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Penn State Completes Return To National Prominence With Rose Bowl Victory

Coming into this season, Penn State football owned an 11-11 record over the previous two years. A disastrous 2020 season followed up by a second-half collapse in 2021 set the stage for what was a crucial 2022 season.

An offseason full of questions and a constant and tiresome quarterback controversy put significant pressure on the Nittany Lions. Now, sitting at the conclusion of the season following a convincing Rose Bowl victory, one thing is abundantly clear: Penn State answered the call, and it’s back in the national conversation.

Even amid their best season since 2019, the Nittany Lions faced boatloads of criticism along the way. People thought they should’ve beaten Purdue and Northwestern by a wider margin, and a brutal loss to Michigan and a heartbreaking defeat to Ohio State caused many naysayers to write Penn State off.

Ironically, it was after that Ohio State loss that Penn State knew it was good enough to get to the Rose Bowl, according to team captain Juice Scruggs. Scruggs said after Monday’s game that the way the team responded after the loss to Buckeyes, which was with a 45-14 win over Indiana, gave the guys confidence that they were one of the best teams in the Big Ten.

Penn State’s win over Utah was its first ranked win of the season. The lack of a ranked victory coming into their matchup against the Utes is something the Nittany Lions heard plenty about. Captain and veteran defensive lineman PJ Mustipher said the team heard all the criticism and rallied together to prove everyone wrong.

“Most definitely [we heard the outside noise,]” Mustipher said. “We heard it. We understood. But at the end of the day, we understood that we’re a great team, no matter what people say about us. It’s not easy to win 10 games. We understood we had a huge opportunity to prove everybody wrong, and that’s what we did.”

Part of what made this Penn State team so great, according to Mustipher, is how close he and his teammates are. Mustipher alluded to Penn State’s “tight-knit group” multiple times during his postgame media availability, saying they all bought into each other and that it’s hard to beat close teams like that.

Sophomore cornerback Kalen King echoed Mustipher’s sentiment, saying the bond with this team was “different.” King, like Mustipher, talked about the doubters and how “they have to respect us now.” Tight end Theo Johnson called it a “statement game.”

That bond King mentioned is a byproduct of the culture in the locker room, which is something Scruggs discussed after the game.

“As a captain of this team, I feel like the captains this year changed the culture of the locker room and brought Penn State back,” Scruggs said.

It’s that same culture, that was set by the captains, that may have led to Penn State only having one opt-out for the Rose Bowl. James Franklin had previously credited the leadership of Penn State’s captains for the lack of opt-outs.

Obviously, as outsiders looking in, we’ll never really get a feel for what went on internally. However, this team really did seem different from the outside. After a really tough two years, Penn State football seemed fun again.

A major key to the Nittany Lions’ bounce-back season was their ability to avoid spiraling losses. In the past, one loss would turn into two, and two would turn into three. Following each loss this season, Penn State followed it up with 25+ point victories.

“In years past, one loss turned into two and one team has beat us twice,” Johnson said. “So, I think we did a good job of not looking in the rearview mirror this year and just kind of having laser focus for the rest of the season.”

It was truly a fitting end to the season in many ways. Penn State captured its first Rose Bowl Championship since 1995, the Nittany Lions will finish with at least a top-10 ranking after beginning the season unranked, and Sean Clifford, Ji’Ayir Brown, PJ Mustipher, and other departing Nittany Lions, get to ride off into the sunset.

However, a return to national prominence can’t be complete without talking about the future. Monday’s Rose Bowl victory could very well be the start of something special for the Nittany Lions, who have young, star-studded talent on both sides of the ball — Nick Singleton, Kaytron Allen, and Abdul Carter, to name a few. Penn State also has returning veteran talent, like Olu Fashanu, to rely on next season.

Oh, and there’s a certain former five-star recruit named Drew Allar who’s set to take over at the helm of Penn State’s offense next year. It’s an exciting time to be a Penn State fan. The Nittany Lions are back among college football’s best.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a senior majoring in journalism and is Onward State's managing editor. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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