Penn State’s players get to go home for Christmas, and James Franklin gets to see his wife and two daughters a little bit early.
That’s fantastic for everyone. Good for them.
It would have been nice for the Nittany Lions to go to a bowl game and see if they could finish the season with a fifth straight win. The way this team battled and overcame adversity was impressive to see, hammered home by the way they destroyed Illinois over the final three quarters of Saturday’s 56-21 win at Beaver Stadium.
What we actually were watching — and the players surely all knew this, too — during those final three quarters was that this would be the final time they took the field this season.
We didn’t find out until about three hours after the game that Penn State would be declining a bowl invitation, thereby ending its season. The longer we waited, and the way some of the players avoided talking about it in postgame interviews, had some people thinking that, no, Penn State would not be going to a bowl game.
I believe it was the right decision, and I’m happy that all these young men in the program and the grown men on the coaching staff can now finally take a break, go home and forget about football for a little bit.
After nine consecutive grueling weeks of not only playing a season, but also dealing with the craziness of COVID — and getting through all of it as well as any program in the country — this much became clear:
Enough was enough.
And that’s perfectly fine.
Franklin had said he would be with the team for a bowl game, if there was one, instead of leaving so that he could return home and be with his wife and two daughters. The coach also said this:
“I know there’s a lot of conversations about how I’m gonna get my family back here … and how can we support my family in this region based on (my daughter’s) sickle cell.”
Hopefully the Franklins can indeed find a way to navigate all of that so that he can return to having a normal life with his family around every day. He deserves that.
Everyone deserves that.
The Penn State players deserve a chance to go home and finally get to be around family and loved ones. I can’t imagine what their lives have been like the past half a year and all the sacrifices they’ve had to make just to be able for Penn State to have a football season.
Now that season is over.
It wasn’t a good season. The 0-5 start destroyed all of the team’s goals.
But it wasn’t a disastrous season, either, thanks to the Lions winning their last four games. They should be commended for the fight and character they showed after the 0-5 start, and that will always be a part of the legacy of this year’s team.
In the end, they had a chance to win one more game and finish .500, but decided they were ready to move on and get the season over with.
Which, again, is perfectly fine.
For what it’s worth, this is my original column, written before PSU announced it would not go to a bowl game:
Losing record or not, Lions deserve bowl game
There has never been a team with a losing record that deserves to go to a bowl game more than this year’s Penn State squad.
Some of you out there still might be saying, “They don’t deserve a bowl game with a losing record.” I’ve heard and seen that from numerous people in the past couple of weeks — PSU fans and non fans — and all I can say is this: That’s just being short-sighted.
Nothing is normal about this year.
We cannot keep trying to fit the square peg of normal circumstances into this round hole that is 2020.
If you’re a college football traditionalist who believes a team must have a winning record to go bowling, you’re missing the point entirely when it comes to this particular season.
And this particular Penn State team.
These Nittany Lions overcame some incredible adversity early this season with an 0-5 start, then finished by kicking some rear. Yes, it might have been the rear of some bad teams — Michigan, Rutgers, Michigan State and Illinois — but if you watched those games, you saw a PSU team that improved substantially and showed that, when they’re playing well, they can be pretty impressive on both sides of the ball.
The second half against Michigan State was very impressive, with the Lions outscoring Sparty 29-3 for a 39-24 come-from-behind win.
The final three quarters Saturday against Illinois were remarkable. The teams were tied at 21, then PSU rolled to a 56-21 victory. The Illini had 199 yards in the first quarter, then didn’t cross midfield the rest of the game.
The Lions trailed 21-14 in the first quarter, then scored the final 42 points.
It was a great way to end a crazy regular season. But it should not be the end of this 2020 season.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I would be fine if PSU didn’t go to a bowl game, and actually if it didn’t even play in the Big Ten champions week. It seemed like, with everything going on, it would have been better to just call it a season and let everybody go home — the players especially, but also James Franklin, who hasn’t seen his wife and two daughters since March.
But after battling through the 0-5 start and battling back to win four in a row, it’s clear that this Penn State team was ready to fight until the end this year. That’s impressive, because you’d be hard pressed to find another team in the country that would have continued to fight the way the Lions did after starting 0-5.
Penn State clearly is better than its 4-5 record. It actually did beat Indiana if not for what I have long contended to be a bad call, and that’s a Hoosier team that turned out to be really, really good.
These are the teams that, coming into this year, had reached a bowl game with a losing record:
If Penn State would have started, say, 1-2, then gotten to 3-2, then 3-3, then 4-5, I believe there’s a good chance the players and coaches on the team would be saying right now, let’s go ahead and call it a season.
Pitt has done that, and it has a 6-5 record after an up-and-down year. Some other teams that have decent records also have opted out of bowl games.
But because Penn State started 0-5, then rebounded with a four-game winning streak and some impressive wins, this 4-5 record has a much, much different feel than, say, Pitt’s 6-5 record.
The Lions not only have a chance to win five in a row to close things out, they also have a chance to avoid a losing record.
No, that’s not a lot of consolation for a team that started the season ranked in the top 10 and was a massive disappointment early on.
But for this team to win five in a row after everything it went through, after losing so many key players and after getting ripped by so many people around the country, it would be nice to see the players have one more chance to play this year and see if they can go out as winners in a bowl game.