Pregame Predictor: TaxSlayer Bowl

Pregame Predictor: TaxSlayer Bowl

The long wait has come to pass. A season full of grit and grind has reached its final destination in sunny Jacksonville, Florida. A month has come and gone since we last saw our Nittany Lions stumble out of East Lansing, Michigan. Woven in between the lights, the spirit and the abnormal warmth that rang in the holidays, we followed with pride as Carl Nassib crisscrossed the continental U.S., collecting enough trophies and accolades to fill a man cave. In the process, he quietly reminded us all that the underdog is never a guaranteed loss. A worthy lesson as we jump head-first into 2016. We welcomed a new member of the family in Offensive Coordinator, Joe Moorhead (already affectionately known as JoeMo) and waived farewell to one who became a source of divide. We raised a glass to the 18 student-athletes as well as all the others that walked across the stage to accept their diplomas and we took a collective deep breath and a long break from the roller coaster ride that defined Penn State football in 2015.

All of these circumstances lead us to this sun-drenched culmination. An award for all the blood, sweat and tears that go far beyond the handful of fall Saturday’s in the fall. College football is a year-round operation with very little time off. As saturated as the current bowl format has become, with over 40 bowls filling the slate, it’s hard to argue that a team with a winning record shouldn’t be able to enjoy some kind of post-season showcase. Make no mistake, even at a middling 7-5, even though they stumbled mightily down the stretch, these Nittany Lions belong exactly where they are.

They belong in Jacksonville, on the beach, feasting on seafood, and collecting the swag that comes with the territory. They earned that right. Perhaps more so than any other squad on the landscape. Especially our seniors. The ones who went through four head coaches and faced a mountain of adversity. This is their week. Their moment in the sun. A final opportunity to close the book on a career unlike any other in Happy Valley. Our own tiny little Camelot lost its luster to the outside world the year they were freshman. Our seniors spent the next four years bringing the shiny luster back to Happy Valley.

Ladies and gents, it’s time for the 2016 Taxslayer Bowl and this one is for them. It is also for those who followed their lead and for all those who came before them. This one is for the likes of Mike Mauti, Matt McGloin, John Urschel, Allen Robinson and the rest of the 2012 and 2013 teams that were robbed of the opportunity to play in a bowl game. This one is for all the naysayers who said that Penn State football would not be relevant for the next ten years. This is our chance to prove them wrong. A gnarly band of underdogs, led by the ultimate underdog himself. Carl Nassib.

Standing in their way is a formidable foe; the Bulldogs of Georgia and the mighty SEC. A rag-tag bunch with a 9-3 record but missing a head coach and coordinators. They have an offense statistically as bad as ours but they win with a defense that can snuff the fire out of the flame. A team in disarray and transition but one that will not be lost on the fact that Penn State holds an edge that dates back over 30 years. A squad of Dawgs with their backs against the wall despite being a touchdown favorite in the eyes of Vegas. This game is as much an audition for their younger players as it is a chance to start the year off on a high note. Any thoughts of them just rolling over and throwing in the towel can be tossed out the window. This is a proud program. One that does not find content with “only” winning 9 regular season games. Much like the teams we currently look up to in our own conference, Georgia is a fine example of who we are striving to be once again.

So, it all has come down to this. A classic high-noon rematch on the field at EverBank Stadium. Two teams in a dog fight to get back to the standards they held the first time Penn State played Georgia in 1983. This one may not be for all the treasure but there is still plenty left at stake, with pride being at the top of the order. For Penn State, a season that began with such promise in Philadelphia, has one last chance to rectify itself. One final opportunity to show those who counted out the Nittany Lions for good, that we still belong with the big boys. One more game for those seniors, who have already left such a distinguished legacy, to make a statement. To close their Penn State story with victory on the field, although a much larger victory in life has already been achieved.

The season began with mumblings that we had an underdog among us. One that would bring into perspective the benefit of hard work, commitment, and dedication. A man to prove to us all that an underdog is never guaranteed a loss. Today, I stand by that underdog and the rest of his underdog teammates. Penn State 20-13 in a defensive struggle over Georgia.