There are two voices in my head as I consider the end result of the 2018 season for Penn State. One is the more rational, and pessimistic, part of my brain. This is the part of my brain that wouldn’t even let me enjoy a 21-3 lead against Ohio State or send me into panic mode every time Saquon Barkley was slow to get up from a tackle.
Ever since the Nittany Lions walked out of the Fiesta Bowl in triumph, it’s been telling me Penn State takes a small step backwards in 2018. There’s just too much to replace from a season ago- a once in a generation running back, the all-time leading receptions leader, as well as the top pass catching tight end in school history. The offensive coordinator who completely rejuvenated a stagnant offense is now the head coach down in Mississippi State. And that doesn’t even get into the fact that the defense only returns two starters from a season ago with some major question marks for the front seven- without even mentioning that all four starters from the 2017 secondary now reside in the NFL. It just seems logical that the Nittany Lions drop out of the top 10 , delaying the inevitable run of being a perennial playoff contender with the amount of talent entering Happy Valley each season.
Then there’s the other voice, and it’s telling me just what I want to hear. The attrition is nothing to worry about, as many of the new starters have seen loads of playing time without being an outright starter. John Reid is back in the lineup, and ready to prove he is among the Big Ten’s top cornerbacks after a year off to recover from a knee injury. It’s also telling me that Penn State has turned a corner thanks to James Franklin’s immense abilities as a recruiter, and can now reload each offseason, just like the Alabamas, Clemsons and Ohio States of the world as they challenge for a national championship each year, even after the majority of starters move on to the greener pastures of the NFL. So what if you lose a handful of All-Americans and first-round draft picks? The uber-talented guys on the bench are ready to step in without a hint of a dropoff.
It’s telling me there’s just something special about this team. This team has the type of leaders necessary for championship squads. Trace McSorley returns as captain for the second consecutive year, and if there’s one thing that’s been drilled into our heads since McSorley stepped foot on campus is that he just knows how to win by making everyone around him better. Speaking of second-year captains, Nick Scott is now ready to lead the defense as he receives the torch from Marcus Allen, the previous starter at free safety and emotional leader (can we get some post-game celebration videos too, Nick?). There are high-character student-athletes up and down the roster who have bought into James Franklin’s system, and are determined to eventually leave Happy Valley as champions.
It may be that time of year when everyone is undefeated and overly optimistic, but it feels like something more than that. There’s just something about the collection of players on this team, the staff, the trajectory of program that makes it feel like this could be OUR YEAR, even if everything on paper screams otherwise.
This is why we all wake up giddy with excitement on the first Saturday of the college football season. We’re about to embark on a collective journey, and begin finding out where the season will take us as it unfolds on a weekly basis. Let’s see where it takes us...