On Saturday, December 30, 2017, the Penn State Nittany Lions traveled to Glendale, Arizona to face the Washington Huskies in a game of American football in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. Penn State emerged victorious, 35-28.
That was almost 8 months ago. Time passed very, very slowly.
But fear not, Penn Staters, because kickoff is a mere three days away, and I have several thoughts, which are set forth randomly below:
- It’s been a while, it wasn’t a game against a rival, it wasn’t at home, and we won, so it’s feels like it’s been forgotten about - but man, that Fiesta Bowl was fun.
- It got a little too tight for my liking, but that’ll happen when you’re facing a team with a successful head coach, the 12th overall pick in the NFL draft, an experienced junior quarterback with NFL-caliber weapons at receiver and running back.
- Often times, we look at bowl games in one of two ways. For an experienced team, it’s one last chance to leave it all on the field before a program era comes to an end. For an inexperienced team, it’s the chance for the young guys to show out on a national stage and set the tone for the next year.
- This Fiesta Bowl was the rare occasion in which both narratives were accurate.
- There’s little question that it was the end of an era, as multiple players in their final college games exhibited the talents that brought Penn State back to relevance in the national landscape. Saquon Barkley had 175 all-purpose yards, including a 92-yard highlight reel touchdown. DaeSean Hamilton added two touchdowns and finished his career with another 100 yard game. Mike Gesicki caught 6 passes. Saeed Blacknall got in on the act and caught a 20 yarder. Marcus Allen was the Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP and led the team in tackles, while Grant Haley and Christian Campbell both recorded 4 tackles. Jason Cabinda also made 4 stops, and Tyrell Chavis sacked Jake Browning.
- Still, even though everything old was new again in Glendale, there was plenty to be excited about in the future. Trace McSorley showed off his talents once again on the big stage, rushing for 60 yards and throwing for 342 more. Miles Sanders played a significant role in the game plan, scoring once. Tommy Stevens caught 3 passes in his Lion attire.
- Each of those three players will play a pivotal role this coming fall, under the leadership of new offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne. Even the offense, which has been so successful under Joe Moorhead, looked slightly different under Rahne, and seemed to include a few designed runs rather than options.
- Those tweaks were effective - Washington finished the season 8th in total defense, and Rahne’s offense put up 28 first half points.
- Still, maybe a little less shovel pass? But that’s a mild critique.
- Last season’s finale did give us a good look into the next phase of Penn State football, and it looks pretty good. Still, that’s a lot of production to replace.
- I like that Penn State is finally earning some preseason recognition. It’s mostly meaningless, and I’ve said as much over the years. That said, it’s nice to see Trace McSorley’s face leading college football coverage at The Ringer in August.
- The big question out there seems to be, “Who will replace Saquon Barkley?” In fact, it was one of the topics discussed by ESPN’s College GameDay crew this past weekend in their studio show.
- For me, that answer is blindingly obvious. The answer is nobody.
- Saquon Barkley may be the greatest to ever lace up cleats in State College. That’s not definitive - it’s pretty hard to be when that conversation revolves around Lydell Mitchell, Curt Warner, Ki-Jana Carter, Kerry Collins, Bobby Engram, Jack Ham, Shane Conlan, Lavar Arrington, Paul Posluszny, Bobby Engram, and...and...and...and...
- To be in that company is meaningful, and to be talked about as heading that list is incredible.
- Miles Sanders, though, is as ready as anyone has ever been to take over a running back. That man could’ve started at 100 other FBS programs last year, and probably even the year before. Instead, those five stars sat on the bench and watched greatness hurdle defenders every day of the week.
- How sick do we think Miles Sanders is of being asked about Saquon Barkley?
- For me, the big question is how Penn State replaces the total amount of production that’s now in the NFL.
- Who steps up for Mike Gesicki?
- Does it even have to be a tight end? Probably not, but having a big, fast, athletic target down the field and in the redzone is a pretty useful tool.
- Who steps up for DaeSean Hamilton?
- Can Juwan Johnson be the answer to both of these questions?
- And what about the defense? Take a look at the losses there and tell me you’re comfortable playing Michigan and Wisconsin.
- Here’s the real problem - The Cothre/ans, Cabinda, and Troy Apke should not be mistaken for All Americans. But they, along with Brandon Smith, provided solid, dependable play up the middle.
- That doesn’t even account for the loss of the Marcus Allen and Grant Haley duo, who spent their time in State College as the equivalent of the World Tag Team Champions.
- Linebacker is my biggest concern. That view appears to be shared by most Penn State football observers.
- Think Michigan 2016, and how the derth of linebackers probably cost Penn State a playoff berth.
- I suppose this is where the spoils of James Franklin recruiting are supposed to show up. After all, one of the unique and special aspects of college football is the constant talent turnover.
- Allen Robinson begats DaeSean Hamilton begats Chris Godwin, then back around to DaeSean and Juwan Johnson.
- How do Justin Shorter and Jahan Dotson fit into that scheme?
- Do we think “Slade Runner” is going to catch on this year? Or do we have to wait until 2019 or 2020 for that?
- Lots of talk about a “favorable schedule.” I don’t think that means what you think it means.
- The B1G East is rough and tumble. Penn State has two tough stretches. Looking at the calendar, I think the bye during the first week in October is going to come in handy before Sparty comes to town.
- Wish there was another bye in the middle of Michigan and Wisconsin, though.
- Overall, I guess you could call me mildly pessimistic compared to preseason expectations, but I’m excited to see who the break out stars of this team are. I have a feeling that several years from now, we’ll talk about this group of freshman with the same reverence we spoke about the outgoing seniors (+ Saquon) this past off season.
- Mostly, I’m excited to see Trace McSorley prove me wrong and win another 10+ games and Big Ten Championship, because that’s just what he’s all about.
- You might even say he’s got some moxie.
38. Sorry, Matt. Had to.
39. On to Appalachian State. I’m looking forward to this ride with all of you.
40. We are...