Penn State Football: A New Chapter In 2019 Might Help Answer Old Questions
There has always been at least one small but important question lingering over each of Penn State's seasons under James Franklin.
During the early years the offense wasn't great, was that John Donovan's fault or was it result of roster depth? Did the sanctions contribute to things more than people realize and Penn State was doomed to fail by design? It was probably a bit of everything.
Then came the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Was it James Franklin, was it Joe Moorhead, or was it a generational player surrounded by the perfect complementary parts? Was it a blocked kick and some help in Columbus? Do you get less credit for recruiting good players and winning with them, or do you get criticized for having those good players, beating everyone you should and struggling with everyone else?
Were those teams so good simply because it was impossible for them to be bad?
And then in 2018 the Nittany Lions were good, not great, but was that a surprise? Was it a shock that a new offensive coordinator without a handful of generational players couldn't quite continue the momentum? Was it really a shock that a very good quarterback can throw the ball but he can't catch it too? Was that coaching, was it focus, was it just bad luck, was it Penn State regressing to the mean?
Again, it probably was a mix.
That's the nice part about Penn State's 2019 season. You might get a much clearer answer. Penn State's defense will be very good, but not without the need for growth. Penn State's offense has talent on paper, but will need good coaching to get to where it wants to go, mainly back from Columbus, Iowa City and East Lansing with at least a few wins.
Gone are the all-time players, gone are a long list of obvious and established answers. In come new faces and new names entering into new roles. And sure, they might turn out to be just as good and just as successful as their predecessors, only time will tell. Right now we just don't know.
Soon we will, and soon enough we will have an even better answer to some of the older questions. If Penn State can navigate its schedule in 2019 and come out with a head of steam into a more favorable 2020, then Franklin and company might be on to something. If the Nittany Lions struggle in 2019, there is nothing inherently wrong with a down year, but it will help answer the larger question of how far Penn State is from where it wants to go.
In truth one season with a young team does not determine the validity of a program's success, but the more Franklin can do with this team and this schedule, the more we'll learn about how sustainable the whole thing might just be. Finding out that Penn State is still a program that has to wait a year or two for another playoff run isn't the worst thing, but if it wants to truly chase down the Ohio States and Clemsons of the world, it has to be able to answer the call when everything isn't quite in its favor.
And maybe some day that will happen, maybe that day is in 2019. Only time will tell.
Which is what makes this season maybe the most interesting one yet.