Penn State ended the 2016 season ranked No. 7 in both the AP and Coach’s polls. Despite the team's 3-point loss to USC in the Grandaddy of Them All, they have been pegged to begin the preseason ranked somewhere in the Top-5 once early August finally rolls around. The Nittany Lions have been universally viewed as legit playoff contenders after falling just short as Big Ten Champs; a team on the rise. The Dynamic Duo, Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley, are both considered Heisman contenders as well heading into 2017. Joe Moorhead, the architect and offensive coordinator declared his intent on staying in Happy Valley for at least one more year, despite numerous opportunities at head coaching vacancies. His decision to stay guarantees continuity for an offense that was near unstoppable down the stretch and already has opposing defenses cringing at the thought of trying to shut it down.
The bad side of the off-season reared its head the week after the Rose Bowl loss when both Garrett Sickels and Chris Godwin declared their intent to leave Penn State early and try their luck in the NFL. Those two losses, coupled with the departure of 13 seniors, take a huge chunk of production away from both sides of the ball, but with a full compliment of scholarship players now on the roster, they shouldn’t be too difficult to replace. On a positive note, linebacker Jason Cabinda, safety Marcus Allen, and wideouts DaeSean Hamilton and Saeed Blacknall all took to twitter to announce their decision to stay for their senior year. As for the head Lion, James Franklin, he wrapped up his third season at the helm by winning the Woody Hayes Coach of the Year award, among others, and cemented his foundation in Happy Valley for years to come.
This time last year, most of us were in a state of unknown. We could see the talent coming in, but had yet to see the results on the field. The irony is, we saw a glimpse of what was to come in the Taxslayer Bowl when Trace McSorley took the field for an injured Christian Hackenberg and came oh so close to a game winning rally. The irony is, he began deep in a hole and nearly dug himself and his Nittany Lions out. Only the lack of time held the team back against Georgia. This time last year, a lot of us had labeled James Franklin a “used car salesman,“ someone that could recruit but could not develop. Someone who had yet to achieve that so-called “signature” win. That signature win of course came on October 22, 2016 and once it did, those Nittany Lions never looked back. They took that win and ran away with the Big Ten, they captured our hearts forever, and they opened the eyes of all those naysayers that predicted death to a sleeping giant. ‘Tis the off-season indeed, it was a year we will never forget. One day, 2016 will hang in Beaver Stadium right alongside the year that held us all together, 2012, and for that we can be grateful.