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The Hitchiker’s Guide to Rooting For a Perennially Good Program

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Penn State appears to be here to stay. How should we be dealing with this idea?

NCAA Football: Penn State Blue White Game Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re like me, and have only been on this planet since 1992, you’ve probably not seen a sustained period of success for the Penn State football program.

Sure, I was wee lad when the 90s teams were whipping a-butt, and the era from 2005 to 2009 was pretty cool, but it appears James Franklin is ready to bring Penn State back to the level of football that so many of you old heads (sorry, y’all) have been telling us about.

So, assuming Penn State is “back” to that level, and it’s going to be competing for Big Ten and hopefully national championships and playoff berths on a regular basis, how are we supposed to handle that?

We talked to SBNation’s Matt Brown (Ohio State) and Bud Elliott (Florida State) about handling winning, recruiting, and managing expectations.

How do you set high expectations while still remaining reasonable if things don’t go as planned?

Matt: It’s hard, and I think many Ohio State fans struggle with this. The truth is, of course, that winning a national title is REALLY hard, and requires a lot of luck. You need to catch injury breaks, turnover breaks, and have bad things happen to teams that would match up well with you....and most years, even if you recruit at a really high level, you won’t get those breaks. All I personally ask is for Ohio State to keep whomping on rivals and compete for playoff bids. If those things happen, and the team is fun to watch, I’m happy. Many of my fellow fans don’t share that attitude.

Bud: I’d look to history to set the expectations, and would evaluate over a multi-year sample. In the last five years, just 14 P5 teams have won 45+ games. In the last three, just 14 have won 28+. That’s basically averaging nine/season, plus one. So maybe start with nine wins as the baseline, and adjust for schedule (PSU has a schedule rated outside the top 30 this year by Phil Steele and by ESPN), so maybe set it at 10 wins? In the last 3 seasons, only eight P5 teams have won more games than Penn State.

What would you guys consider a “down year” for your programs, and unless you’re Bama, how often can you have down years and still be considered a power program.

Matt: Finishing below the 6 line in the final playoff rankings, probably. If you’re not *that* close to the playoff, and you had the roster and schedule to do it, there was some underachievement somewhere. Missing a New Years 6 bowl would be a substantial failure.

Bud: I think any time an elite program loses five games (including the bowl game) it’s a disappointing year. Teams are so rarely ranked with four losses. Being ranked with four losses, especially if a team had a tough schedule, is pretty common. I think the “playoff or bust” mantra is badly overused.

What’s the most important thing your program has done to be able to maintain success over an extended period of time?

Matt: The mumber one thing is recruiting at an elite level. You can’t win a title without it, and since players get hurt, transfer, not pan out, etc...regular, elite recruiting gives your program the widest possible margin of error. Following that, you need to regularly make successful assistant coaching hires. If you’re a contender, you’re probably hiring at least one new coach every year, and as Florida State, Texas and others have learned, it only takes a few duds or poor fits to shoot that recruiting advantage in the foot. You do those two things, you’ll be in the conversation every year. That’s all anybody can ask for in my opinion.

Bud: It’s all about recruiting. Getting talent is more important than coaching. You need both to win at the highest of levels, but there is a reason that great gameday coaches like Dantonio and Patterson don’t have championships -- talent. Meanwhile, a bunch of coaches who aren’t respected for their standout coaching ability do have rings, because they sign great players

As Penn State (hopefully) makes the transition to the next level, these are just some of things to remember as a fan:

  1. Have high expectations, but remember how slim the margins are in college athletics.
  2. Only eight power five teams have won more games than PSU over the last three years. We’re close, fam!
  3. Crootin’ matters. Stars matter. So any time y’all wanna thirst over Pat Fitzgerald or Mark Dantonio, look at the guys James Franklin is bringing in year in, year out.