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Penn State Football Deserves Credit For Avoiding Back-To-Back Losses

Shortly after James Franklin’s infamous and iconic “good, great, elite” speech in 2018, an “elite-o-meter” started circling the internet.

It’s a meme, poking fun at the head coach’s “done being great” rhetoric and, well, Rutgers. But, also, it’s an interesting and fun thing to keep track of.

Following the 2016 Big Ten Championship season, the Nittany Lions were truly on the cusp of being elite. “Done being great,” if you will. One-point losses to Ohio State in 2017 and 2018 and a New Year’s Six berth in 2019 were signs of a great football program.

It felt like the inability to beat the Buckeyes was what was holding Penn State back from the “elite” status. But, following an 11-11 stretch over the 2020 and 2021 seasons, it was obvious more was at play.

The Nittany Lions were knocked down another peg in the Big Ten hierarchy. It wasn’t about becoming elite anymore. Penn State was instead worried about being great or even just good. Its record says it was average.

But, nine games into the 2022 season, it appears Franklin & Co. have stabilized again. Despite losses to tier-one teams in Michigan and Ohio State, Penn State sports a 7-2 record and is vying for a New Year’s Six bowl.

The two losses are stains on the Nittany Lions’ resume, but there’s more to the story. What’s been impressive is the team’s ability to bounce back from these losses, which has been easier said than done in recent years.

In 2020, a season-opening loss in Bloomington sparked an 0-5 start. Last year, a tight defeat against Iowa carried over into a home loss to unranked Illinois and a 2-6 finish.

But, this time around, Penn State has avoided these back-to-back, snowballing losses. It responded to a demoralizing blowout loss in Ann Arbor with a blowout win of its own under White Out conditions. A heartbreaker to Ohio State was followed up with a 31-point win on the road.

Franklin deserves credit for rallying his troops after such tough losses this time around. Yes, avoiding pesky and unnecessary losses is the absolute minimum needed to become an elite program. But, it’s been an Achilles’ heel since 2016. Penn State is showing improvement.

The Nittany Lions haven’t secured a signature win in a while. The Auburn victories were impressive and Michigan couldn’t handle Penn State in 2019 and 2020, but beating Ohio State is the keystone to reaching the upper echelon of the Big Ten.

But, sometimes you just need consistency first.

“You’ve got some teams and some programs that have not been consistent but have big-time wins, and then you have others that have been consistent but not the signature win,” Franklin said Tuesday. “You want both. You want the consistency week in and week out, which I think we’ve all seen is hard to do, and the signature wins are hard to do, and what you’re trying to do is trying to do both. That’s what the best programs in college football are able to do.”

Franklin will have another stab at becoming elite in 2023, likely with phenom quarterback Drew Allar at the helm of the program. But a stabilizing 2022 season that featured impressive bounce-back victories is a great starting point on the path to both consistency and signature wins.

But, the season isn’t over yet. Maryland, Rutgers, and Michigan State all still pose unique threats to Penn State. So far, it seems like Franklin has cleaned up the mistakes of years past. But, we’ve seen this movie before — even this year against Ohio State. It’s never too late to rule out a collapse.

The Nittany Lions deserve a lot of credit for the progress they’ve made, but the season’s not over until it’s over.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected]

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