Well, here WE ARE, friends! It’s finally Fiesta week! I don’t know about you, but the wait has been excruciating, with all due respect to the Holidays of course. It seems like ages since we last saw our Lions in Maryland licking their chops after a Terrapin feast. Since then, we’ve lost a few coaches and gained a few more. We saw one major promotion with Ricky Rahne being named the new OC and kept the services of DC Brent Pry after a major push to steal him away. We watched with pride as 18 seniors walked across the stage as graduates and we welcomed 20 new Nittany Lions to the pride on the first ever ‘Early Signing Day,’ as Penn State landed a Top-5 class nationally. Despite this week’s battle in the Arizona desert to put a bow on the 2017 season, the off-season that never sleeps has already begun.
And the wait between late-November and today has been moving along at a snail’s pace. There’s been enough this month to keep us all distracted, with Christmas and what-not (please note the sarcasm, I love this time of year), but nothing really takes the place of the anticipation we have for those fall Saturdays. The more I see on Penn State social media pages, the more I believe that’s pretty much a consensus thought.
We have James Franklin to thank for most of that. He’s brought passion, energy, and enthusiasm since the day he landed in Happy Valley, but now he’s also brought the wins, and those lofty expectations as well. If there’s anyone that can keep the dreaded off-season alive, it’s him and he does it well. It almost seems ‘ol FrankLion has created a monster with all the excitement he’s brought back to us on game week. That was never more evident than this week. No sooner had Christmas dinner wrapped up did all eyes turned toward Arizona and the 2018 Fiesta Bowl. Almost like it was in the way of what we all really wanted for Christmas, Nittany Lion football.
As it stands, Penn State makes its roaring return to a place that’s near and dear to our hearts. It’s been two decades since we made our way to the Valley of the Sun and 31 years since we slayed a bully and last claimed No. 1. The memories are sweet but the task at hand is not an easy one. We face a Washington Huskie squad that has a gunslinger of its own in QB Jake Browning; a 1,200+ yard rusher in Myles Gaskins; an all-world receiver and dynamo punt returner in Dante Pettis; and a front four on the defensive line that’s ranked first in the country against the run and as nasty as it gets.
I have yet to mention head coach, Chris Peterson, whose claim-to-fame is putting Boise State firmly on the map. He has already made the Huskies a relevant player in the Pac 10 in his short tenure with the team. Penn State may be a slight favorite, but this year’s Fiesta Bowl is anything but a gimme for all of us that suffered through that long wait to see our Lions take the field one last time.
Not that I aim to be the bearer of bad news, mind you. There are weapons on our squad that are legendary to us. Saquon Barkley a.k.a Superman is a nightmare for anyone; just ask the vaunted front four from Michigan. And Trace McSorley can pick any defense apart with surgical precision; look no further than that Terrapin feast. Mike Gesicki, you ask? Go ahead and try to stop him, I dare ya and we’ll leave it at that for your own sake. I pity the fool that gets punished by Marcus Allen, and that’s only on the rare occasion they get past Captain Cabinda and Co. Grant Haley sticks to wideouts like a winter glove and Shareef ‘The Beast’ Miller has made a major push as the new Alpha Dog in his sophomore season.
That’s just a small taste of what awaits the Huskies, but it was the Huskies that kept a red-hot Penn State out of last year’s playoffs, so a small hint of payback may also be at play. We’re a senior-laden squad and those seniors have no desire to go out on a losing note. They won’t. There have been 12 Pregame Predictors this year and 12 predictions of victory have ended each one. No need to stop while I’m ahead, so this week I predict it will be the Happy Valley of the Sun in Arizona as the Nittany Lions pull away late and preserve their undefeated record in the desert: Penn State 33 Washington 17.