Penn State head coach James Franklin, quarterback Trace McSorley, running back Saquon Barkley and safety Marcus Allen moseyed on out to the Roar Zone blue line.
With the Big Ten Championship trophy in hand, the Nittany Lions received a standing ovation from the sellout Pegula Ice Arena crowd.
Barkley grabbed the mic, thanked the fans, and encouraged them to come out to see them in 2017.
If the excitement surrounding next season is any indication, the Heisman contender won’t have to do much convincing.
From local media predicting a possible Rose Bowl rematch in the College Football Playoff to national pundits ranking Penn State as high as No. 3 in way-too-early 2017 preseason polls, expectations are already high for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State’s 2017 opener is 223 days away, but the hype is building — and Franklin’s job is to rein it all in.
“I think handling success with young people in general is challenging,” Franklin said at Saturday’s end-of-season press conference. “Are we going to be as driven? Are we going to be as motivated as we were this year? That’s going to be the secret. Are we going to work as hard for our chemistry? Are we going to be able to work as hard for our culture? Are we going to be able to work as hard collectively and individually to get where we want to be?”
Before the 2016 season, the Nittany Lions made winning a Big Ten title their goal.
They achieved that, and more. Penn State rattled off nine straight wins, the final one being a thrilling comeback win over Wisconsin.
The Nittany Lions fell in “The Granddaddy of Them All” to Southern California 52-49 in what will go down as one of the greatest Rose Bowl games in the establishment’s storied history.
What irks Franklin is that his team couldn’t hold on to beat the Trojans.
“I went around all over the country — last week one day I was in Alabama, one day I was in California, yesterday I was in Michigan — and I got everybody coming up to me saying, ‘Wow coach, best bowl game I’ve ever seen,’” Franklin recalled. “I said, ‘It wasn’t that darned good.’ You know, I understand from an entertainment standpoint it was awesome, but we didn’t win the game.”
Franklin said that loss, along with not being selected for the College Football Playoff despite a Big Ten title in-hand, will drive his team throughout the offseason.
The third-year coach, whose team will be a top-10, if not top-five, team to start the 2017 season, doesn’t want those polls to affect his players.
He knows that the only ranking that matters is the one at the end of the season, and he wants to prepare the Nittany Lions to be No. 1 on Jan. 8, 2018.
“We have things that we should be very proud of, and they should be confidence-building experiences, but we also have things that I think should be motivating,” Franklin said. “There’s one happy team at the end of the year, and that’s Clemson and my boy Dabo (Swinney). Everybody else is salty and angry and ready to get back to work again. And we’ve got a lot of work that we still need to do in every area possible.”