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Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Trip To New Jersey Comes At Good Time

by on November 17, 2016 1:20 PM

A week ago it may have been easy for Penn State players to just ignore everything going on outside the program. The Nittany Lions were technically in the Big Ten title hunt, but Michigan losing twice, that seemed like a big ask.

And then Saturday happened, and suddenly it was Penn State almost in the drivers' seat. Two wins in winnable games and an Ohio State or Indiana victory over Michigan and that was all it would take for a third trip to Indiana this fall.

With an older more experienced team that might be easy to ignore, but Penn State is still one of the youngest in college football and even the oldest players on the roster have seen moderate success at best. Winning, being ranked, title shots and playoff hopes? That's new for everyone.

So for James Franklin and his staff, it comes down to keeping the team focused on what's ahead of them right now, not potentially a few weeks down the road. Beating your opponent, not beating yourself.

"We have a young team, but I think people in general a lot of times handle adversity better than they handle success," Franklin said earlier this season. "As soon as you have some success and people are patting you on the back you can become complacent and feel like you've arrived I think it's human nature."

"So I think it's a challenge, I think a lot of things that we do with our approach and our organization and our plan is to try and help with that by keeping our routine. Not changing for an in-state game not changing for a out of conference game or in conference game or what outsiders deem as a "big game" for us each week is the Super Bowl, this is the most important game because it's the next game on the schedule so we try and keep that approach the same and I think that helps. The young guys know what to expect the old guys give leadership but I think that's a challenge, i think that's a challenge in general across college football but I think it's a challenge when you have a team that has never had that kind of success before."

Enter Rutgers, a objectively bad team hosting a regional rival with the hopes of doing something bigger and better than anything in the past decade. A prime time for an upset indeed.

Fortunately for Penn State there is a bit of a built in reason for players to not overlook this game. 19 players hail from New Jersey, nothing gets you going quite like playing in front of fans and perhaps more importantly, taking on the team you saw growing up.

So does that keep you focused? 

"Yeah, absolutely," Tight end Mike Gesicki said this week. "It's good for a lot of the guys on the team. A lot of guys are from Jersey or close to Jersey. So I think it's a great opportunity for all of us to go in there. Rutgers is a good football team. They have a lot of talent. They have a great head coach. They're going to be more determined and more focused than ever to get a win."

"So I think playing there in a night game on a big stage, all that stuff and a great atmosphere, I think it's a great opportunity for us. We're not overlooking anybody, and we're excited for this opportunity."

And as you might expect, Penn State's star tight end won't be short on his own fans in the stands.

"My dad texted me this morning and said, If you can get a hundred tickets, I can get a hundred people to go. So I'm definitely scrapping for some tickets right now. I'm asking everybody. Doing whatever it takes."

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