The 2015 season came to a merciful conclusion following a four-game skid. While most fans are happy to put the season in the rear-view to look forward to a (hopefully) much brighter, sanctions-free era of Penn State Football, let's take one final look back at year number two of James Franklin's tenure.
Don't agree with these selections? Stay tuned to BSD for your chance to make your own picks throughout the next week. Without any further ado, here are the 2015 awardees:
Offensive MVP: Saquon Barkley
Barkley burst onto the scene late in the week two game against Buffalo, and never looked back. He managed to break the 1,000-yard rushing mark as a true freshman, despite missing time with a couple nagging minor injuries along the way. It's clear that Barkley will be the cornerstone of Joe Moorhead's new offense and the face of the program for the next two years. Barkley possesses the rare combination of quickness, strength and vision that should led to a record-shattering career as a Nittany Lion.
Honorable Mention: Chris Godwin, Christian Hackenberg
Defensive MVP: Carl Nassib
It's hard to fathom that before the start of the season, Nassib had never started a football game in his life at any level. Flash forward a few months, and Nassib is a first-team All-American as well as the owner of several prestigious awards as the best defensive player in college football. Despite missing the final two games of the regular season with an injury, Nassib managed to lead the nation in sacks and forced fumbles, as well as finishing near the top in tackles for loss. In a pretty unmemorable season for the Nittany Lions, Nassib's story will be one that will live on in Penn State lore for some time.
Honorable Mention: Austin Johnson, Brandon Bell, Anthony Zettel, Jordan Lucas
Best Play: Austin Johnson's 71-yard touchdown return against San Diego State
With Barkley and Akeel Lynch forced out of the game with injuries and a passing game that was just not clicking, the Penn State offense was clearly out of gas in the second half against San Diego State. Although they led for much of the afternoon, it appeared the momentum was heading in the Aztecs favor to come away with an upset victory in Beaver Stadium. However, Austin Johnson would have none of it. After a forced fumble by Nassib, Johnson had the presence of mind to scoop it off and rumble down the sideline for a 71-yard touchdown. Not bad for a 313 lb. defensive tackle.
Honorable Mention: All of the "Saquon Leaps," Geno Lewis making defenders look silly on touchdown grabs against Illinois, Maryland and Georgia, Brandon Bell's bone-crushing forced fumble off the edge against Maryland
Best Game: Illinois
In something that has become all too rare, Penn State completely dominated a Big Ten foe from start-to-finish in a 39-0 victory. It was a throwback to the afternoons not too long ago where it was a foregone conclusion that the Nittany Lions would dominate the likes of Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue in the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium. The Halloween victory against the Illini was the most complete game of the Franklin era, and prior to the rough ending to the season, it seemed as though everything was coming together for the young Nittany Lions squad.
Honorable Mention: Maryland, Indiana
Best Coach: Brent Pry
Pry was in a major bind after losing stud middle linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White in week one. It appeared Wartman-White's absence would be a crushing blow to what was expected to be a fantastic defense in 2015. However, Pry was able to quickly shake things up by moving Jason Cabinda to the middle while developing Troy Reeder to become a major component of the defense as a redshirt freshman. Being forced to use two very green linebackers to start on the outside could have been a complete disaster, but Pry found a way to make everything work with the odds stacked against him.
Honorable Mention: Sean Spencer, Bob Shoop
Worst Loss: Temple
After a building a quick 10-0 lead to start the contest, things took a quick turn for the worst as Penn State was dominated by their in-state foes. After much hope for an improved offensive line, the Nittany Lions allowed 10 sacks and the defense appeared to be a shadow of the stout 2014 unit. Without the benefit of knowing Temple would go on to an excellent season, it appeared the Nittany Lions were headed for a three-win campaign reminiscent of The Dark Years.
Honorable Mention: Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory at Northwestern, thanks to several missed opportunities to seal the deal.
Best Moment: Carl Nassib Breaking the Single-Season Sack Record
Penn State has a long history of outstanding defensive linemen- yet despite sharing company with Hall of Famers and first round picks, the former walk-on was able to accumulate more sacks in a single season than any of the other greats to wear the blue and white. It was a testament to Nassib's hard work and perseverance, who took an unexpected journey to have his name listed among the other greats to play for Penn State.
Honorable Mention: Anthony Zettel returning to the field after the loss of his father, Penn State winning big against Rutgers its first-ever Stripe Out game, the hiring of Joe Moorhead to revitalize the offense
Most Head-Scratching Moment: The fake punt against Georgia
Bowl games are a fantastic opportunity to pull out all the stops, so the decision to fake a punt to breathe some life into the squad after a slow start against Georgia made complete sense. However, the method in this case was beyond befuddling. Needing just three yards, Penn State elected to try a direct snap to defensive end Anthony Schwan, who then needed to run about 30 yards to get around the corner against a very athletic special teams unit. The play obviously failed, and it's completely unclear how the coaching staff ever thought the playcall could possibly work.
Honorable Mention: Joe Julius getting two extra points blocked in the first quarter against Illinois, Temple finding a way to sack Hackenberg with a two-man rush, the lack of targets for Geno Lewis, the continuing targets for Mike Gesicki
Worst Break: Nyeem Wartman-White's injury early in week one
Wartman-White was quickly developing into the next great member of Linebacker U. before a knee injury ended his season shortly after it started. After leaving the game against Temple, the defense looked in complete disarray in an embarrassing blowout loss to Temple. While youngsters Jason Cabinda and Troy Reeder filled in nicely as the season progressed, the absence of Wartman-White meant that what could have been a dominating defense turned out just to be a pretty good defense.
Honorable Mention: Grant Haley's dropped interception that would have clinched a victory at Northwestern, the bland Whiteout game atmosphere (by comparison) after being scheduled at noon
Biggest Disappointment: The offensive line
All Nittany Lions fans were holding out hope that if the offensive line could go from "terrible" to "average," the Penn State offense would make significant strides following a disastrous 2014. However, after giving up 10 sacks against Temple in week one, it quickly became apparent the offense would again be severely limited due to the play in the trenches. For the second year, the line struggled to give Hackenberg any time whatsoever in the pocket or open up any running lanes.
Honorable Mention: Lack of red zone productivity against Michigan, Gesicki's regular drops, failing to beat a ranked opponent, Marcus Allen's sophomore slump
True Freshman of the Year: Saquon Barkley
This is the most obvious selection of the bunch. As previously stated, Barkley proved to have a rare skillset that will make him one of the best running backs in college football, as well as one of the best to ever put on a Penn State uniform by the time it's all said and done. Barkley's emergence likely saved the offense from complete disaster. Heck, for the second half of the season I'm guessing John Donovan's play sheet simply read "Get ball in Saquon's hands and cross fingers." Barkley's potential is unlimited, and gives us all something to be extremely excited about heading into the future.
Honorable Mention: John Reid, Brandon Polk
Most Underrated Player: Brandon Bell
Bell seemed to often get overlooked by playing behind a trio of standouts on the defensive line. However, Bell appeared to be the heart and soul and emotional leader of a rather good defense that continually bailed out the offense on a nearly weekly basis. He seems poised to take the next step and make a name for himself on a national scale in 2016.
Honorable Mention: Trevor Williams, Geno Lewis