Column: All is well, Nittany Nation

UNIVERSITY PARK – Is Penn State football all the way back?

You bet it is.

In the closing moments of the Michigan game on Oct. 21, it became clear that Penn State football was indeed all the way back. A blowout 42-13 win, a record crowd and a 7-0 record told us that.

So what has happened in the past couple of weeks? Well, the Nittany Lions lost. Two games by a total of four points, but losses nonetheless. While that has cast a pall on the season, it’s important to note that the 2017 Nittany Lions have exceeded expectations.

Sure, the losses have put a damper on the season, but all is not lost. Far from it.

The Penn State football team won’t make the College Football Playoff. Heck, they won’t get a chance to repeat as Big Ten champions – and that’s OK. Face it, the odds were stacked against the Lions coming into 2017. In 2016, Penn State was able to sneak up on teams. As the defending Big Ten Champions, there would be none of that in 2017.

The Lions sit at 7-2, coming off back-to-back heartbreaking losses to Ohio State (39-38) and Michigan State (27-24).

Over the first seven weeks of the season, Penn State fans were treated to some big wins. None more amazing than the thrilling 21-19 walk-off win at Iowa on national TV. There was also the 42-13 blowout win over Michigan in front of the largest crowd ever at Beaver Stadium. Games like that won’t soon be forgotten.

Although the Nittany Lions are out of the College Football Playoff picture, there are still plenty of reasons to get excited for the final three games of the season. Here are five reasons why you should:

10-2 – If the Lions win their final three games – which they should – then Penn State will finish the 2017 campaign at 10-2. Not bad at all considering that not many experts expected the Lions to duplicate the success they had in 2016. And while they won’t win the Big Ten title this season, a 10-2 campaign is still a success. For a team that was dealing with crippling sanctions not all that long ago, 10-2 is astounding.

Two home games remain – Seems like it has been forever since the Lions have played at Beaver Stadium, doesn’t it? Well, they are back this weekend for Homecoming when Rutgers visits. On Nov. 18, a downtrodden Nebraska squad comes to Happy Valley. The Homecoming game is sold out, Nebraska (Senior Day) is not. If you haven’t had an opportunity to see the 2017 squad live and in person, what are you waiting for? Let’s face it, there are few college stadiums that rival what we have in Happy Valley.

New Year’s Day Bowl Game – The Nittany Lions are going bowling once again. And while this year’s squad won’t get back to the Rose Bowl, they are likely headed to a New Year’s Day bowl. Perhaps the Citrus Bowl or Outback Bowl. You really can’t complain about that, Nittany Nation. Fans will get to go somewhere warm and watch the Lions take on some of the top talent in the country.

Special players – The 2017 Nittany Lions are loaded with a plethora of talent. It all starts, of course, with running back Saquon Barkley, a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. But the 2017 Lions are so much more than just Barkley. Tight end Mike Gesicki has been a beast offensively while wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton has been Trace McSorley’s favorite target through the first nine games. On the defensive side of the ball, there are several standouts. Senior linebacker Jason Cabinda leads the way for the blue and white defensively. Grant Haley and Koa Farmer have also been impressive, to say the least. Enjoy watching this talent while you can. It’s an impressive bunch.

Recruiting – If there’s one thing the 2017 season has helped the Lions with, it’s recruiting. Penn State’s recruiting for the Class of 2018 is ranked third by 247Sports, just behind Ohio State and Texas. Head coach James Franklin has done a masterful job stocking the cupboard for future seasons.

In short, the blue and white sky isn’t falling. Far from it.

 

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