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Penn State Football: Outland Trophy Absence Isn't Really a Snub, But It Is Symbolic

by on July 08, 2016 12:40 PM

Preseason watch lists are by their very nature an exercise in futility.

The Outland Trophy, for example, names 70 interior lineman to its list, boldly declaring that one of these players will likely be the best interior lineman in the nation. All while having the right to add and remove names to the list during the season, a right which is exercised every single year.

So yes, somebody is going to be the best interior linemen when the 2016 campaign ends. And yes, that person may or may not be on the watch list released Friday morning. If that doesn't get you excited about scrolling through a list of 70 above-average players in mid July, then that's probably a good sign you have hobbies and interests.

But for all of the somewhat meaningless pomp and circumstance, the watch list itself does serve as the slightest barometer for programs used to seeing their players popping up on preseason watch lists from time to time.

Take Penn State for example, the Nittany Lions are without a single player on the Outland watch list, something that happened most recently in 2007, 2011 and now 2016. Other than that it has been a list of household names from Jordan Hill to Jared Odrick. While getting named to the list is hardly a telltale sign of success, Penn State has yet to really have a watch list player who has failed to perform as advertised. The Nittany Lions for all of the ups and downs, have continued to churn out productive and often nationally relevant linemen. That's something that has stayed constant through five defensive coordinators over that same span.

If the list wasn't 70 players long you might be able to get snubbed, but for a group dedicated to keeping on eye on 300-pound college athletes it's hard to say they missed somebody. If anything it's a list of long shots with 30 or so players capable of rising above the rest.

In truth it doesn't matter, but it does shed some light on where Penn State is as a program. The roster is full of potential but it's full of unproven potential. Defensive end Garrett Sickels is probably the most successful lineman on either side of the ball and he still has to prove he can do it without Carl Nassib and Anthony Zettel getting most of the attention. And frankly he's a defensive end, so including him in this conversation is stretching the rules to being with.

There isn't a player on Penn State offensive or defensive interior that you can say should have been named to the list. There are players who could be named in a year, and could certainly be added as the season goes along, but seeing is believing. That's not a slight, it's just reality.

And that really extends across the roster. There are the usual suspects, Jason Cabinda is very good, Brandon Bell is very good, you might even say that Saquon Barkley kid is above average. Joe Moorhead's offense certainly looks the part and Trace McSorley appears to be the quarterback the program needs right now. All of these things are seem to be true, but until it all comes together when it matters the most, nobody really knows how true it all is.

If anything the rare absence of a Penn State player on the Outland Trophy watch list is symbolic of the program as a whole. It's not that anyone thinks Penn State's players can't be good, or even great, but nobody knows for sure just yet.

And if history is to be our guide, 2007 and 2011 ended with 9-win seasons, something Penn State would happily take given the chance today.

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