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Penn State football turned the corner in 2022

If the 2022 season proved anything, it is that the Penn State Nittany Lions have turned the corner.



Penn State football
Jan 2, 2023; Pasadena, California, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Nicholas Singleton (10) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against the Utah Utes in the 109th Rose Bowl game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

This time a year ago, the feeling around the Nittany Lions’ football program was relatively hopeless. Penn State football had gone 4-5 in 2020 — the program’s first losing season in nearly 20 years — and 7-6 in 2021 despite starting the year 5-0. Penn State also had lost a good amount of talent to the NFL Draft and was going to be starting a lot of freshman, specifically linebacker Abdul Carter and running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen.

Every national media outlet projected that Penn State football finish no better than 8-4 overall, mostly having PSU playing in a tier three bowl game like the Music City Bowl or the Outback Bowl as they did in 2021-22. Still, despite the nation counting Penn State out, the Lions finished 10-2 in the regular season before defeating No. 8 Utah in the 2023 Rose Bowl game.

The Nittany Lions’ 11-2 season in 2022 is the program’s fourth 11-win season and top-10 finish in the past six full seasons. Additionally, the Rose Bowl win was Penn State’s fourth major post-season victory since 2016 — the Lions won the Big Ten title in 2016, the Fiesta Bowl in 2017, the Cotton Bowl in 2019, and now the Rose Bowl in 2022.

More importantly, Penn State football had a spark that many have not seen since 2016 — the Nittany Lions appear to have turned a corner heading into 2023, which is major news if it pans out, because Penn State has the tools to make a meaningful run at the Big Ten title and even the College Football Playoff this fall. Here are the signs that Penn State football has turned the corner heading into 2023.

Penn State football saw many blowout wins

Sure, this one may not seem like a big deal since beating lower-tier opponents by a lot of points isn’t all that special. Still, this is something that the Nittany Lions have failed to do over the past few seasons, especially on the road.

In Week 2 of last season, Penn State football hosted the eventual MAC East Champion Ohio Bobcats, and won by 36 points. The following week, the Lions headed to Auburn as the first Big Ten team to ever play in Jordan-Hare Stadium, and handed the SEC’s Auburn Tigers a 41-12 loss in their first-ever ‘Orange Out’ game. Throughout the remainder of the season, Penn State beat everyone how they were supposed to — the Nittany Lions claimed massive victories over Minnesota (45-17), Indiana (45-14), Maryland (30-0), Rutgers (55-10), Michigan State (35-16), and a solid 35-21 win over Utah in the Rose Bowl.

Additionally, Penn State’s only losses were to No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 Ohio State — losing to these two is never fun and should not be accepted on a yearly basis, though in 2022, both of these teams were in the College Football Playoff. This season, I’d say Penn State football has a much better shot at both, especially since Michigan must make the trip to State College.

Nittany Lions bounced back from losses

Throughout the 2022 season, Penn State football only lost two games; as I mentioned before, both losses were to CFP teams. After being blown out by the Michigan Wolverines in Week 7, the Nittany Lions returned home to face Minnesota. The Gophers had a solid season a year ago, finishing 9-4 all said and done, yet that did not stop Penn State from embarrassing the Gophers in the annual White Out game. PSU walked out with a 45-17 victory — an impressive bounce-back win that is uncharacteristic of James Franklin-coached teams.

The following weekend, Ohio State came to town, and despite clinging on for awhile, the Buckeyes eventually managed to overcome Penn State football. Still, the week after Penn State’s 13-point loss to Ohio State, the Nittany Lions responded with a blowout win once again. Penn State’s 45-14 win at Indiana was the program’s first trip to Bloomington since the infamous 36-35 loss in 2020. Additionally, it was the Nittany Lions’ widest margin of victory (31) in Bloomington ever — Franklin’s biggest win at Indiana before 2022 was a 14-point win in 2016.

Penn State football breaks top-10 losing streak

Heading into the season, Penn State’s most recent win over a top-10 team was against the Wisconsin Badgers during the 2016 Big Ten title game. Since defeating two top-10 teams in the program’s first season back from sanctions, James Franklin’s Penn State football team had zero top-10 wins — this changed on January 2nd of this year.

Penn State football earned a spot in the Rose Bowl against No. 8 Utah, who was coming off of a massive win over the top-5-ranked USC Trojans in the PAC-12 title game. Still, the Utes’ conference championship didn’t help them against the Nittany Lion onslaught, which proved to be fruitful throughout the course of the game and led to a massive win for Penn State.

The Utes added a garbage time touchdown to make the score look better — Penn State football eventually won by 14 points in Pasadena, CA. The win was Penn State’s second-ever Rose Bowl victory, the Nittany Lions’ first Rose Bowl win this millennium, and most importantly, it broke Penn State’s top-10 losing streak heading into the 2023 season this fall.

Hopes are high in 2023 and beyond

Now, as we head into a new season with new faces in just a few short months, hopes for the Penn State Nittany Lions are high. 11 wins or more appears to be the expectation, and with talented players all of the field, a stingy defense, and a veteran coaching staff, we could be in for an incredible stretch of Penn State football this season and in years to come.

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