A Brief History Of Penn State Preseason Football Hype
The college football season is less than a week away, and there couldn’t be more hype surrounding the No. 6 Nittany Lions. After all, this is Penn State’s highest ranking in the AP Poll since the 1999 season, when the Lions entered the year ranked No. 3 in the nation.
But as history’s proven time and time again, lofty preseason rankings and expectations can be both a blessing and a curse. The 1999 season is one of many cautionary tales that can be applied after the Nittany Lions were seemingly on their way to another national title before three consecutive losses at the end of the season derailed those championship hopes.
On the other end of the spectrum, history hasn’t always been so cruel. We decided to look at four seasons in particular that began with early preseason hype and note the ending result. We apologize for any negative feelings some of these memories may evoke, and hope it’s outweighed by the thought of happier times:
The first of Penn State’s two national championships under Joe Paterno began two spots below where the 2017 Nittany Lions currently sit rankings-wise. No. 8 Penn State rattled off three consecutive victories before upsetting No. 2 Nebraska within the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium.
Penn State’s overall momentum was seemingly stifled after losing handily on the road against Alabama in Birmingham, but what followed should serve as a dose of inspiration. The Nittany Lions stuck to their collective defensive guns as they outscored their remaining opponents 228-71 — with No. 1 Georgia accounting for 23 of those allowed points in a tightly-contested title game that was ultimately captured by Penn State.
It’s important to note that the present-day Nittany Lions don’t exactly have to run the table in order to finish the year atop the college football landscape. An ultra-competitive top-10 mixed with a four-team playoff means somebody will enter the postseason with a blemished record — 1982 is proof that it’s possible.
National championship No. 2 for Joe Paterno began exactly where the 2017 Nittany Lions currently stand: ranked No. 6 in the preseason rankings. Penn State cruised through its first eight games save for a six-point scare against Cincinnati at home. Paterno’s elite unit blew out Alabama on the road — all while holding the Crimson Tide to a mere three points.
The victory in Tuscaloosa vaulted the Nittany Lions to No. 2, where they remained until defeating No. 1 Miami in an all-time classic to secure the title at the Fiesta Bowl. They say history repeats itself, and hopefully for James Franklin, history operates on a 31-year cycle.
The 1997 season saw Penn State earn a preseason No. 1 ranking — its highest ever. But, eight games into the season during the heart of Big Ten play, the Nittany Lions’ season sputtered and flamed out. A lopsided loss to No. 4 Michigan dropped the team to No. 6, and two losses to end the year eliminated any title hopes for a team that looked every bit the favorite it opened the season as — finishing No. 16.
Fresh off a loss to USC in the Rose Bowl (sound familiar?), the Nittany Lions opened up the 2009 season ranked No. 9 against Akron (almost deja vu?) and seemed poised to make a return to the top until a heartbreaking loss in week four at home against Iowa sent the team out of the top-10.
Another lopsided loss, this time at the hands of Terrelle Pryor and Ohio State, put the nail in Penn State’s title contention after such promising beginnings. The Big Ten gauntlet is a grueling one, and Penn State’s 2017 slate could pose a similar threat to its College Football Playoff hopes.
Remember, this is a top-down comparison at past results after lofty preseason expectations. Anything can happen during a given season — anything except, say, losing to Lehigh 106-0 like Penn State did in 1889.
We can say with confidence a repeat of that result won’t be coming in 2017.
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