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Midweek Musings - Is Penn State a Victim of Its Own Success?

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Can a team become too good too quickly?

Heather Weikel - Black Shoe Diaries

Regardless of what happens this weekend against Ohio State, Penn State will end the regular season with double-digit wins. This will be the third time in four years they’ve done that, and came awfully close last year to making it four straight.

Pending how the playoff rankings shake out at the end of the season, it’s also possible (if not probable) that the Lions will make a New Year’s Six bowl for the third time in four years (again, coming within a win in 2018 of making it four straight).

Yet it seems to me that people are a bit more upset about “only” making a NY6 bowl this year. The Lions dropped back-to-back heartbreakers in 2017, and went to the Fiesta Bowl, when they very well could have pushed for a national championship, had they made the playoffs.

Yet I can’t recall there being any angst around “only” making a NY6 bowl in 2017, but some people seem genuinely miffed by the idea this year.

So I’m curious if Penn State has been a victim of its own success?

I’ve documented it before, but by most accounts, the Lions were ahead of schedule in 2016. They were still feeling the sanctions, they had a new starting quarterback, a new offensive coordinator/scheme, and a defense that was not exceptionally stout.

Yet they somehow completed one of the most improbable and magical seasons in recent memory, winning the Big Ten and going to the Rose Bowl.

The same general group of players and coaches then went through the 2017 season as playoff contenders (if not favorites), but ended up dropping two tough games and went to the Fiesta Bowl, winning it over Washington.

Penn State’s sudden rise to prominence in 2016 and 2017 feels as if its changed fans’ expectations. 2018 felt like a bad year when the team went 9-3, played in the Citrus Bowl, and almost made it to double-digit wins for three straight years.

2019 was always slated as a rebuilding year, and yet the Lions are 9-1, and control their own postseason destiny. That OSU has put together an all-time great team, and thus means the Lions are statistically more likely to end the season at 10-2 instead of 11-1 is no one’s fault - not James Franklin, not the players. Sometimes the other guy is just better.

In any case, it seems to me that despite being a top 10 team for the third time in four years, that locking up double-digit wins, and hopefully heading to a NY6 bowl, fans seem just a bit angsty overall. Disappointed by how the season may end.

So have the Lions been a victim of their own success?

Would the fanbase be a bit more level-headed had PSU slowly risen to prominence, from 2016 through next year when they may once again be considered strong contenders to make the playoffs?

I, too, am annoyed that Minnesota pulled off the perfect storm upset of the Lions, as I, too, had visions of PSU sneaking into the playoffs as an 11-1 non-champion, a la OSU in 2016 or Bama in 2017.

But out and out disappointment over what should end up a top 10 team, putting together a string of successful seasons not seen since at least the 90s, just seems a bit off. And I’m left wondering how exactly we as fans got to the point that this season could be described as anything other than supremely successful.


I’d like to add a bit of a footnote here, since I’ve been accused of being too harsh on the fans, and people here on BSD take some exception to it.

By and large, BSD and its commenters are several steps above the rest of the PSU Internet sphere. The discussions here are usually quite rational, and in general I think BSDers have a much better handle on “how to be a fan.”

But Twitter is a thing. Facebook is a thing. Reddit is a thing. So when I write pieces like this, it’s not to say that everyone here on BSD is a bunch of sniveling children with respect to Penn State football, but is rather a commentary on how I perceive the Internet at large views and discusses PSU football.

If pieces like this don’t describe you, or if you feel as if I’m being unfair to the commenters on this site, first, realize that more often than not, I’m not deriving my observations and thoughts from just the BSD message boards; second, if you do feel like I’m being unfair to BSD or even you in particular, shoot me an email. I get plenty of messages from commenters - both good and bad - about things I’ve written, and I’m always happy to discuss.