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Penn State Football: Season Already Not Short On Big Moments, Or Big Question Marks

by on May 10, 2016 2:00 PM

The 2016 season for Penn State football has always been full of land mines. It is a schedule which puts the Nittany Lions in the crosshairs of some of the best teams in the nation the past few years and in primetime in front of a home crowd.

There will be no hiding this year. Lose on the road and everyone has the benefit of just turning off the TV and moving on. Lose at home, that's failure on the biggest stage, a loss in front of people who spent their day getting ready for that game. Everything is magnified and so too is the criticism.

In truth Penn State's issues this year aren't going to be the creation of bad management as much as bad timing. A new quarterback, a new defensive line, a new offensive coordinator. That won't be an excuse for the entire season, but it's hard to say that the bumps along the way are going to have to result in finger pointing. 

But imagine if the bumps are minor.

Imagine if Penn State can get off on the right foot this year beating Kent State. Imagine if the Nittany Lions can travel to what will be a hostile crowd in Pittsburgh and beat the Panthers.

Imagine coming back to a talented but very different Temple team visiting Beaver Stadium and winning that game. Imagine giving Michigan a run for its money before coming back to beat Minnesota and Maryland at home.

That's a 5-1 start. All told nothing to laugh at, even if hot starts and tough finishes have been the hallmark of the Franklin era thus far.

So this is where it gets interesting. Ohio State visits State College, a game impossible to pen in as Penn State win, but an Ohio State team rebuilding in its own right. A big moment, a chance to get the giant while it's down. Hard to say if it will happen, but also hard to say it's impossible.

Then it's off to Purdue, before a night meeting with Iowa. Then at Indiana and Rutgers before finishing off the season hosting Michigan State.

There are wins to be had, even knowing very little about how this team will look it's not unreasonable to see anywhere between 7 and 9 of them. Penn State hasn't won more than 7 games since 2012 and it isn't outrageous to think that might still be a year down the road from happening again.

But the moments are there, moments that are tangible steps in the right direction for the program slogging along.

Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State all at home. Find a way to win two of those games, or have a chance in all three, those are moments you can point to as small signs of progress.

The alternative is of course, losing, the status quo remains the same and Penn State gives a good effort but the Nittany Lions can't get over the hump. Penn State wins all the games it should and almost wins the ones that it shouldn't. In 2015 those losses were easier to swallow for fans, a lot of them came on the road.

But this year, unanswered questions or not, Penn State will win or lose some of its biggest games of the year in front of a crowd eager to see progress. 

If Franklin and Co can deliver, it may not matter what the final record is.

If they can't, there won't be much room to hide from whatever comes next.

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