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Ben State Football: As Sanction Era Draws To A Close Even 19-12 Looks Just Fine

by on September 15, 2014 4:00 PM

"You hear that Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability. It is the sound of your death. Goodbye, Mr. Anderson." -- Agent Smith in The Matrix

Penn State has gone 19-12 since the last time Joe Paterno coached a game for the Nittany Lions.

NCAA sanctions slammed the Nittany Lions like a ton of bricks shortly after that 10-7 victory over Illinois. The predictions that followed were generally all calling for the same future; Penn State football would never be the same again -- it was the end of the program as the world knew it.

Some of those predictions were simply due to the situation at hand. It was as if the NCAA had strapped a time bomb onto an unknown substance and the world waited to see if it was explosive. By the time the explosion came it seemed that only bits of Penn State cracked and crumbled. The structural integrity still stood strong.

To say that a lot has happened since then would be a vast understatement. Penn State football has become the college football equivalent of Murphy's Law. Three head coaches, injuries and a volcano have all tried in their own way to finish off what the NCAA started. But yet here we are: Penn State at 3-0 with the sanctions removed and a recruiting class set to join the Nittany Lions that is one of the best in the nation.

So it would be easy to put the sanction era behind Penn State. To simply wash your hands of it and look to the future.

But someone should say it.

Penn State has been incredibly lucky.

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The Nittany Lions have played in eight games since the start of the 2012 season that have been decided by six or fewer points. Penn State has managed to win five of those contests while winning three of the four games that have gone into overtime.

Three games have been decided in large part thanks to improbable catches and runs during improbable drives in the game's dying moments. 

Penn State has had to come from behind to win games almost more often than it has produced regular -- non-heart-stopping -- victories.

Penn State is 19-12 since Paterno's final game. That number is the only one that matters in the record books. But a few heroics don't pan out, a few big catches aren't made? Penn State sees that 19-12 record turn into something like 14-17 and maybe the program might have spiraled out of control. Winning seasons could have turned into losing seasons and who knows how that might have impacted recruiting.

It isn't exactly groundbreaking analysis to say a season would be worse if the team lost more games. But for Penn State, its situation makes the line between winning and losing that much thinner. In turn that makes each and every win a little more important, special and valuable to a program taking things one day at a time.

Players and coaches don't use the word "lucky" very often because they make the calls and the plays. But Penn State could be in a much worse place than it is right now. And somehow it isn't.

And considering how many wins -- including two this year -- could have gone the other way, it's okay to feel a little lucky.

Penn State just has to hope its luck doesn't run out.

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Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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