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Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Will Look Better But That May Not Impact Win Total Just Yet

by on August 24, 2016 12:00 PM

To be perfectly honest nobody really knows what Penn State is going to look like this year.

Conventional wisdom says that the Nittany Lions will probably be better. There is more talent, there is a bit more experience and Joe Moorhead's offense couldn't really be worse than what Penn State had been dealing with the past two seasons. Penn State might simply be better because it's hard to imagine things looking worse when so many variables have improved.

But good enough to win more games? That's the question that nobody really has the answer to. 

In a weird twist it's very likely that Penn State looks like a much better team than it has been of late but doesn't actually win more games in the process. It might be more coherent on offense and still as stout on defense, but improved scoring and yardage averages aren't an automatic sign of victory, just internal improvement.

This is something James Franklin alluded to two weeks ago when (to paraphrase) saying the roster was more skilled top to bottom, but it's a matter of being a better team on the field. In short, when your team's depth and talent has been so depleted that any improvement is noticeable, that's not the same thing as noticeable improvement being an indication of immediate on field success. The chances greatly improve, but everything takes time.

If anything it seems safe to predict that Penn State will show itself to be a program teetering on the edge of where it has been and where it could go. The Nittany Lions will still lose a game they shouldn't, this team is not yet removed from the slow starts and mistakes that helped them go 7-6 last year.

But also true is the increased chance that Penn State wins a game that it shouldn't have. Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State are scattered across the schedule at different points in Penn State's maturation as a team. If an early season Michigan upset isn't in the works then maybe some magic at night against a reloading Ohio State. If that doesn't happen then maybe the final third of the year begins with the Hawkeyes finally falling in Beaver Stadium for the first time since 2011. The last chance will come against the Spartans on Senior Day the final game of the regular season where it's nearly impossible to see where either team will be at that juncture.

However the point remains the same, there are at least eight games on Penn State's schedule that seem like very reasonable opportunities for victory. Undoubtedly they won't all occur because the inevitability of the aforementioned miscues and inconsistencies, but between those chances and four more less likely chances for victory, Penn State might finally break into the eight win mark for the first time since 2012.

In the end the Nittany Lions are a promising bunch, but it's hard to imagine betting on them having more than eight wins. In sports it's very rare, if not unheard of, that a team with so many question marks and so many uncertainties somehow manages to overcome every challenge and avoid unforced errors en route to beating teams that have fewer questions and are prone to fewer mistakes.

The result sets the bar low by default. Until Penn State can prove it has gotten past its own realities getting in the way, there is reason to hope, but no reason to assume this is the year things change for the better and for good.

Penn State can win eight games, it could steal nine, but it will probably win seven. Most importantly though it will also look a lot more like the kind of football fans can get behind and far less like a team with no certain future.

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