-0. Without a blemish on the record, the Nittany Lions have as good of a chance as anyone. Along with Nebraska, they're one of only two undefeated Big Ten teams. Furthermore, the schedule sets up very nicely in Penn State's favor. The next two games against UMASS and Northwestern are very winnable, before having a full two weeks to prepare for both Ohio State and Michigan while also healing from any bumps and bruises. Following the home showdown against the Buckeyes, Penn State should be favored in contests against Maryland, Indiana, Temple and Illinois before welcoming Michigan State to Beaver Stadium for what could be a very impactful game to end the regular season.
At this point, it's anyone's guess how far this team can go. But it will be one hell of a fun ride while we find out.
It's good to be back.