Game Ball and Helmet Stickers: Northwestern

Game Ball and Helmet Stickers: Northwestern

I'll be the first to admit it, I was wrong and I apologize for jumping the gun. I wore my heart on my sleeve and smelled the roses before they bloomed. There were too many visions of New Year’s Day bowl games and Big Ten Championships clouding my view. Just when we thought Penn State had turned the corner, the wheels fell off once again. I am also here to tell you this, the sky is NOT falling. The sun sets in the West, or more appropriately the Mid-West considering how things went in Chicago and it will still rise in the East tomorrow morning. As painful as it may have been in the end, Penn State will rise again as well. The mere fact that we stand here today, disgruntled and restless over a two point loss to a rested and ranked Northwestern is a testament of progress for this year’s version of our Nittany Lions, whether we want to admit it or not.

We were in this position last year. I remember it all too well. Penn State was 4-0 and receiving votes in the Top 25 for the first time in a few years. The week before, those old fools (to put it as mildly as I could) otherwise known as the NCAA, had just reinstated our bowl eligibility. All the talk that week revolved around an undefeated season and a run at the Rose Bowl. The upcoming Homecoming game against Northwestern (quickly becoming a thorn in our side) was but a mere formality standing in between our rightful claim back amongst the elite. You know what happened next. Those pesky Wildcat's came into Beaver Stadium and punched us square in the mouth. They hit us with everything they had and stole our hearts in the process. Not only that, but they revealed and exposed a major weakness along the O-Line. The 29-14 loss in 2014 was a sobering reminder that Penn State football still had a long way to go. In fact, we never truly recovered.

So, here we are once again digging for positives. Making excuses as to why we just can't seem to cross over that proverbial hump. Penn State is NOT 1-0 this week, unfortunately, but WE ARE 7-3 and for all intent and purposes, 7-3 is not THAT bad. Heck, for the vast majority of college football, 7-3 is something worth hanging your hat on. Not us, of course, we are too proud and carry too stoic a past to ever concede a job well done with such a mediocre record (note the sarcasm). We do not just claim bowl wins and average records at Penn State. No, we claim National Championships, a Heisman Trophy and a plethora of All-Americans and Hall Of Fame inductees amongst our legacy. JoePa set that bar as high as Mount Nittany and until we put ourselves in that position once again, there will be very little satisfaction with a two-point loss to a better than average team. One that was coming off a bye week no less.

As we dive headfirst into the drudges of the bye-week blues one thing is clear after Saturday’s 23-21 loss to Northwestern. We are close. We're so close we can all smell it. We can spend an entire first half sleepwalking and still take a lead heading into the final two minutes. That's how close we truly are. In the end, we could not gain 1 yard when we needed it most. We could not keep them from driving when they had to be stopped and we could not manage the clock when every second counted. Everybody played a part and yet, Northwestern had to do everything they possibly could to come away with a last second win.

So Penn State heads into a much needed week off sitting at 7-3 and more importantly carrying a 4-2 record in the Big Ten Conference. Not great but good. Not what we all want or expect, but the alternative could be far worse if things had played out the way they were planned back in July 2012. Today, I give the Game Ball to Father Time for once again tempering our expectations and hand out a Helmet Sticker to Patience with the sincere hope that we can all find just a little, myself included. Take a deep breath. Step away from the stress this week. Heal those wounds and enjoy the ride. This team is far from finished, that I know for sure.