A reporter brought up the Rose. Marcus Allen couldn’t stop talking about the thorns.
“We won the Big Ten title. We didn’t win the Rose Bowl,” Penn State’s senior safety said, acidly, in recalling the wild 52-49 setback to USC this past January. “Y’all forget about that. We were there, but we didn’t win.
“And that’s something that still haunts me to this day. We lost that, man. I had a bad taste in my mouth for so long since that Rose Bowl. That’s something I want to get rid of.”
Something to prove.
Something to finish.
We know how James Franklin’s greatest hits — It’s Us Against The World, We’ll Show Them, Nobody Respects Us, It’s Akron, Akron, Akron, Akron, Akron — sound when played from the usurper’s turntable.
From the speakers inside the Big Ten throne room, though, is still anybody’s guess.
“Me, personally, I like being the underdog,” Allen continued. “I get a kick out of being the underdog, due to the fact that a lot of people count you out and then when you prove them wrong, [then] they shut up … I like that.
“I like that feeling. Now it’s like, let whomever thinks that we’re not going to do something this year say that. That’s cool. Let us be the underdogs again. That’s what I thrive from.”
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. Or not.
“From a team standpoint, we’re as hungry as we’ve ever been,” stressed tight end Mike Gesicki, whose Nittany Lions open defense of their 2016 league title with training camp Monday.
“Because we know our team goals, our expectations, and we’re willing to do whatever it takes to achieve them. I think we’re a more mature team now [that] we’ve been through the fire, we’ve been through the success.”
He also knows that they aren’t sneaking up on a dang soul. Cleveland.com’s unofficial media poll before Big Ten Media Days pegged the Lions for second in the East behind Ohio State. Penn State received seven first-place votes to the Buckeyes’ 34.
The scribes tapped the Lions for fourth in the same poll taken in late July 2016. First-place votes? Nada.
‘There are so many guys on our team that hate losing.’
— Penn State safety Marcus Allen
Historically, Franklin has excelled as the junkyard dog who won’t stop chasing the Big Ten’s luxury cars. So how is this team — this mindset — going to look now that he’s driving one of them?
“The expectations help,” Cabinda said. “We feel these expectations for ourselves. We feel like we can do even more. You know, obviously, the Rose Bowl loss helps us to keep that chip on the shoulder as well.
“But I think we expect so much or ourselves that it’s easy to have that chip because we feel like we’ve got something out there to prove. So I think that’s what makes it easy to keep that chip.”
Franklin’s league crown last fall was his first in six seasons as a head coach, the ring finally snatched during his third season in Happy Valley. Now when the Lions circle the wagons, there’s a championship banner dangling from every jockey box.
“We stay humble and hungry,” Cabinda countered. “That’s kind of our motto, especially on defense: We stay humble, we stay hungry.
“That’s kind of how we get after guys. We’re going to outwork every team, week in and week out. We’re going to do every single thing in our power on Tuesday to have the best Tuesday practice. On Wednesday to have the best Wednesday practice. So that Saturday comes easy and the game comes easy. That’s kind of our mindset, how we [approach] things.”
The biggest pelt on the stinking wall.
The road to Indy runs through State College. Every corner, every fork, is a potential ambush.
“Anytime I look at the sidelines, no matter the circumstances, no matter the score, no matter what the game was looking like, I never saw a guy with his head down or a guy who thought we were going to lose whatsoever,” Cabinda said. “I think that mindset, our identity, is something that’s going to have to carry over, because we’re going to face adversity.
“Every football game has adversity, whether it’s an interception or a bad fumble or a bad call, you know, whatever it may be, you’ve got to keep your head and you’ve got to keep going. And I think that mentality — to keep that going into [this fall] is going to help us a lot.”
Something to prove.
Something to finish.
“There are so many guys on our team that hate losing,” Allen said. “Like [with] a passion.
“Jason hates losing, [he’s] as competitive as I don’t know what. Saquon [Barkley] also hates losing. He would literally flip out. And Trace [McSorley], those are guys who are really competitive and it’s in their nature to be competitive. I’m pretty sure that they feel the same way as I do from that last Rose Bowl game. And they’ve still got the fire in the gut.”