GLENDALE, Ariz. — Any parting words for the College Football Playoff selection committee, Marcus Allen?
“I think we made a statement to everyone that we’re an elite team,” Penn State’s senior safety told Land of 10 on Saturday after the Nittany Lions held off Washington, 35-28, to win the 2017 Fiesta Bowl.
“We’re supposed to be in these Jan. 1 bowls and the [College Football] Playoff. And we’re going to compete with the best, and that’s just the standard.”
Penn State moved to 7-0 all-time at the Fiesta Bowl, which was groovy. The win also was the Lions’ first in a New Year’s Six/BCS-level postseason game since the 2006 Orange Bowl, a 26-23 triple-overtime victory over Florida State.
The Fiesta capped a remarkable calendar year, one that began with a thrilling bowl loss to a Pac-12 power (52-49 vs. USC) and ended with a thrilling bowl victory over another. Over the past 12 months, the Lions lost three games, all to ranked teams, by a total of seven points.
So if you want to make a case that Penn State was the best squad — certainly within shouting distance, and certainly among the most complete — left out of the CFP party, Ryan Buchholz sure as heck won’t argue.
‘We don’t care if people worry about our stats. We just like to get a win and help the offense, and I think we did that.’
— Penn State defensive end Ryan Buchholz
“Yeah, I think people were more focused on Washington’s defense and how good they were, and [credit] to them, they’re in the top 5 [nationally] in every category,” the Lions’ sophomore defensive end said. “But I think it just goes to show what our defense did as well. And we stepped up when we needed to get the big stop, especially at the end of the game.”
For all the yapping about Saquon Barkley vs. Vita Vea, we forgot about a Lions defense that went into the weekend ranked among the top 20 nationally in total yards allowed (No. 17) and rushing yards allowed per game (No. 15). We forgot about defensive coordinator Brent Pry, whose unit huffed and puffed late but, in the end, surrendered only 331 total yards and just 104 on the ground.
“We never really try to show off or anything,” Buchholz said. “We don’t care if people worry about our stats. We just like to get a win and help the offense, and I think we did that.”
The more the trophies pile up, the harder it gets for Penn State’s players — who have posted a 22-5 mark over their past 27 contests, the program’s best 2-year run since 2008 and 2009 — to play the no-respect card. But coach James Franklin feeds off the us-against-the-world vibe, converting every slight — real or imagined — into coal for the engine.
Scoreboard gets the last word. Always.
“The chip was on our shoulder from the jump, as far as the loss from last year’s [finale] in the Rose Bowl,” Allen said. “Everybody had that in the back of their minds — you don’t want to let the seniors go out like that.
“I know I felt really bad for letting down the seniors in the Rose Bowl and had a bad taste in my mouth. We didn’t want to go out like that.”