Fifteen spring practices. One month of training camp. Countless hours studying the playbook. Twelve grueling game weeks during the season. In the end, fair or not, it's all distilled down into one stat: your record.
After posting 6-6 and 7-5 records in his first two seasons in Happy Valley, can coach James Franklin's Nittany Lions take another step forward in 2016? Or will his incredibly young (but talented) team not be able to overcome the loss of Christian Hackenberg and the entire starting defensive line?
For the final pre-season installment of the Roar Lions Roundtable, we asked: What will Penn State's final regular season record be?
Craig Fritz: 8-4. One surprise win, one surprise loss and the offense that can attract some recruiting talent to continue its upswing to 2017.
Bill DiFilippo: I'll begrudgingly say 7-5. I see Kent State, Temple, Minnesota, Maryland, Purdue, Indiana, and Rutgers as wins and Pitt, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan State as losses. I can also be talked into 6-6, 8-4, or 9-3. This is a weird offseason in that I have no idea what to expect for the upcoming season. It's weird.
Mike Treb: 9-3. My glass is half full (of alcohol).
Kevin Fay: 9-3. I think this team wants to prove desperately that they aren't as bad as the perception is. They have a chip on their shoulder and want to shock the world. While I think they are about 2 years away from competing for the East crown, I do think they get some early season momentum by shutting up Pitt and burying their demons against Temple. They lose close to Michigan and win close against Minnesota before destroying Maryland in Beaver Stadium. While I would love an upset against Ohio State, I don't see it. There is just too much of a depth gap still between the two teams. I do see a surprise win against an undefeated Iowa team before tripping up against Michigan State at the end of the year for a final record of 9-3 with a bowl win.
Tim Gilbert: 7-5 (5-4). I was on the 6-6 train for a long time, but I’ve found more hope in some mixture of excitement for the season and lowered expectations for Michigan State and Iowa.
John Morgan: 8-4: Eight seems to be the number I keep falling back on though 9 wins seems possible and 7 wins seems equally as likely. When I look at the schedule, the 9 win mark looks attainable, but this is a team that has played in so many close games over the last 3 seasons, I keep landing on the 8-4 prediction.
Matt de Bear: 8-4 There are a number of paths to 8 wins when you look at the schedule, and I would certainly listen to a case for anything from six wins to nine. This is a talented team, but still too young in too many spots, to take the big step to 10 that many of us want to see.
Chris Grovich: 8-4. It just feels like an 8-4 team. The offense and special teams should be vastly improved, while the defense will almost certainly regress a bit (at least until some leaders emerge on the defensive line). If the PSU offensive line improves, Trace McSorley takes care of the football, and Sean Spencer works some magic with the front four, nine or ten wins isn't that much of a stretch.
Len Damico: 8-4, and Franklin finally gets the signature-ish win his critics have been clamoring for over Pitt.
Doug Leeson: 7-5, again. Glancing at the schedule, I see five probable wins and three probable losses, with four toss-ups. Assuming the expected comes true (this isn't March, after all), that puts Penn State at 5-3 and I'll take a split in the other four games to end up at 7-5.
Dan Smith: 7-5. They're not there yet, with questions remaining on the O-line as well as at quarterback. Losing their defensive line depth hurts, too. I'm looking more towards 2017.
Dan Vecellio: 8-4. This might be an overly optimistic pick and if you asked me tomorrow, I could drop to 6-6, but as of this writing, I think the addition of Coach Limegrover will allow the offense to pick up the tempo as defenses won't be all over the quarterback within two seconds, which will only be beneficial to a team that has an embarrassing wealth of weapons at all the skill positions on that side of the ball. The promotion of Brent Pry to DC should allow the defense to continue to be a solid unit which will only be aided by the return of the soul of that linebacking crew in Nyeem Wartman-White. Don't overlook the additions of improved kicking specialists in Alex Barbir and Blake Gillikin who should have a measurable impact in field position in close games throughout the season.
Nick Polak: 8-4. I'll go conservatively optimistic with my prediction. Michigan and Ohio State seem like probable losses, Pitt, Iowa, Michigan State are all toss ups, and Indiana, Minnesota and Temple could all be tricky, as well. Let's say Penn State loses to one team in each of those latter groups, which when combined with losses to the Wolverines and Buckeyes, gets them down to 8-4, total.
Sean Baker: I'm stuck between 7-5 and 9-3, so I'm splitting the change and going with 8-4. A 3-0 start has me leaning more towards that 9 or perhaps 10 win mark, but a 2-2 September only affords losses to those heels in Columbus and East Lansing—and nobody else. What I'm saying is: beat Pitt and Temple.