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Putting Penn State Football’s 0-3 Start Into Perspective

0-3 starts have been few and far between for Penn State football, and they almost never bode well for the Nittany Lions’ prospects the rest of the way.

After Saturday’s embarrassing loss to Maryland, James Franklin can now celebrate his first winless three-game start as Penn State’s head coach. This is also the program’s first 0-3 start since 2001, so it’s about as bad as it can get for the Nittany Lions.

Entering Saturday’s contest, Penn State hadn’t fallen to Maryland since a 20-19 loss at Beaver Stadium in 2014. In fact, it was well-documented that the Nittany Lions hadn’t even allowed a touchdown to the Terrapins since 2016. With that in mind, it felt as if Nittany Nation took a collective sigh of relief with a seemingly inferior Maryland squad coming to town, myself included.

Saturday’s loss means that Penn State’s hopes for the 2020 season are a whole lot worse than folks had thought. The excuse that Indiana is actually a good football team this year and Ohio State is, well, Ohio State, doesn’t play anymore when you lose to Maryland.

With three consecutive losses on the board and still on the search for a win, this is clearly one of James Franklin’s toughest stretches in Happy Valley. This is now up there with a four-game losing steak in the middle of his first season at Penn State in 2014, including that loss to Maryland, and another four-game slide to close out the 2015 season.

Since then, though, it seemed as if Franklin had put those days behind him with Penn State’s return to prominence in 2016. He had a couple of back-to-back stumbles in 2017 and 2018, but the Nittany Lions seemed to always beat who they were supposed to. This is 2020, however, and with that in mind, it seems they’ll need to battle for every win they get this season.

In terms of the program’s history, Penn State hasn’t had as ugly a start to its season since 2001 when it dropped its first three contests. While that streak is obviously affected by Nittany Lions not getting to start this season with a (sorry, Idaho and Kent State) cupcake start to its schedule, it’s still eye-opening to consider.

Joe Paterno’s team opened 2001 with losses to No. 2 Miami (that year’s eventual champion), Wisconsin, and Iowa. Penn State also lost to Michigan in week four in what was also a somewhat strange season. The Nittany Lions would’ve played Virginia early in September, but that game got rescheduled following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Even after that brutal start, the Nittany Lions actually managed to bounce back a bit and win five of their last seven games, including wins over No. 22 Northwestern and Ohio State.

If this year’s Penn State team wants to have any sort of recovery to close out the year, there’s a long list of things that need to change. Even with a depleted group of running backs, Micah Parsons gone, and an unprecedented conference-only schedule, there’s just no excuse to lose to Maryland like the Nittany Lions did Saturday.

It’s not about a College Football Playoff berth, a Big Ten Championship, and frankly even a run at some bowl game anymore. In fact, Jahan Dotson said it best during his postgame interview Saturday night.

“We’re not as one right now, we’re not a unit right now,” Dotson said. “There’s distractions that we shouldn’t be focused on right now. We’ve got to be focused on getting in the win column, nothing else.”

With five touchdowns to his name already this year, Dotson has been one of the bright spots on this team, and it remains to be seen if many other guys can step up on the offensive side of the ball. He and the rest of the group now sit as the only winless team in the Big Ten East and bear the immense pressure of avoiding a historically awful 0-4 start.

The good news? Penn State gets to play one of the only other two winless Big Ten team this Saturday when it takes on Nebraska on the road. If you’re brave enough to tune in, that game will kick off at noon on FS1.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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