It was easy to get a little romantic about Penn State’s senior class last season.
In the wake of the severe NCAA sanctions levied against the football program thanks to the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the senior class, along with coach Bill O’Brien and his staff, provided the kind of leadership that the university and alumni could take pride in and needed at a dark time.
It had hard-nosed, yet eloquent, spokesmen like Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich, second generation players who weren’t afraid to tell you what they thought and didn’t mince words doing it.
It had Matt McGloin, a former walk-on with a chip-on-the shoulder attitude who made O’Brien’s intricate offense an entertaining ride every Saturday afternoon.
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They helped the program to a surprising 8-4 record and went out in style with a thrilling overtime victory against eventual Big Ten champ Wisconsin.
They will certainly be remembered fondly.
This Saturday, another group of seniors will play for the final time at Beaver Stadium.
They likely won’t receive the outpouring of love from Nittany Nation that was heaped upon their predecessors a year earlier.
This team has struggled a bit. Heading into this game, the Nittany Lions are 6-4 and among those four defeats are losses to Indiana (44-24) and Minnesota (24-10), teams Penn State thumps on a routine basis.
There’s no real spokesman for the group. There’s no guy the media goes to every week looking for a hot quote or a sound bite.
There’s no senior getting national attention. They’re not making the highlight reels every week. Very few of them are expected to be playing on Sundays.
But when the group of 17 players is announced before Saturday’s clash with Nebraska, Penn State fans should cheer lustily.
While maybe they’re not as embraceable as their predecessors, these Nittany Lions did just as much and maybe even more to keep the program afloat and moving forward.
Think about it, especially in terms of the NCAA’s ruling that allowed Penn State players to transfer to another Division I school without having to sit out a season.
For Penn State’s seniors last season, was leaving really a tantalizing option?
They’d been here either four or five seasons. Many of them had starting spots locked up.
Heading to another school for just one season wasn’t worth the trouble, especially when the NCAA sanctions were announced in late July, only a couple of weeks before fall practice began.
But for the juniors, the NCAA ruling presented some real options.
With two seasons left, those Nittany Lions had the chance to make an impact at another program that actually had a chance to play in bowl game.
Those other schools made numerous overtures and tried to sweet-talk those players into leaving.
And a couple did. Most notably, running back Silas Redd headed to Southern Cal.
But most stayed in Happy Valley.
They also were a part in making last season’s memories. And they helped make the loss of scholarships, the most damaging of the sanctions, more tenable for O’Brien.
So when Glenn Carson, DaQuan Jones, John Urschel and their mates trot out today, remember the part that they played in surviving the Sandusky scandal. They sacrificed just as much and maybe even more than their predecessors.
Certainly, O’Brien knows.
“You think about it 10 years from now when you look back on the last two senior classes, they’ll be an important part of Penn State football history,” he said.
Another sidebar to today’s contest will be junior Allen Robinson.
His past two seasons are also unforgettable. He’s shattered several school receiving marks and is among the finalists for the Biletnikoff Award given to the nation’s top receiver.
But like the seniors, this could be the last time that he plays before the Penn State fans.
There’s growing sentiment that Robinson will give up his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft.
He’s rated among the Top 5 wide receivers that are eligible for the draft. Some project he’ll go in the first or second round of the draft.
Will he go?
You wouldn’t blame him.
Certainly, he has nothing left to prove at Penn State. Barring injury, he’ll likely finish this season with more than 90 catches and close to 1,500 yards receiving.
His decision will be whether he wants one more year with his teammates and coaches and or to get on with making a living. He’s on track to graduate in December.
Robinson says he has not made a decision — yet. McGloin, who will start his second consecutive game with the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, has said he expects Robinson to enter the draft.
If this is his last time before the home faithful, enjoy it.
You won’t see many like him again anytime soon.