2016 has been really good to me, at least as far as my rooting interests are concerned. The Cleveland Cavaliers brought home the first title that city had seen in 52 years. In October (and early November), the Cleveland Indians came one tantalizing game away from making it two straight championships for Ohio's north shore, falling in an epic game seven to the Cubs. On either side of that Fall Classic was the Penn State football team.
The Nittany Lions had won four straight games at that point, on their way to nine, a Big Ten title, and a trip to Pasadena for New Years and the 103rd Rose Bowl Game. By now, we all know what transpired on that hallowed ground in what the locals call "America's Stadium". One of the the all time great contests between two of the sports most storied names.
While the disappointment of losing a game in the way Penn State did on Monday lingers, the passing of time has crystalized something that many fans without a rooting interest across the country realized immediately. We saw something truly special. And as Penn State fans, we get to say, confidently, the best is still yet to come.
Penn State's 38-24 loss to USC in the 2009 edition of the Rose Bowl, a game that was never as close as that score indicates, felt more like the end of a chapter. It was the final game for players like Deon Butler, Derrick Williams, and Jordan Norwood. It also exposed how terribly far removed the Lions truly were from playing with the nation's best.
as Penn State fans, we get to say, confidently, the best is still yet to come.
This year, James Franklin's squad rode a wave of youth to a conference title. There are NFL decisions still to be made in the coming days for players like Chris Godwin and Marcus Allen. Regardless of what they decide, Penn State will return virtually every critical piece to this year's puzzle, with plenty more on the way in another solid recruiting class. They also hung with a USC team that was picked by many to contend for a national title going into the season. Once the Trojans found their quarterback in freshman sensation Sam Darnold, they have looked every bit the part of playoff contender. The Lions of course knocked off playoff participant Ohio State, and the Cotton Bowl champion Wisconsin Badgers. Any talk of this season being a fluke ought to be put to rest now. Penn State is back to being Penn State.
There is a certain enjoyment that comes from following the upstart from out of nowhere that stuns the masses to win a title. That is one of the reasons the 2005 and 2008 teams are looked upon so fondly. But that is not what this Penn State program should be, and not what it traditionally has been.
It has been a long time, too long for many of the younger fans to remember, since their Nittany Lions were the ones with the target on their back week after week. What this program should be, has been, and appears to be on the precipice of becoming once again, is one that expects to win ten games most seasons. It expects to routinely challenge for conference and national titles.
240 days lie between now and the season opener against the Akron Zips. For the first time in a long time, the Lions will be a part of the national discussion over the coming months for all of the right reasons. Here's to a 2017 that is every bit as good as 2016 was on the field for me, with just a few changes at the end of the script.