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Weathering a turbulent season, PSU looks to finish 2017 with a win

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In a little over two weeks, a 2,000-mile journey will begin as No. 9 Penn State will take on No. 11 Washington in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. The journey will culminate in what the Nittany Lions hope to be a good game and a victory for the team from Pennsylvania, but to get to this point the season has been all but easy.

By Jarrod Prugar

Penn State has suffered heart-breaking defeats at the hands of rivals, injuries, suspensions, as well as head coaching departures, however, they've weathered the storm so to speak and will come out on top of it all with a victory over the Huskies on December 30th. 

The Nittany Lions will head to Arizona next week to begin preparations on that side of the country and get players adjusted to new surroundings for the bowl game. 

"There's a lot of different models in how you do things, but I like where we're at. I like where we're at from a planning perspective and from a health perspective." Penn State head coach James Franklin said at the team's bowl media day. 

Heart-breaking defeats

Since their 42-10 loss at Michigan last season, Penn State has lost a total of three games by a grand total of seven points. Three of those seven points and a lost came in an electrifying Rose Bowl game against USC this past January. 

The latter two losses came by way of losses by one point at Ohio State and three points in a thunderstorm laden Michigan State game. And with the Fiesta Bowl being the last game of the season for the team and the last game of Penn State careers for many players, it's a game and experience to savor but also to put a cap on a spectacular season.

"We lost two games this year by four points and if you go all the way back to last year, we've lost our last three games by seven total points," Franklin said. "So you want to end the season on a positive note. You want those seniors to have that last experience as a real positive one that they can savor for the rest of their lives."

Suspensions

For the fourth straight game, linebacker Manny Bowen will not be seeing the field or even putting a Penn State jersey on. Bowen, for unspecified reasons, has not seen the field since the Nittany Lions lost to Michigan State, a game in which he had seven tackles. 

"We will not have Manny Bowen for the Bowl game," Franklin sternly stated.

Bowen's presence has certainly been missed, although senior Brandon Smith has filled in admirably in place of Bowen. With missing the Fiesta Bowl, Bowen's future is certainly in doubt as Franklin was very succinct in his statements at Bowl Media Day in regards to Bowen and his future as a Nittany Lion.

"Manny Bowen will not be available for the bowl game," Franklin bluntly said.

It looks as though the experienced Bowen has found himself etched firmly in the doghouse of Franklin and staff and it looks to be as though there might not be an exit from the doghouse date set just yet. It will be interesting to see as the spring period unfolds what the status of Bowen will become.

A new "Lion" emerges

Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens has been firmly entrenched as the backup to Trace McSorley for the last two seasons, however, Stevens has been able to utilize his special skill set to impact the game even in a backup role.

That role was finally titled and lists him firmly on the Penn State depth chart at the Lion position.

"I thought it made sense to list him on [the depth chart] as a starter because that's how we view him. That's how his teammates view him and we expect his role to continue to grow," Franklin said of his 'Lion.' "When I say offense, defense and special teams, I'm serious about that. There's really nothing off the table in terms of his opportunity to have a bigger role on our team."

Stevens has been used as a receiver, a runner, and a quarterback so far this season and has scored touchdowns at each position. How the Nittany Lions use him in the Fiesta Bowl remains a mystery.

 

Coaching Carousel 

For the first time since 2015, Penn State and James Franklin have been tasked with replacing multiple coaches. In 2015, Franklin fired offensive coordinator John Donovan only to replace him with Joe Moorhead. Franklin was also forced to replace Bob Shoop who wound up taking the defensive coordinator position at Tennessee. In Shoop's place, it was now-defensive coordinator Brent Pry who filled the role and has done so admirably.

Offensive line coach Herb Hand was the third coach to depart, taking a job at Auburn and would ultimately be replaced by Matt Limegrover. 

Pry has been linked to multiple head coaching vacancies since taking over the Penn State defense, most recently with Louisiana-Lafayette. And for now Pry is a Nittany Lion. 

"I'm staying at Penn State," Pry declared once his portion of the press conference got under way. "I'm looking forward to the bowl game and getting back into practice mode."

With sustained success comes job opportunities for members of Franklin's staff something he takes pride in.

"Whenever you have really good people that are talented at what they do, people are going to pursue them to in some way to try to steal some of the success that we've had the last couple years," Franklin said. "I take it as a tremendous compliment for our program."

Both Pry and Limegrover still remain with the program now that Moorhead has departed to be the head coach at Mississippi State. With Moorhead went running backs and special teams coordinator Charles Huff leaving three positions for Franklin to fill.

Since the departures, Franklin has promoted tight ends coach and former interim offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach while also adding Tyler Bowen from Maryland to the staff coaching tight ends and Phil Galiano as special teams coordinator.

With recruiting in the college football world being ever changing and adapting is always at the forefront of coaching changes and hires as well as fires. This is an era of Penn State football that is really uncharted territories with coordinators and even Franklin being linked to many jobs each off season. 

The Nittany Lions for all intents and purposes were a school coaches stayed at forever during the Joe Paterno era even with their sustained success. Having coaches that are highly touted and sought after is a good problem to have for Penn State as they continue their winning ways both on the field and in recruiting.

New NCAA policies allow for a 10th assistant coach to be brought on staff for all teams beginning in 2018. The Nittany Lions will assuredly fill their running back coaching vacancy at that point.

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