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Penn State Football: Now It's All About Staying Power

by on November 25, 2017 8:40 PM

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- There is an autopsy to be done at a later date of Penn State's 2017 season. A year that will be remembered as much for its significance — just the third time the Nittany Lions have put together back-to-back 10-win seasons since joining the Big Ten — as its shortcomings.

In the end it will ultimately be impossible to divorce the fact Penn State was so close to something special in the midst of a season that objectively stands out in a sea of otherwise middling results. Penn State football has been very good for the past 18 months, a fact that should not be so casually disregarded.

But the question really is what happens next.

Penn State's bowl will hold some value, but the Nittany Lions will be an overhauled team in 2018, so it's hard to imagine that final game will provide the program much more than an emotional final chapter for a team so instrumental in the program's resurgence. A final goodbye and less an opening salvo into the future.

After that is anyone's guess.

"I really believe that this is the beginning for us, we just continue to get better," James Franklin said following Penn State's win on Saturday. "That's every aspect of the program. That's the players, the coaches, the trainers the doctors. What we need to do is continue to build this program."

The problem, of course, is a mounting collection of hard truths rushing toward Penn State. The Nittany Lions will almost certainly head into 2018 without Saquon Barkley and will absolutely do so without a host of other graduating players. Trace McSorley, Tommy Stevens, Joe Moorhead and maybe even Brent Pry could be among the others to make career choices.

And then it becomes harder, much harder, to see the next step being one that is forward.

"At this level it's very very difficult," Franklin acknowledged. "It's very very challenging. We just have to keep scraping and clawing and scratching for every little inch. Because to be honest with you for where we need to go, it's still going to need to be a slow, steady, crawl to get to where we want to go. I'd make the argument that it's going to be harder these next steps than what we've already done."

It stands to reason that Penn State, barring something unexpected, will look similar offensively for as long as Franklin is around, with or without Moorhead. The Nittany Lions may not have the generational talents of Barkley forever, but they have a scheme and the recruiting momentum to beat much of the Big Ten. The seasons will come down to a few games, it will become more and more about the two in the record and less about the 10.

So for Penn State football, the Nittany Lions have entered a different paradigm. A place where success will be defined by the little things and a handful of games rather than generalized broad strokes. There are worse things than being on a championship level, but there is a certain peace that comes from lower flying expectations.

Now it's all about staying power. Replacing talent, building depth, coaching well, managing the noise, making good calls. Everything matters.

But if anyone is equipped to take Penn State to that next plateau, it's hard to argue Franklin isn't the one to give it a go. Only time will tell how long that window remains open, and what Franklin can do to keep it that way.

Regardless, it won't get any easier, and 10-2 seasons shouldn't be so easily disregarded by fans of a program still finding its way. 2016 and 2017 may become the start of much more prolonged success, or they may become another peak in the valley. Either way, they won't be forgotten anytime soon, and after so many improbable comebacks, plays and wins, they shouldn't be.

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