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Smeltzer: Penn State Picked up the Pieces

Penn State Nittany Lions running back Nicholas Singleton (10) November 12, 2022 David Hague/NSN

Penn State didn’t beat Ohio State or Michigan this season.

For some people, nothing else matters.

The team finishing the regular season 10-2 is irrelevant to those people.

Having its best year since 2019 means nothing.

Having a chance to win 11 games after winning 11 combined the previous two seasons is insignificant.

All these cynics will think about is that Penn State lost at Michigan Oct. 15 and to Ohio State at Beaver Stadium two weeks later. Penn State won’t be playing for a Big Ten championship Dec. 3 or a national championship Jan. 9.

“That’s just unacceptable,” some will say.

”That Franklin can’t win the ones that count,” others will add

”Everything is Sean Clifford’s fault,” some may feel.

Despite losing to Michigan and Ohio State, you better believe this season was successful in Happy Valley.

This year, Franklin’s squad needed to pick up the pieces from consecutive disappointing campaigns and become a quality team again. By beating Michigan State Saturday and finishing the regular season with 10 wins, Penn State accomplished that feat.

No, it isn’t the most impressive 10-2 team ever. As of now, none of Penn State’s wins were over ranked teams, and some of Penn State’s opponents, such as Rutgers and Northwestern, were laughably bad. Yes, it came up short in its two biggest tests.

At Michigan, Penn State got embarrassed. Against Ohio State, the team played well but lost 44-31. For the cynics mentioned above, no Penn State season can be successful without a win over at least one of Michigan or Ohio State; therefore, 2022 will fail. To be clear, it’s understandable for fans to be frustrated by their team falling short against the Big Ten’s top two dogs. Coach James Franklin’s combined record against Michigan and Ohio State is 4-14, and people can’t stand it.

This season, the Ohio State and Michigan games happened to be Penn State’s only two chances for a signature win, and it couldn’t capitalize. It’s easy to see why people are upset about that.

But the best way for fans to look past those losses and be happy with the season despite them is to put 2022 in context. No, Penn State wasn’t an elite team in 2022. But fans who expected it to be one were asking to be hurt.

This program won 11 games combined in 2020 and ‘21. Knowing that, would it have made sense to expect it to win 11 or more in 2022’s regular season? In the words of LL Cool J, “hmm, I don’t think so.” If one asked Penn State fans before the season what their best-case scenario for 2022 was, most probably would have said 10-2 or 9-3.

Well, Penn State finished 10-2, so I’d say that’s a good year.

The best part for fans is that it could get much better.

A big reason for Penn State fans to be encouraged by 2022 is the number of freshmen that contributed.

Running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen are already studs as true freshmen.

Imagine how dangerous they’ll be as sophomores?

Linebacker Abdul Carter, another true freshman, is already drawing comparisons to Micah Parsons.

He’ll be better next year.

Kaden Saunders was one of Penn State’s top signees in the 2022 Class. He didn’t get much playing time this season. Could he be a breakout star in 2023 like KJ Hamler was in 2018? I think so.

Oh, and Drew Allar is going to be the team’s starting quarterback, in case that kind of thing excites you.

Penn State isn’t as good as Michigan, Ohio State or Georgia yet. But it’s a lot closer than it was a year ago at this time. Next year, expectations will be higher, and fans will be more frustrated if Penn State can’t get it done against Michigan or Ohio State.

We can revisit this column then. But 2022 was, to quote Frank Sinatra, a “very good year” for Penn State.

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