Penn State takes on the mighty Trojans of USC in the 103rd edition of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California in the Coliseum, the venue that has hosted this annual spectacle since Penn State and USC christened it in 1923, a loss for our beloved Lions by the way. This year’s matchup signifies a return to prominence for two proud college football blue-bloods recently decimated at the sticky hands of the NCAA. The word “sanctions” resonates between them both and both are eager to shed the recent past on the national stage. Both come in riding multi-game winning streaks, Penn State nine and USC eight, and both have been regarded as two of college footballs hottest teams over the last two-thirds of the 2016 season. The playoff Gods may have snubbed us, but word around the water cooler is that this is an early preview of playoff potential heading into 2017.
All things considered, there is no loser between these two, no matter what the score indicates as the final whistle blows, but there is still much at stake. The statement has already been made and the winner of this year’s Rose Bowl gets much more than the satisfaction of victory. The winner gets a jump on next year’s race and a certain top-five finish. For its part, the Nittany Lions have been busy setting the stage for a championship run. On December 17th, Pennsylvania’s highest ranked recruit, 5-star DB Lamont Wade, declared his allegiance to Penn State and a week later, tight-end and redemption king, Mike Gesicki, announced he would return for his senior year in 2017. Shorly thereafter, linebacker Jason Cabinda announced his intention to play as a senior as did O-Line bookends, Andrew Nelson who has been out with injury since the blowout win over Maryland, and Brendan Mahon, who left early in the Iowa game and never returned. Perhaps as important as any, Offensive Coordinator, Joe Moorhead, on the short-list of several head coaching searches, reiterated twice his intent to stay in Happy Valley for at least another year. There are still a few decisions left to be made, mainly from Marcus Allen, Chris Godwin, and Garrett Sickels, but the foundation has been laid and the pieces all seem to be falling into place as Penn State moves back into position amongst the nations elite and respected.
I, like most of you, spent this past week or two following our Lions on social media as they made their journey to California and reap the post-season reward for a season well played; from the plane ride out of Harrisburg on a luxury 747, to their trip to Disneyland upon their arrival. I watched those LA buses, adorned with the Penn State logo and rose petals for all of SoCal to see, carry those Lions to a red-carpet rollout at the world-famous Lawry’s Steakhouse and I watched them take over an entire banquet hall as they made their last weight-lifting session of the year. Because after all, there was still work to be done and unfinished business before it all wraps up. Meanwhile, the rest of the Big Ten went about losing most of their post-season matchups. Most notably, mighty Michigan fell to Florida State in the Orange Bowl and media darling OSU laid a big, fat zero, getting smoked by Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. That poor showing left Penn State as the last man standing to carry the conference flag. It’s a conference that did its best to shun us five years ago, and now sits eagerly awaiting our final hurrah. Destiny may have fallen into the hands of the Buckeyes in the eyes of the playoff committee a few weeks ago, but karma stands solid on our sideline as we prepare to take on USC. For more reasons than one its time to Smell the Roses and savor their scent as Penn State begins 2017 on a high-not with one last thriller, 27-23 over USC.