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Ben State Football: With Moorhead And Team Returning, The Window Is Opening

by on December 19, 2016 1:50 PM

The cyclical nature of college football makes success so often feel like a flash in the pan.

Few programs can do what Alabama has done, a robotic domination of the sport without any real bumps in the road, the Tide rolling on through like it always has.

For the rest of the natural world the window for opportunity is only open so wide, for so long and so often.

At their best, teams make a valiant strike towards that window and find their way through. At worst they find themselves a sports equalivent to Sisyphus, pushing the boulder so close to the top of the mountain only to see it roll back down to the bottom.

For Penn State that window appears to be opening now and for a very simple reason.

The team, currently at 11-2 and one of the most explosive in the sport, is going to be nearly the exact same next season.

"Everyone is thinking about it, they're just not saying it" Freshman offensive lineman Ryan Bates said earlier this month. "We have a lot of people coming back, we're going to be a special team."

How special very much remains to be seen, but things seems to be falling in Penn State's favor. The Nittany Lions graduate 17 seniors, a handful from both sides of the ball, but Brandon Bell, Evan Schwan, Brian Gaia and Malik Golden are really the only real departures when it comes to on field players Penn State will need to replace.

Receivers Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton will both likely weigh their choices. Hamilton could be a potential grad transfer and Godwin has a shot at the NFL Draft. Tight end Mike Gesicki will also mull over his choices, but even he seems content with the current state of affairs, which is easy to understand considering the season he has had.

Everything else is looking a lot like 2016 when 2017 hits.

"Coaches are staying in place, a lot of players are staying in place," Gesicki said last week. "Even with the seniors that are graduating, all that kind of stuff. For the most part this team will be staying together and I think that will be awesome, for this team, especially this offense we're only going to improve. We're only going to start to see more of the continuity with the offense and be more comfortable with all of that. You don't want to think too far ahead but thinking about Year Two with this offense and all that stuff I think the sky is the limit."

"Obviously there is a bunch of stuff that factors into that but this team and where it's going and especially this offense that would be a huge factor for me."

Beyond that, there isn't much change. If anything player development and recruiting will add more talent than Penn State loses.

And in a college football world so often lacking stability and continuity, that's a rare thing, especially for a team looking to go 12-2 on the year.

"It's exciting," linebacker Jason Cabinda said. "To see guys grow up, to see guys grow up to see guys mature to finally have a bunch more juniors and seniors on the team than we've really had since I've been on the team. So it's definitely exciting because when you have that maturity and you have guy with experience on the team it just helps all across the board." 

"That's what we're looking to do, win this game, put the icing on the cake on the season and at the same use it to propel us forward through the offseason and towards whatever goals we want to meet next year."

Perhaps most importantly Penn State returns Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley. The Nittany Lions have somehow gone from a program just trying to survive to a program with two Heisman level players on the field at the same time. With those two it's hard to imagine Penn State's offense taking a step backwards, especially with how the final third of the season has gone for that unit under Joe Moorhead.

Which brings us to another window.

It seems more likely than not that Moorhead won't be at Penn State for an extended period of time. That was a somewhat unspoken implication following his hire. He wants to be a head coach again, and his performance at Penn State already has resulted in reported interest in his services. Moorhead could very well buck the trend and stay for 15 years, but based on the college football landscape it seems difficult to assume that he will call State College home beyond the next five. If nothing else Penn State and James Franklin may at least internally expect as much.

So onward they go together towards yet another season.

"I think it is different when you're a younger team," cornerback Grant Haley said. "You just see the guys you've been with since you came in  and it goes by fast, I'll tell you that. Everything you see, even when it's winter workouts, summer workouts, during the season, you see the guys who have been right there to the left and right of you the last three years and I think that makes it even more special."

So Penn State sits in a sweet spot -- an elite coordinator with an elite team and a fan base that suddenly believes again. What will transpire in 2017 is unknown but it's clear the window is opening for the Nittany Lions.

Now it's a matter of what happens next.

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