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Ben State Football: The Reeducation Of A Penn State Fan

by on October 17, 2016 2:00 PM

Penn State football opened a 20.5 point underdog at home against No.2 Ohio State for this weekend's clash. The Nittany Lions hosting the Buckeyes is one of Beaver Stadium's most anticipated match-ups during the years that it is scheduled. Some of it is Ohio State's annual high ranking. The rest is simply Penn State fans not being overly fond of the Scarlet and Grey.

At the start of the year I thought Penn State had some amount of a chance in this one. Michigan on the road was always going to be a tough ask, but this Penn State team at home against a very much reloading Ohio State team seemed like at least the best chance at the random upset Penn State seems primed to pull off.

But then life happened. 

Penn State's offense sputtered against Michigan, damn near everyone on the defensive side of the ball got hurt. The Nittany Lions' healthy players are in the secondary, where making a tackle usually requires giving up a few yards in the process. To Penn State's credit this group has found a way to win basically every game it reasonably could have. 4-2 is about all fans could ask for save a better start against Pitt. Winning against Minnesota and Maryland with this depleted group is maybe the best two week span under Franklin that Penn State has had.

That really isn't enough to beat Ohio State though. Maybe if the Nittany Lions were healthy and maybe if they caught Ohio State on a down night. But one of those things is unlikely and the other is seemingly impossible with the number of crutches on the sideline any given week.

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All of that aside, it was a tweet I got on Sunday afternoon that was its own kind of Ohio State week win. A few tweets actually. Messages talking about how the team is making strides, and how there is progress but nothing can really be done about the oncoming freight train that is Ohio State. Some balanced analysis of how Penn State is better than it was, but it's not going to be anyone's fault when the buzzsaw shows up on Saturday.

Penn State fans by in large, despite a few pockets that exist in every fan base, are well educated when it comes to football. They know football, they know the game as well as anybody else. There is no disputing that. Penn State didn't end up the size of the program that it is today simply because people like sitting in traffic for hours. It happened because people like football, and for a long while Penn State was quite good at it.

But for the past few years the sanctions have been for better or worse an education on the finer points of the game. How much a team needs an offensive line, how important a quarterback's footwork has to be. The value of good playcalling and the margin for error being so small if you simply aren't good enough.

And in those years and years it has been hard to agree on how good Penn State is or should be as a football program. If the Nittany Lions shouldn't have lost to Temple or if Temple was simply a better team and that's how the world works. It's hard to say sometimes and it's even harder to agree.

But by in large the narrative early in Ohio State week has been that Penn State is getting better, but this team simply isn't good enough to beat the No. 2 Buckeyes right now. No finger pointing (yet) and no talk of the perfect sequence of events needed to win. Just a basic acknowledgment that sometimes you aren't good enough, and nobody is really to blame, it's just part of the building process.

By the time Saturday gets here everyone will forget and for 60 minutes (if Penn State is lucky) the Nittany Lions will try and shock the world, but in truth they will probably lose.

But for James Franklin and his staff they seem to have already picked up a win. Fans are seeing the progress being made, seeing that it is a process and accepting that fact for what it is. For years Franklin has tried to balance expectations with realities and 75-percent of the time it has fallen on at least partially deaf ears.

Maybe it's a digestible offense or simply the passage of time, but things seem to be clicking for a fan base that has never been uneducated, but perhaps simply antsy. Whatever the case, for the first time in a long time the process seems to be an acceptable narrative as Penn State heads into a big game.

This will only last for as long as Penn State keeps making progress, but for at least one week it looks like everyone is on the same page again.



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