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This is your Penn State Wake-Up Call for Tuesday, Jan. 10. Let’s get started.
Lions have many reasons to believe
Clemson capped the college football season with an upset of lordly Alabama in Monday night’s national championship game, and Penn State early enrollee Lamont Wade, a cornerback from Clairton, Pa., was ready to turn the page right away.
Nittany Nation, y'all ready to be next ???
— Lamont Wade (@Goony_38) January 10, 2017
It’s safe to say the squad’s veterans are looking forward to the fall just as much, especially after an 11-3 finish, Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth this season.
It’s true that the schedule is daunting, with consecutive midseason games against Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State, and Las Vegas says the odds of the Lions winning next year’s national title are long — 30-1, to be exact.
But PSU welcomes back 16 starters — nine on offense, seven on defense — as well as both specialists. James Franklin and his staff are also putting the finishing touches on another highly regarded recruiting class. While injuries are always a factor, the Lions figure to be in the mix once again.
Here are the reasons for optimism:
- The Moorhead-McSorley-Barkley connection: Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is clearly a brilliant strategist, and the Lions have been lucky to hang onto him after a postseason where he was mentioned in connection to at least three head-coaching vacancies. He will make the leap at some point, but for now he has a great system, and great guys to run it — none better than quarterback Trace McSorley, who excelled this season and figures to improve his accuracy in his second year as the starter. And Saquon Barkley might very well be the best running back the Lions have ever had. Both players were named Monday to ESPN’s Big Ten All-Bowl team.
- Quality depth: When Franklin took the job in January 2014, PSU had nine scholarship offensive linemen. The Lions had nearly twice that many this season, and that will remain the case in 2017. In fact, six linemen enter spring practice with starting experience, including guard/tackle Ryan Bates, who on Monday was named to the Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-America team. There are also enough bodies along the defensive front and at wide receiver to weather the losses of both defensive ends as well as Chris Godwin, the Lions’ best wideout this season. Wade could very well get immediate playing time in the secondary. The other early enrollees – wide receiver KJ Hamler, offensive lineman Mike Miranda and linebacker Brelin Faison-Walden – could crack the two-deep as well.
- Better defense: The Lions were just so-so on that side of the ball, finishing eighth in the Big Ten in points allowed (25.4 per game) and yardage yielded (367.9). They also failed to record a sack in their losses to Pitt, Michigan and USC. With more experience, better luck health-wise and more reinforcements, they are likely to improve in 2017. One name to remember is that of Shane Simmons, who redshirted this season and figures to make noise at defensive end.
- Consistency: The Lions were renowned for their second-half heroics this season, outscoring opponents 332-133 in the final two quarters and overtime. Next year they figure to be more consistent, more capable of putting teams away earlier. That’s another product of experience — of knowing who they are, and what they can do.
Sean Lee, a study in perseverance
The Dallas Cowboys tweeted out a video Monday of linebacker Sean Lee, a seven-year veteran from Penn State who is having the best season of an injury-marred career. The 30-year-old Lee notably missed the 2008 season at PSU after tearing his right ACL, and the ’14 season with the Cowboys when he tore the left ACL.
This season, however, he has 128 tackles, second-most in the NFL to Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner. While Lee was denied a Pro Bowl berth, he was named first-team All-Pro.
“The darkness can only hold you down as long as you let it,” he says of his injuries in the video.
Dallas, the top seed in the NFC playoffs, hosts Green Bay in the divisional round on Sunday.
How do you remain committed when injuries steal your chances for success?
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) January 8, 2017
Shep steps up
While PSU’s Shep Garner missed six of eight shots and managed just eight points in Saturday’s 72-63 victory over Michigan State in Philadelphia’s Palestra, it was nonetheless a big day for the junior guard. He surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his career, and did so just miles from his hometown of Chester, Pa.
His mom, Kim, also sang the national anthem – “a big moment for us as a family,” Shep told the Big Ten Network’s Jillian Mahen in the video below — “and our program.”
Garner is averaging a team-high 12.8 points a game for the Lions (10-7, 2-2 in Big Ten), who hope to build on the victory over the Spartans when they continue their season Saturday at home against Minnesota.
“It shows we can compete on a high level,” he told Mahen, “and shows a lot of the world that Penn State is here. It was a big deal for us.”
Win at the Palestra. ✔️
Hear mom sing National Anthem. ✔️
— Penn State On BTN (@PennStateOnBTN) January 9, 2017
Also in the Land of 10
- Northwestern women’s basketball player Jordan Hankins dies at age 19
- Minnesota’s new coach, P.J. Fleck, is reportedly targeting Ohio State offensive coordinator Ed Warinner
- Michigan awards walk-on Andrew Dakich a scholarship for the second semester