PASADENA, Calif. – They were supposed to win six-to-eight games, maybe nine if we were being extremely optimistic. But what Penn State actually did in 2016 was impossible to predict.
Before the season, a group of friends and I made predictions among ourselves about how this team would do. We weren’t exactly screaming “CHAMPIONSHIP.” Consider that coming into the year, the Nittany Lions were coming off of back-to-back 7-6 seasons, had to replace their quarterback with a guy who was recruited as either a quarterback or a safety, and needed to find three defensive linemen to replace three players who were selected in the NFL Draft.
In total, there were 24 of us. Five said 6-6, eight said 7-5, seven said 8-4, four said 9-3. The most optimistic folks who made predictions thought this would be a nine-win team, which was a common sentiment among Penn State fans.
At best, most thought this team could come in third in a division with two of the six best teams in the country. It was too young to compete, probably, but there was just enough talent to maybe make things interesting in a big game. The year to make a run at the conference title was 2017. The year to take a small step forward was 2016.
And yet, on Jan. 2 there some of us were, in the stands at the fabled Rose Bowl, watching the Nittany Lions play the most exciting and entertaining game of bowl season. This was not supposed to happen. I’m still not completely sure how it did.