11-2, and a Fiesta Bowl victory. To most, that seems like a successful season, even a great season. But why does it feel so.. empty? Why does this feel like a let down? Penn State won its biggest bowl game since a 2005 Orange Bowl victory of Florida State. Penn State finished in the top ten for back to back seasons. We, as fans, were privileged to watch the once in a generation talent of Saquon Barkley routinely produce highlight reel plays. Every week it seemed like the game was not complete until Barkley broke off a big play. That is not normal. Players do not do that. One or two, or maybe five, at most, big plays would qualify as a phenomenal talent and incredible year, but Barkley could have an astonishing career highlight tape of his career and it would only have to show his junior season. So why does it feel like something is missing?
The Nittany Lions were four points from perfection. Four. A 39-38 loss at #6 Ohio State and a last second field goal loss to #24 Michigan State resulted in a 27-24 loss that would ultimately quash the hopes of a birth to the program’s first College Football Playoff. Had Ryan Bates not gone down with an injury against Ohio State, maybe the offensive line could have given Barkley enough time to run some clock, or maybe it could have prevented the running game from being torn apart the next week against Michigan State. Maybe if the defense made one more play, or just sacked JT Barrett one time in the fourth quarter could they have stolen the momentum, or maybe the pass defense could have done anything but give up 400 passing yards against Michigan State. What if Trace McSorely did not throw three interceptions against Michigan State, including one late in the game that could have put Michigan State away instead of allowing them to tie the game?All these what ifs will forever live on for those who followed the 2017-2018 season. The fact of the matter is, PSU at one point held the #2 ranking in the country and had the single best football player in the country. With this in mind, anything but a national championship seems like a disappointment.
This view could not be anymore nearsighted considering where the program was just four years ago. This year, Penn State just finished off an incredible campaign with an incredible New Years’s Six bowl 35-28 win against a stout #11 Washington Husky team.
The Huskies had the number one rushing defense in the country giving up just over 94 yards a game. Saquon Barkley gained 92 yards in just one play as the Penn State offense lit up the tough defense. On the defensive end, the PSU defensive backs did an admirable job forcing a very dangerous QB in Jake Browning to under 200 yards passing.
A Fiesta bowl win (which I had the pleasure to witness in person), back to back top ten rankings and 11 wins seasons, and a recruiting class ranked number four in the country as a result of the on field success? Yea, I guess you could say it was a very successful season.