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Don’t Stop Believin’: Reasons to Doubt, Reasons to Hope

A colleague of mine here at Nittany Lions Den remarked recently that he’s never remembered a game with so much universal PSU-pessimism. No one expects to beat Alabama today.

Why have we become so jaded? Where’s the confidence of the 1990 team who went into South Bend ranked No. 18 and went out with a win over top-ranked Notre Dame? Or the 1994 Lions who went into Ann Arbor the first time and beat #5 Michigan? And who can forget the ultimate underdog—the 1986 Lions and their upset of #1 Miami in the Fiesta Bowl?

Here are the reason today’s Nittany Lions fans doubt…and why there should be hope.

The Doubt

  1. 2010. Our most recent on-field performances in big-time games were flat—at Alabama, at Iowa, at Ohio State, vs. Michigan State, the Outback Bowl. Yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck, and yuck. Why would we expect something different today?
  2. 2007 Michigan. Ascending to No. 10 in the nation, PSU played a Michigan squad recently upset by FCS-member Appalachian State and destroyed in Ann Arbor by Oregon. Our defense was fine but our offense flat-lined. Good-bye hopes of greatness…
  3. 2009 Iowa and Ohio State. Both games were in Happy Valley, and these two might have taken a bit of the wind out of our student section. Not to take anything away from our opponents, but we were every bit as talented as the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes that year and still lost at home in those marquee match-ups.
  4. 2009 Rose Bowl. The last team we’ve faced with the on-paper talent of 2011 Alabama was 2008 USC. We fought and competed well in quarters 1, 3, and 4. But oh that 2nd quarter! One quarter like that today and we’re sunk.

The Hope

  1. 2008. Expectations were low for that team; we had a bunch of question marks; and yet, a juggernaut emerged. We cruised through Big Ten play, slowing only for a gritty win at Columbus with our back-up QB (what was his name?) and a frozen heartbreaker in Iowa City. Dominant wins over top-25 foes (Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan State) proved we could get up for big games.
  2. 2010 Capital One Bowl. Although LSU wasn’t a world-beater that year (No. 4 at one point before losing to No. 1 Florida), they were a strong SEC team. The field play was a sloppy, sloshy mess, but PSU was the better team and played well enough to win.
  3. 2007 Outback Bowl. Tennessee was favored (ranked #18) but the Lions played a disciplined, methodical game and won on a neutral field. The same coaching staff that takes the sideline today against the Crimson Tide beat the Volunteers. Our staff can still get it done.
  4. 2005 Ohio State. A fan base scarred by losing seasons and surrounded by self-doubt willed their Lions to a victory over the #6 Buckeyes. OSU lost only to No. 1 Texas and No. 3 PSU in 2005 and finished No. 4 in the nation themselves. The Happy Valley game was proof Penn State can still beat superpowers.

Don’t stop believin’, Nittany Nation!