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Penn State Football: The Great Unknown Awaits In 2016

by on January 02, 2016 6:40 PM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.

All week the story was the same. A win, that would help change things. A win over Georgia would be a springboard into the offseason and a positive feeling to take into the early stages of 2016.

That's not wrong. Especially if Penn State had been able to overcome the loss of Christian Hackenberg and a 24-3 second half deficit. Turn that game into a victory and it's hard to deny the positive energy it gives a program

In reality though the problems, or in the very least the obstacles Penn State faces in 2016 are perhaps larger than what any single win can do for a program.

For one Penn State will be without a trio of defensive linemen in Carl Nassib, Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson. All three preparing for very lucrative NFL careers.

No more Jordan Lucas, a reliable safety who was a calming presence in the secondary.

Gone is Hackenberg, who even on his least productive outings still brought NFL talent to the table.

Akeel Lynch and Geno Lewis? To be determined, but both seemingly facing choices about their own future with the program.

In comes a new offensive system under Joe Moorhead, in comes a new quarterback to learn the ropes.

So James Franklin will have a difficult task in front of him yet again. To sell a product to fans that is a work in progress and convince everyone that the ship is still floating in the right direction. If nothing else that the ship isn't taking on more water. A victory in its own right.

"I do, I think there's progress," Franklin said yet again after Saturday's loss. "You look at conference record, there's progress that's being made. Not as much as anybody wants. The fans, no one more than the guys in the locker room. No more than the coaches and myself. But there is progress being made. I know talking about moving forward there's an excitement that next year is the first year post sanctions where we'll be back to the 85 scholarships and have the depth and continue to be able to develop our guys. There's excitement about that."

"Last year we start the season not being able to go to a bowl game. That changes as the season goes on. This year we got close to 85, but not quite there. I think there's excitement about that moving forward."

2016 though, it's going to be a rough on. Five games against Top 25 teams in 2015. At Michigan, while hosting Iowa, Ohio State, Temple and Michigan State. A road test against Pitt that will be hard equally because of the rivalry and it being just the second game of the year. The schedule is dynamite for selling tickets but it's a roadmap to a long, long season for a team not where it needs to be just yet.

"We've got a bunch of young guys. Starts and reps and opportunities this year, that's going to continue next year as well.But I think there is progress. There's progress in terms of trust. There's progress in terms of relationships. There's progress in terms of the program and what we're doing."

A struggling 2016 season isn't an automatic inditement of Franklin and his staff though. If anything, Michigan State's long road to national relevance proves that building takes time. The Spartans did it facing the "simple" obstacles of a fully healthy program. Penn State faces those challenges every week in addition to obstacles that face a team just trying to get back to even par.

But if nothing else change is coming to Penn State football in 2016.

For the better? Only time will tell. For a program that hasn't won more than 7 games since 2012, for the better doesn't have to look great just yet.



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