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Onward Debate: Was The Penn State’s Football Season A Success Or Failure?

A mostly returning team from 2014 played what was viewed as an easy schedule, and improved from 6-6 to 7-5. Two of our sports writers debated out whether the Penn State regular season was a failure or a success in this Onward Debate.

Cade Reed: Success

The Penn State Nittany Lions football team went 6-6 in the regular season one year ago. This year, its record ended at 7-5. That’s progress in my book and it is one of many reasons why I consider the 2015 football season to be a success.

In James Franklin’s second year as Penn State’s head coach, he made a major stride forward by having a winning regular season record. He did this with a team struggling with roster struggles from sanction years, a young squad with an inexperienced and pieced-together offensive line, and a schedule that included games against five teams that at one point or another were ranked in the top 25 (and three in the top ten). Franklin did this while simultaneously building a top-ten recruiting class in the nation.

Before the season, it was easy to predict a nine or 10 win season without truly addressing the shortcomings of the team. The team is young, and every game of experience is valuable for freshmen and sophomores in the system. Teams like Michigan State and Ohio State have established traditions and are often three or four deep at every position. To get to this point takes respect, time, and above all, trust in a coach and a program to get the job done. When promising young stars like Marcus Allen, Jason Cabinda, and Grant Haley come to be upperclassmen, Penn State will see continued success like other Big Ten East teams.

There are quarterbacks across the country less talented than Christian Hackenberg that have lasting success because of a strong offensive line. With five or more seconds on most snaps, quarterbacks can go through their progression and allow their wide receivers to run their routes and get open. As Penn State grows under this new staff, and under a new offensive coordinator soon, this area will improve, giving any quarterback more time to operate.

Franklin is rebuilding for the future. Each of his recruiting classes are better than the last, and 2017 promises to be even stronger in a year with limited scholarships. He is building the team from the inside out, gaining numerous highly rated recruits on the offensive and defensive lines in recent years. Games are won in the trenches and with the likes of Michal Menet and Sterling Jenkins preparing to step up in the near future, this issue can be fixed.

Despite these problems, coupled with poor play calling at times, Penn State was able to come up with a winning record. Furthermore, Penn State was a strong competitor in many of the losses and had a good chance at winning them. Penn State defeated rivals Maryland and Rutgers comfortably and also blew out the teams it was supposed to. Northwestern came down to a last minute field goal and Penn State outplayed Ohio State at times in the Shoe. Had a few calls gone differently throughout the season, Penn State could have had nine to ten wins, in what I consider to be a sanction year when all is said and done.

Penn State showed progress under James Franklin, and with a new offensive coordinator and numerous top 100 recruits coming into the program and waiting for their time as redshirts, that progress is sure to continue.

We cannot blame sanctions forever, but it is certainly appropriate to do so now and Penn State’s success in spite of them cannot be understated. I’m the biggest Penn State football fan there is (though some readers might disagree with me) and the team has made me proud this year. This year was a success, in my book.

Tim Reams: Failure

The definition of failures and successes can best be interpreted from an outside perspective. As a hardcore, long-time, and die-hard Penn State football fan I have come to love college football as much as anyone, but I believe stepping outside of my little “Penn State is the best at everything always” box helps me best analyze how the Nittany Lions fared this season. To sum it up simply, this season was not a success. Despite improving in the wins and losses column, the team took a few more steps backwards than forwards for the following reasons:

  • The defense of Penn State was very good this year, but it took steps backwards that should alarm fans and coaches alike. The team showed major mental gaps that can be attributed to both inexperience and carelessness, and steadily declined towards the end of the season, allowing more passing and rushing yards and touchdowns than last year. The defense lost Nyeem Wartman-White early on, but bounced back and coasted through unranked opponents like it was nothing to dominate consistently. Then when players like Carl Nassib went down, the team dropped in morale and execution. What alarms me about that is that not only is Nassib leaving Penn State, but defensive anchors and future draft picks Anthony Zettel, Austin Johnson, and Jordan Lucas are on their way out too. This Penn State defense should have been in the top 10 in the country, but seemed to fizzle on the final stretch of the season, which is not the definition of success. To put it simply, the defense should have been better.
  • Penn State is yet to defeat a ranked opponent under James Franklin. The team can dominate average, below average, and bad teams, but it cannot be successful until it puts a ranked team away. Penn State has come very close, but can’t finish games against signature opponents. Franklin has continued to light up the recruiting trail, but that doesn’t mean anything until his team wins important games. We’re two years into the Franklin era, and the Nittany Lions should have taken down a formidable opponent with the plethora of talent at their disposal. Jim Harbaugh stepped into the head coaching position of a weak Michigan program and he turned it into a top ten team in less than a year. Yes he is a coaching genius, but there are no excuses to be made after two years of having potential to be in Big Ten contention with all of the talent here at Penn State.

The season wasn’t a total loss though, as Penn State did pull away with a decent record and some great freshman performances (cough, Saquon, cough) did showcase that the future can be very bright. The problem with this season is that the defense should’ve been the pinnacle of Big Ten defenses in 2015, yet it fizzled out late in the season, and the team couldn’t take down a ranked opponent yet again. With John Donovan out, the final Paterno class taking its last bow, and an integral 2016 class headed in, it will be interesting to see how next season will fare for the Nittany Lions. What’s clear is that this season was not a success story.


There you have it, the case has been made for whether this football season was a success or failure for Penn State football. How do you feel the season went? Tell us in the comments below.

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About the Author


Posts from the all-student staff of Onward State.


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