Nobody was expecting PSU to make it into the first College Football Playoff Tournament ever, but many Penn State football fans were hoping that the team would at least make sizable strides behind second-year starter Christian Hackenberg, and perhaps prove themselves worthy of a major bowl game.
The sanctions and bowl ban that came in the wake of the fallout involving the horrific actions of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky were officially lifted by a rational and forgiving NCAA that decided punishing people who were not in any way involved in the wrongdoings had gone on long enough. The result was a Penn State Football squad that came into 2014 full of zest and hopefulness, and four consecutive wins out of the gate gave a passionate fan base in Happy Valley plenty of reasons to dream big.
Sadly, things fell apart once the conference portion of their schedule began. A home loss to Northwestern by a score of 29 – 6 left fans shocked and unsure about the future, and what happened over the course of the next five weeks brought the team back down to Earth with a thud. Losses at Michigan and at home to Ohio State and Maryland left the team with a 4–4 record early in November. This has left them hoping to scrap their way into bowl eligibility and make a showing in the postseason. Penn State eked out a 13–7 victory against the Hoosiers in Indiana this past Saturday, keeping their bowl hopes in place.
It will only take one win in the next three games, but at this point apprehensive fans are hesitant to count on that. A feisty Temple Owls squad will come into town hoping for another signature win in their already impressive 2014 campaign. If the Nittany Lions are unable to beat them next weekend and cannot prevail with a victory at Illinois on November 22, it will all come down to a final, season-capping affair against what is sure to be an angry Michigan State Spartans team on the final Saturday in November.
As far as individual performances go, there are players who deserve praise and others who deserve to be called out. Hackenberg has not progressed at a pace that everyone affiliated with the program hoped and expected. His seven passing touchdowns on the year are juxtaposed with 10 interceptions, and a 57% completion percentage is nothing to boast about.
Running back has been a noticeable weakness, which has equated to a squad that has had trouble moving the ball. Senior ballcarrier Bill Belton has done his best to gain just over 3 yards-per-carry on a total of 80 totes. The brightest star on this team has clearly been freshman wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, who caught 11 balls on the opening weekend against UCF and 14 passes in a close loss to Ohio State a few days before Halloween. He has officially eclipsed Hackenberg as the hottest Pro prospect in Happy Valley, a region that is full of a mix of consternation about the present and hope for the future.