Penn State was six points from being perfect in 2017.
All the Lions really needed was to make a few more plays at Ohio State and Michigan State, then we’re looking at 12-0 instead of 10-2, with a berth in the college football playoff.
That was pretty much it last season – a pair of single-digit Big 10 nail biters that saw the Lions fall out of the top five and instead settle for 11 wins and a Fiesta Bowl victory over a very good Washington team. That’s not a bad consolation prize, but Penn State fans and neutrals alike know just how agonizingly close this team came to running the table.
It’s a mixed bag of storylines coming into the 2018 season, which will be James Franklin’s fifth since taking over for Bill O’Brien in 2014. Franklin seemed to be on the hot seat after opening his Penn State tenure with a pair of boring 7-6 seasons before rumbling to 11 wins, a conference title, and a Rose Bowl appearance in year number three.
Along the way, he recruited extremely well and put the right assistants in place. He got Saquon Barkley to flip on his Rutgers commitment, brought in offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead from Fordham, and promoted Brent Pry to defensive coordinator after bringing him along from his previous gig at Vanderbilt. Those three moves probably guided Penn State’s success more than anything, fleshed out with a glut of impressive talent on both sides of the ball.