100 days from today, Penn State will open the 2019 football season when they host the Idaho Vandals in Beaver Stadium. Every year about this time, fans are torn between the long summer to come, and the return of college football upon its conclusion. That seems especially poignant today as many of us pack up to hit the road for the Memorial Day weekend.
For fans of Penn State, the four-plus months of offseason up until this point have been a bit odd compared to those in the relatively recent past. Personally, I made a somewhat conscious decision to take a step back in the days following the Citrus Bowl loss to Kentucky. The 2018 season was a roller coaster of emotion for so many reasons, and the near comeback against the Wildcats in Orlando was a sign for me to give myself a breather.
I do not know if I am alone in that regard, but for the first time in several years, there is not much buzz around the Nittany Lions. A disappointing nine-win season certainly plays a part, especially when 10 or more seemed well within reach. Eyebrows were raised when several players opted to transfer, albeit few that figured to significantly impact the depth chart in 2019. Perhaps the biggest thud of the winter and spring came just a few weeks ago when Tommy Stevens announced he would be leaving Happy Valley. Despite the lingering injuries that plagued him for much of the last 12 months, most felt that the fifth-year senior was going to be the starter come August 31.
Even in James Franklin's wheelhouse, the recruiting trail, things have gone cold. Yes, the Lions currently boast the 10th-best class according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings, but elite prospects such as Bryan Bresee and Julian Fleming have either committed elsewhere, or appear to be heading that direction. It was not all that long ago that at least one, if not both, seemed destined for State College.
I suppose the simple question with all of this would be "what gives?"
The simple answer, at least in this writer's opinion, is that there are a lot more questions heading into 2019 than Franklin has faced since 2016. Coming off back-to-back 11 win seasons, optimism was high that the Nittany Lions were set to cement themselves in the upper reaches of college football. Instead, leads were squandered against Ohio State and Michigan State, while Michigan nuked PSU for the second time in as many trips to Ann Arbor. Without star assistants Joe Moorhead, Josh Gattis, and some guy named Saquon, the potent offense of 2016-17 instead struggled to establish any sort of consistency. Gattis' replacement, David Corley, was never a great fit, and lasted just a few hours past the Citrus Bowl loss. Likewise new special teams coordinator Phil Galiano's return and coverage units struggled right from game one, and he is now with the NFL's Saints.
In short, the biggest names on the Penn State offensive staff departed, and the newcomers could not continue the momentum. Now the Nittany Lions not only face the prospect of replacing another pair of coaches, but also the most prolific passer in school history, and another elite running back. No pressure. All that adds up to both a terribly interesting, and important 2019 season, but more to the point, a terribly dull and disappointing off season.
I'll dive into what I see for this fall as we get a little closer. For now, however, an enjoyable summer, and maybe a few more weeks of recharging the batteries for August 31 and beyond await. 100 days and counting.