There was just something special about the 2016 Penn State Football team. Sure, winning a Big Ten championship did wonders for their likability, but it was so much more than just what they accomplished on the field. It was the way they went about business each week, overcoming adversity, and ultimately prevailing as champions.
Lose a heartbreaker against an in-state foe early in the season? They shook it off.
Get completely demolished by Michigan? They bounced right back.
Offense going nowhere and need an epic drive to force overtime against Minnesota? They took care of business.
Overcome a massive amount of injuries and inexperience at key spots? They played well beyond their years.
Give up an early 21-point deficit in the Big Ten Championship? They would keep their composure and raise the trophy by the end of the night.
The 2016 team wasn’t supposed to amount to much, likely chugging along with another 7-6 season and an uncertain future for the program. But Penn State failed to ever give in to their detractors. Each week, everyone waited for the Nittany Lions to fall apart. Each week, they went out and proved them wrong.
We learned this team has incredible resolve, never losing its focus and leaving every last ounce of energy on the field each week. It’s what made them so easy to cheer for during an improbably outstanding season. And it’s what could lead to some very big things in 2017.
If the Nittany Lions reach its lofty expectations set forth this fall, we can likely point two occurrences that helped further stoke the burning fire that motivates this team- getting snubbed by the College Football Playoff committee in favor of Big Ten East Division runner-up Ohio State (who would go on to suffer an embarrassing 31-0 defeat in the first round against Clemson), and a heart-wrenching Rose Bowl defeat where a once-certain victory just slipped through their fingers.
It’s quite clear this team is hellbent on accomplishing their goals. With much of the roster and key leaders back in tow for 2017, you know these two shortcomings provided extra fuel to an already motivated bunch ever since they walked off the field in Pasadena on Jan. 2.
It’s a forgone conclusion this team would work their tails off throughout the offseason. The extra motivation may have been what was really needed for them to reach their most desired goal- to become the nation’s best team in 2017. You know that every time a player thought they reached their limit, a Jason Cabinda, or Marcus Allen, or Trace McSorley, or DaeSean Hamilton, or one of the many experienced leaders on this team was right there to remind them that not only do they still have a long ways to go to prove themselves in the world of college football, they also need to get better to never find themselves in the same situation as the Rose Bowl of coming up just short.
It’s been a long offseason with the bitter taste of defeat in their mouths. Just one more first down, one more pressure that forced Sam Darnold into a poor decision, one more of the signature plays that came to define the 2016 team, but were nowhere to be found as the clock wound down against USC. That feeling is assuredly being used as constant reminder while the team strives to get better each day.
With a new season nearly upon us, it’s time for the new batch of Nittany Lions to show what they can become. They have put in the work, fueled by two shortcomings as a constant reminder of the need to get better. Now it’s time for the hard work to begin to payoff, end begin to exorcise those demons, beginning on Saturday against the Akron Zips.
A new season is now upon us. Show them what you can do, gentlemen.