In the wake of a tough loss in East Lansing, many Penn State fans feel disappointed, and understandably so given the perceived trajectory of the season. Fans of any sport know that, no matter what, losing never feels good — that’s just a fact. Dealing with defeat is especially difficult when expectations are high, which was certainly true given last season’s performances from Saquon Barkley, Trace McSorley, Jason Cabinda, and many others.
In the case of this Penn State team, however, it’s important to keep in mind how much James Franklin’s squad has improved in what has truly been a very short time. We’re certainly not talking about a program that has been in national championship contention for any extended period of time.
Just two seasons ago, the Nittany Lions opened up the season with a 27-10 loss to Temple at Lincoln Financial Field. Who would have picked that same team to make a trip to the Rose Bowl the following season?
Franklin and company would also head to Columbus to take on the top-ranked Buckeyes, ultimately falling 38-10 despite a huge effort from then-freshman Saquon Barkley.
Penn State would also eventually lose to Michigan State on the road 55-16 (where even an offensive lineman scored for the Spartans) en route to a 7-5 season.
Obviously, taking a look back doesn’t necessarily help ease the pain. But it does show that this program is on the rise and, surprisingly enough, probably outplaying its current level of talent. The recruiting that this coaching staff has done is a perfect example of what should be bright times ahead.
If you look at Bud Elliot’s Blue-Chip Ratio analysis, you’ll find that every national championship winner for the past decade has recruited more four- and five-star high school players than two and three-star players. Simply put, signing elite talent is the best indicator of success on the big stage.
When Franklin took over, Penn State’s 2014 recruiting class had a blue-chip ratio of just 21 percent. That percentage increased to 28 percent, 34 percent, and 41 percent in the subsequent three recruiting cycles. This 2018 recruiting class currently weighs in with a 54.5-percent blue-chip ratio, and is poised to be one of the best recruiting classes in the country. An influx of elite talent on both the offensive and defensive line will likely make a startling difference for the Nittany Lions.
And Penn State already has a ton of young talent within the program. Players like Miles Sanders and Brandon Polk have been learning the college game and developing while waiting for an opportunity to really break through. Standout true freshmen like Lamont Wade, Tyriq Castro-Fields, and Yetur Matos have already put in significant time for the Nittany Lions this season, showing some sky-high potential in the group.
The disappointment is undeniable after the Michigan State game. It is crucial, though, to remember that this team has made abrupt and astonishing leaps forward in less than two seasons. And the Nittany Lions will only continue to improve.