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Penn State Football: Avoiding Complacency As Nittany Lions Eye Repeat Success

by on March 21, 2017 3:10 PM

As spring practice beings this week Penn State football will officially close the book on the 2016 season, looking ahead to an increasingly anticipated 2017 campaign. The Nittany Lions will almost certainly enter the year ranked in the Top 5 and will bring with them Top 5 talent. Exceptions couldn't be much higher.

In turn Penn State and coach James Franklin face a very straightforward but not-so-easy task.

Following up a great season with another.

Historically, Penn State has won 10 or more games in back-to-back seasons on just 10 occasions. The last time this happened was 2008 and 2009, both teams with fairly similar rosters, helping flow the momentum of one year into another.

The other side of that coin, Penn State has had 10+ win seasons on four occasions that were sandwiched between years of fewer than 10 wins.

So how do you repeat? The answer to that question will define how far the Nittany Lions go in 2017.

"Let's focus on development," Franklin said on Tuesday. "Let's focus on fundamentals and let's focus on culture and let's focus on trust. Let's focus on all the things."

"It's no different than the playbook. We're going to go through the playbook again. All of our quarterbacks are back. So does that mean that we don't go over how we call the play, how we signal, how we tempo; do we take all those things for granted? Or do we force ourselves to go back from the beginning and teach it like it's never been taught before. And make sure our guys are approaching things the same way and that we don't take anything for granted; that we understand that 2016 was nice, and that it was a great experience, but 2017 is a completely different animal and we have to build it in a very, very similar way than what we built it last year, while still using the lessons and the experience that we learned. And that's the challenge."

Inside the division there are two very different examples that Franklin can look to if he wants to see what life might be like down the road. At Michigan State the Spartans have only followed up a 10+ win season with another on three occasions. Michigan and Ohio State, both having done so 14 and 15 times respectively. The Wolverines and Buckeyes have both found a way, historically, to continue that success from year-to-year.

The question that Penn State faces now -- and for the next several years -- is which program the Nittany Lions will turn out to be. A flash in the pan like Michigan State, or a more established year-to-year system that can sustain its status as one of the conference's truly elite.

According to Franklin, once you have everything else in place, it might just come down to hunger.

"...One of the things that we talked about with the offense yesterday, which I thought is a really good point was, okay, let's recognize it," Franklin said of the 2016 season.

"What we're really talking about is complacency. Well, the fact that we are talking about complacency is a good thing because it means you've established some level of success. So that is a good thing but let's make sure we're focused on the things that really matter and get rid of all the other things, and kind of really kind of boil this thing down to the main ingredients, which is really kind of who we are, anyway."

The obvious alternative is a step backwards, when Penn State has failed to win 10 or more games in consecutive seasons, the follow up year has averaged just 7.7 wins.

But with what the Nittany Lions have coming back in 2017, it's hard to imagine that group taking a step back.

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