Deep Breaths, Folks: The 6-6 Football Season Wasn’t a Disaster
Take a deep breath, folks. Calm down. Everything is going to be alright. I know that you’re used to winning seasons as a Penn State football fan. Maybe you’ve seen a national championship or a Rose Bowl win or two in your lifetime. This whole 6-6 thing with uncompetitive conference play is an alien concept.
You’re mad. You want to see James Franklin’s head paraded around town on a pitchfork with John Donovan’s close behind it. You miss Bill O’Brien and you wonder why Franklin couldn’t have the same success under the sanctions as our chin-dimpled, outspoken savior did for two years. You watched Christian Hackenberg and the offense struggle mightily and you wonder if the young gunslinger is really the future of the team.
I’m here to quell your fears and pour an ice cold bucket of water on the fiery anger and worry that you feel about Penn State football. Let me start by saying that we should have seen this coming.
A perfect storm of events allowed the Nittany Lions to weather the first couple of sanctioned seasons. A prolific quarterback recruit entered Happy Valley with the school’s best receiver ever at his disposal. The offensive line was a veteran group that allowed Michael Zordich, Zach Zwinak, and Bill Belton to pick up yards. The defense was an inspired unit with leaders like Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges. There was enough talent left over from life before sanctions to hold the team over.
But 2014 came along after a couple of years with Penn State falling at least 20 scholarships shy of the 85 that are permitted by the NCAA. With freshmen being redshirted, injuries benching scholarship players, run-ons receiving scholarships, and players who left the team retaining scholarships, the Nittany Lions had 48 recruited scholarship players on the field for most of the season. That’s nearly 40 less than what the NCAA allows.
You’re still angry because you don’t see my point. But Bill O’Brien predicted that this would be the worst year of the sanctions, and he was certainly right. The Nittany Lions will always be good enough that they won’t end up with the conference bottom feeders like Indiana or Purdue. This team wasn’t going to go 4-8 or 3-9. But it was going to hit rock bottom for a program that can sustain some of its success with name value.
And what rock bottom looks like for Penn State is an even record with only two conference wins. As I wrote after the Ohio State double-overtime loss, there is plenty of hope for the future.
Penn State nearly beat Michigan. Without the referees botching multiple calls, the team would have topped the Buckeyes, a squad with hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff. The Maryland game was a one-point loss. The Illinois game was a two-point loss.
A few more scholarship players and a team that wasn’t the second-youngest in the country might have won 10 games this season with a 6-2 Big Ten record, rather than the abysmal 2-6 that it finished at. The effects of the sanctions won’t miraculously clear up over the course of an offseason. It will take time for the renewed scholarships to negate the damage done, but it really is difficult to hold anyone other than Mark Emmert and the NCAA responsible for the 6-6 record and the tough losses.
I’m not saying that Franklin and his staff were absolutely perfect. The play-calling wasn’t great. The new system wasn’t implemented as seamlessly as it could have been. Offensive weapons weren’t utilized as they should have been in many cases. But Franklin was basically coaching on a layer of very thin ice for 12 games. He needed to redshirt a slew of freshmen to prepare for the future.
The end result of all this madness was a .500 record and the disappointment of hundreds of thousands of Penn State fans. But you shouldn’t be disappointed. You should be optimistic for the future and accepting of the fact that 6-6 ain’t that bad of a season considering the circumstances.
So take another deep breath. Give Franklin and his staff a chance. We’re going to be just fine.