Penn State Football Season in Review

Story posted December 30, 2017 in Sports, CommRadio by Jason Marcus

In 2016, nobody expected Penn State to have the season they did.

They shocked the country by winning 10 games in a row, including one of the biggest upsets in program history over, at the time, number two ranked Ohio State at home. The Penn State Nittany Lions were able to ride their momentum all the way to a Big 10 Championship, and a berth in the 2017 Rose Bowl Game against USC.

Despite coming up just short in one of the greatest Rose Bowl games of all time, hopes were still high for the upcoming season. Most of the team’s starters were returning, they had one of the best incoming draft classes in the nation, a stifling defense and two of the most dynamic offensive players in the entire nation looking to make their case as the best player in college football.

The 2017 season started off just as everyone expected, with a 52-0 dismantlement of Akron. The next week, the Nittany Lions played one of their fiercest rivals in the University of Pittsburgh.
The previous season, the Pitt Panthers handed Penn State one of its two regular-season losses in an absolute thriller at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. However, with revenge on the mind, and this time with home-field advantage for Penn State, the Nittany Lions took care of business with a 33-14 win in front of one the largest crowds in Beaver Stadium history.

The following week saw Penn State close out its opening three-game home stretch with a 56-0 route of Georgia State, which saw safety Marcus Allen record his first career interception as well as star running back Saquon Barkley continues to make his case for the Heisman Trophy. Penn State had started off the year as expected but was about to face their first true test on the road against Big 10 rival Iowa at Kinnick Stadium.

Known for being one of the toughest places to play in all of college football, the battle between the Hawkeyes and the Nittany Lions came down to the absolute last play of the game. With the walls and noise of Kinney Stadium closing in, trailing 14-19 with just a few seconds to go, Penn State Quarterback Trace McSorley handled the snap from the shotgun and threw an absolute laser to Juwan Johnson in the back of the end zone to send the Nittany Lion’s back home to Beaver Stadium with their first road win of the season and increase their undefeated record to 4-0.

Despite only playing one game on the road all season to this point, Penn State came home once again for their annual Homecoming game, with this year the Nittany Lions taking on Indiana.
In a game that saw Penn State collect their 5th win of the season after a 45-14 win, two players made their cases for being the best in the history of the program. The opening kickoff was taken back for a touchdown by the versatile Saquon Barkley who once again proved to the entire country why he was the front-runner to win the year's title of best player in college football. At the same time, Wide Receiver Desean Hamilton broke the school record for career receptions cementing himself as one of the most consistent and reliable players in school history.

A quick road trip to Northwestern saw Penn State defeat the Wildcats 31-7 and increase their record to an impressive 6-0. However, it would be their following game at home against the Michigan Wolverines that would prove to be one of their most important games yet.

One of the biggest plagues against Penn State all season was the claim that they had yet to beat anybody of importance. Therefore, the Penn State Nittany Lion’s looked to silence the doubters by beating a highly ranked Michigan team in the school tradition white-out game. Going into the game, the story all week was could Penn State’s explosive offense be able to contend with Michigan’s top-ranked defense, and erase the embarrassing memory of a 49-10 blowout loss from the year before.

However, in front of the largest crowd in Penn State history, the Nittany Lions were able to take care of business and defeat the Wolverines 42-13 and reach their highest Associated Press ranking in decades. Riding the highest of highs, the number two in the nation Penn State had silenced the doubters but were about to find their wave of momentum would soon come crashing down.

The entire Penn State community was on the edge of their seat for the upcoming game against number-six Ohio State. Not only was this the biggest game of the year, against our biggest rivals, but a win almost guaranteed themselves a spot in the college football playoffs and a chance to play for a national championship.

The game started off great, with Saquon Barkley doing what he had done all year: make big plays. He once again took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, and it looked as if in the first couple moments Penn State had made its statement loud and clear. But as the game went on, Ohio State proved why they have been so good for so long. Senior quarterback JT Barrett shredded the Penn State secondary going 33/39 for 328 yards and four touchdowns, while the defense held Barkley to just 44 yards on 21 carries.

In the end, Penn State just couldn’t do enough and suffered their first loss of the year by a final score of 38-39. The hearts of the Penn State community dropped that Saturday, but all hope was not lost.

The loss sure stung, but losing by one point on the road to a top-ten team in the country was not the end of the world. Their hopes to make the playoffs and make a run at a national championship were still very much alive. All they had to do was win their last four games, and hope Ohio State could lose one, and they were back in business.

Unfortunately, things would go from bad to worse for Penn State. Its next game would once again be on the road, but this time against a beatable Michigan State team. For whatever reason, however, things just didn’t seem to click. The Nittany Lions couldn’t move the ball on offense, and they couldn’t stop Brian Lewerke and the Michigan State offense. The result was a last-second field goal by Michigan State that not only gave Penn State their second loss on the season, but ended their hopes at the College Football Playoff and a national championship.

The Nittany Lions fell ever farther in the polls, reaching their lowest ranked placement in nearly a year and a half. They only had three games left against Rutgers, Nebraska, and Maryland, but anything could happen.

The remainder of the year went smoothly, but in the end, it wasn’t enough to be chosen as one of the four teams to play for a National Championship. To make matters worse, star running back Saquon Barkley finished fourth in the Heisman voting and didn’t even receive an invitation to the ceremony in Atlanta.

In a season that started off with such high hopes and big dreams, the result was the ninth-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions getting a bid to play the University of Washington in Phoenix, Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl.

For the second straight season, the Nittany Lions season would end in a New Year’s Six bowl game. However, this season would end on a much more positive note. In a tightly contested game that saw both offenses put on a show, Penn State ultimately came out on top with a 35-28 victory.
The end of the Fiesta Bowl also marked the end of an era at Penn State. Many of their star players will either be graduating or declaring for the upcoming NFL draft. Of those names, perhaps the biggest is Saquon Barkley.

Barkley holds many records for Penn State, including most career rushing touchdowns, all-purpose yards in a season and is second all-time in career rushing yards. He is projected to be a top-five pick in the NFL Draft come April.

Even with many players leaving the program, there is still hope for the Penn State Nittany Lions for next season. Star Quarterback Trace McSorley will be returning for his senior season, and another top-five recruiting class looks to ensure that Penn State will continue to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

 

Jason Marcus is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jasmarcus320@gmail.com