By Harry Allison
There might be some Penn State fans who think accepting a bowl bid after a hit-and-miss 6-6 record in 2014 is beneath them.
Those people are hard to find today.
The 6-6 record screams mediocrity. And the date of the bowl game – Dec. 27, several days before the country’s elite finish their seasons — says the same.
But listening to Penn State coach James Franklin and athletic director Sandy Barbour discuss the Nittany Lions’ upcoming Pinstripe Bowl showdown against Boston College at Yankee Stadium, one would think they were preparing for a spot in the inaugural four-team playoff.
After a three-year postseason absence, brought on by NCAA sanctions in the wake of the disgraceful Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal, it’s easy to understand their optimism.
“Obviously, 6-6 is not where Penn State intends to be, but it was a great effort for these kids and this time. And to end up in the Pinstripe Bowl, end up in New York against Boston College, walk into the Cathedral, it’s a moment these kids won’t forget and I certainly won’t either,” Barbour said. “I believe the sky is the limit for where we’re going, and that’s starts with one step, and this is it.”
Penn State sees its return to postseason play as a major step to restoring pride to the once powerhouse program, and the Nittany Lions will do so at Yankee Stadium, their first football game in New York City since 1947.
“It’s part of the healing process for us, the opportunity to be in a bowl game in the first place, and now being able to become bowl-eligible and play in a game,” first-year coach James Franklin said. “The extra practices are important, being relevant this time of the season is important. People are watching you on TV. Recruits are being able to see you as well.”
Barbour described this group as a “special team,” a combination of upperclassmen who remained at the school despite the sanctions and the scandal, and underclassmen who picked Penn State when it wasn’t a popular choice among top high school prospects.
In early September, the NCAA reduced its sanctions, making Penn State bowl-eligible – it originally was banned until 2016 — and giving them a full 85 scholarships beginning next season. The school still has to pay a $60 million fine and forfeit 111 wins under Joe Paterno, one win under interim coach Tom Bradley.
Football normalcy has been restored.
“There are no limitations on what Penn State can be,” Franklin said.