Season in review: Penn State
Team: Penn State
Record: 11-3 (8-1 in B1G)
High moment of the season: Winning the B1G Championship
I know what you’re thinking. How was the Ohio State game not the high point of the season? Well, that would imply that Penn State never achieved anything better after that game. While that win was the most celebrated, it was still in the middle of the regular season. And though it proved to be Penn State’s launching point, it was still only one game.
The B1G Championship, however, was the crowning achievement of Penn State’s revival in 2016. The Lions lit up a battle-tested Wisconsin defense and eliminated a three-touchdown deficit to claim the B1G crown.
It was almost difficult to put into words what that scene was like for Penn State. I tried, but this might serve the purpose even better:
Low moment of the season: Michigan loss
By getting trounced at Michigan, Penn State didn’t even look like a worthy B1G team, much less one that would win the conference. It was that bad. At one point, James Franklin settled for a field goal — it appeared — just to avoid the shutout.
Looking back, it’s easy to forget that the Lions were without their starting linebackers and they were one of the youngest teams in America playing in their first month with a new offense. The Lions were bad. Like, really bad.
After that game, Franklin’s job had to be defended by Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour. Outside of Saquon Barkley, there didn’t look like any Penn State player that even belonged on the same field as Michigan.
But it’s always good when the low moment is also the turning point. That’s what that Michigan game was for Penn State, which rattled off nine wins in a row to reach the Rose Bowl.
Most meaningful play: Blocked kick scoop-and-score vs. Ohio State
I mean, this might be the most meaningful play in a regular season game in Penn State history:
The mix of pure pandemonium and joy was obvious. That’ll be a play that Penn State fans, players and coaches tell their grandkids about. That win was Penn State’s “we’re back” moment.
It took 10 seconds for PSU to go from looking like a potential 7-8-win team stuck in mediocrity, to looking like something completely different. That play helped move the Lions into national relevance. They were favored in every game the rest of the way, which allowed them to climb the rankings each week. The Ohio State win was the feather in their cap.
If Penn State continues its stay as a top-10 team for the foreseeable future, people will point to that play as the moment that the Lions got back to being a college football power.
Team MVP: Saquon Barkley, RB
Barkley was the best offensive player in the B1G despite the fact that he was in a new offense and operated behind a banged-up line. Nobody was more explosive out of the backfield, and nobody made more highlight-reel runs than Barkley.
This was my favorite:
ALL. HE. DOES. IS. MAKE. TUDDIES. pic.twitter.com/HwXWXBWHKj
— Roar Lions Roar (@RLRblog) January 3, 2017
In case that didn’t show you, Barkley is a special talent that Penn State is blessed to have for another year. Why are the Lions blessed? Because if he was allowed to, Barkley could play in the NFL tomorrow.
You could make a case that Trace McSorley was the missing piece that pushed Penn State over the top, but it was Barkley who allowed for those Lions wideouts did get single coverage downfield.
Here’s to another year of watching Barkley do what he does best.
Grades are all about surpassing expectations. Nobody did that better than Penn State in 2016.
This was supposed to be another year in the middle of the B1G East. That’s what the first month told us. Instead, it turned into the surprise story of college football.
Penn State might not get to enjoy a season like that — having that much room to surpass expectations — going forward, but that’s a good thing. A B1G Championship and a Rose Bowl berth are the new standard for this squad.
It’s safe to say the Lions aced 2016 with flying colors.