Season Report Card: Penn State Nittany Lions
Now I know what all my English teachers felt like trying to read my handwriting back in high school.
That’s what I’m about to attempt to do with the 2013 Penn State Nittany Lions. I should preface all of this by saying that I really feel for these kids right now. The Jerry Sandusky scandal was mind-blowingly disgusting, and they needed to clean house (which they did). But most of the players on the team now were in elementary school when all this happened, and it’s really a shame that they’re forced to suffer for what did (and didn’t) happen at Penn State in the 90s and early 2000s.
That being said, despite a couple of really good-looking wins (a four-overtime-thriller against Michigan at home and Wisconsin on the road), losing by a combined score of 68-34 to Indiana and Minnesota stings quite a bit, as does getting completely wiped off the field by Ohio State, 63-14.
I do think that, under the circumstances, 7-5 (4-4 Big Ten) is a pretty good season for the program, and their seniors should be commended for sticking through a really rough couple of seasons and not jumping ship when Joe Paterno was let go.
Let's take a step back and check out some of the grades for Penn State's 2013 campaign:
Despite the team’s general mediocrity, the offense showed a lot of promise this season. It starts with true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who despite a few growing pains threw for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns en route to the Big Ten Rookie of the Year award. His favorite target, Allen Robinson, emerged as one of the best players in the entire country, earning First Team All-American honors with 97 catches for over 1,400 yards. Although Robinson is entering the NFL draft, Hackenberg proved he was deserving of his No. 1 ranking among quarterbacks in the 2013 recruiting class, and he gives the Nittany Lion faithful a glimmer of hope going into next season.
Although it performed very inconsistently, the Nittany Lions' defense did halfway decent with the hand it was dealt. Adrian Amos was forced to move from cornerback to safety due to lack of depth, got replaced at corner by wide receiver (yes, WIDE RECEIVER) Trevor Williams, but both struggled and got moved back to their original positions. That’s a pretty good microcosm for how 2013 went for Penn State’s defense. They were constantly in flux all season long at all three levels and could never maintain any kind of success. Spring practice will be crucial for new coach James Franklin, as finding a solid starting eleven and building defensive continuity will be key to improvement in 2014.
Given the unprecedented sanctions they’re facing, 7-5 is probably a little bit better than where they should be. A postseason ban can make it hard for a coach to get his players motivated to fight through a grueling season, and a scholarship reduction can make recruiting even more difficult than it already is. I could nitpick here and there, but Penn State overcame too much to let their small shortcomings to overshadow all that they were able to overcome this season. Bill O’Brien worked miracles to get to 14-9 in his two seasons, and he certainly earned his shot at the next level.
To put it quite simply, 7-5 with a .500 record in the conference is an overachievement for this team. Given its inconsistency and lack of depth on defense, while starting a true freshman at quarterback, I think this season was a good stepping stone for the program. Penn State was dealt the most difficult hand in the entire country, and it did about as good as it possibly could with it. Even though O’Brien is gone, I like James Franklin a lot, and I think he’s the right guy to bring the Nittany Lions back to national prominence. It may take a couple more seasons to fight through the NCAA sanctions that still cripple them, but there are brighter days ahead in Happy Valley.