Good vibes can’t win you a football game. But, in college football, it’s hard to say they don’t help.
Leaving Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday following Penn State football’s blowout win over Auburn, it was hard to shake the feeling that the Nittany Lions have their swagger back. Whether it was the raucous postgame celebration, the viral video of James Franklin dancing to Meek Millor the overflow of Penn State fans on The Plains, things just feel…different.
“This is a game,” Franklin said Tuesday. “It should be fun for the players, for the coaches, for our fans, for our alumni, for the community.”
And it’s been fun so far.
Penn State is off to a 3-0 start with high-energy wins over Auburn, Ohio, and Purdue, two of which have come in spite of hostile road environments. While last year followed a similar script before a messy midseason collapse, it seems notable the Nittany Lions are Bouncing back from such a spill when it felt like the the sky was falling for a moment.
Even when Penn State won in 2021, it felt like the team was just scraping by, still trying to scrub out the stench of a disastrous 2020 campaign. Fans were losing Patience with a clearly hobbled quarterback, and the poor Offensive line and running back play became the butt of Endless jokes.
Now, Penn State is becoming a national brand again. Even without College GameDay treatment, more people watched the Auburn win than any other game on the college football slate. Eli Manning is playing pranks at run-on tryouts. SEC Shorts is featuring the Nittany Lions. The team is back in the AP Poll and climbing fast.
Players are running out onto the field with a Giant hammer and slamming it onto the SEC logo after the game. All of the sudden, the defense is blitzing and coming up with sacks at an impressive clip. The freshman class is one of the most impressive in the country, and guys like it Nick SingletonDrew Allar, Abdul Carter, and Kaytron Allen are already showing results.
Even Singleton, who Franklin called “steady Eddie” and “no swag, all substance,” is showing a hell of a lot of swag on the field.
It’s undeniably fun. From a recruiting standpoint, you can’t overstate the importance of creating a “cool” brand. Four-star Penn State signee DaKaari Nelson was in the building amid a late recruiting push by Auburn. One game might not make or break his decision, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the state of Alabama that was wishing they were a Tiger on Saturday.
But, all this swag and show doesn’t mean anything if you lose sight of what’s most important: actually winning football games. Penn State’s been able to do both so far.
“It can’t be at the expense of what you’re here to do, which is to educate young people and put your team in the best position to win,” Franklin said.
Of course, this could all come crashing down with a bad loss, which is what happened against Iowa and Illinois last year. Penn State has a bad history of letting seasons get out of hand in recent years.
But, again, something just feels different this time around. Maybe the team is just on a recent tear, fueled by social media content and decisive wins. Or maybe it’s not hard to play with swag when the last two seasons have been nearly as dull as possible. But, it’s not hard to see that Penn State is cool again.
You can’t always put your finger on the “it factor,” but sometimes you just know it when you see it. So far, it seems like the 2022 Nittany Lions have “it.”