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Penn State Football: Everyone, Even Franklin, Will Get Their Answer On Saturday

by on September 25, 2018 3:00 PM

How good is Penn State really? It's probably the question fans have asked more han any other now four games into the season.

The Nittany Lions are leading the nation in points scored per game, directly trailed by Ohio State, and for all of the eyebrow raising moments on defense, even that unit has risen to the occasion eventually. So it's hard to argue with the results.

But the question still remains.

How good are they?

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately for the faithful, Penn State will get a good answer to that question this weekend as they host Ohio State. The nation's top two offenses going toe-to-toe, both a little curious how good they really are, both a little concerned that their defenses might not be up to the task.

The good news for Penn State is that the season is still young. Whatever happens on Saturday it doesn't completely dictate the kind of year the Nittany Lions can have. A September meeting with the Buckeyes is as early as they come, and as 2016 proved, two months is a lot of football left to be played, a lot of time for your favorite team to get better, and a lot of time for everyone else to lose.

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Then again, there's little doubt what a win would do for either team's trajectory.

But none of that big picture view answers the immediate question. How good is Penn State, and does James Franklin even know?

"I think obviously games like this show you," Franklin said during his Tuesday press conference. "I don't think there's any doubt about that. But I think probably what I look for on teams and what I look for if I had to kind of pin down what I'm looking for on teams and what I'm looking for with players is consistency."

"Almost every single player on our roster can make pretty impressive athletic plays or they wouldn't be here. And that's pretty much our entire roster. Where I think you go from being an average player to a good player or from a good player to an elite player is when you're able to do that at a high percentage of your reps, you know, that the coaches trust what they're going to get from you play in and play out. And now those flashes of brilliance we have seen in the past we see them at a high level, kind of like what I was talking about with Bosa. You see -- it's not just flashes. You see it on a consistent level. And I think that's what you guys are looking for. I think that's what the fans are looking for. That's what I'm looking for. Obviously I got a better understanding of what we're trying to do."

It all comes back to what is almost certainly a stressful reality that Franklin and his staff face. The Nittany Lions aren't going to change over the course of a few practices this week. This team is as good as it's going to be against Ohio State, in some respects this game has already been decided and that truth will play itself out on the field Saturday.

It's really the crux of this season for Penn State, an ability to accelerate the maturation process across the board. The goal, to get first and second year players on the same level of those who came before them, players who took 2-3 years to find that level themselves.

If Franklin and company can do that, develop players fast enough to sustain the success they found with veterans, then the sky is the limit. And if they can't quite pull it off, there's nothing wrong with the process. 

"I think we're all looking for the same things," Franklin added. "We're looking for consistency. And with the amount of players that have maybe played four games in their entire college career that we have on the field, we gotta increase that. We gotta increase those numbers of plays that they're playing at the level they're capable of playing. And that's eliminating hesitation, that's eliminating thinking, because the reps and the things that we've been able to show them on tape or in the meeting rooms or on the practice field, that it becomes second nature to them. And we're trying to speed up that maturation process as much as we can."

After Saturday, Penn State will have an answer to how good it is right now, but in two months a much better answer of how good it can be.



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