Associate Sports Editor
For many football fans the excitement of college football does not compare to the overwhelming draw of the National Football League, especially on a Sunday. This past Sunday, however, all eyes were instead turned to the collegiate level. This included fans of Penn State.
This past Sunday was when the college bowl games for the 2015 season were announced. Of the 40 bowl games that will be played over the course of the next month, one of them will feature the Penn State Nittany Lions in the Taxslayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida.
The TaxSlayer Bowl is not a headlining bowl game like the Orange Bowl or the Cotton Bowl, but this year it will feature two teams that are deeply set in tradition. The Penn State Nittany Lions and the Georgia Bulldogs on Jan. 2, 2016. The TaxSlayer Bowl will be Penn State’s 46th bowl appearance, while this is the 51st appearance for the Bulldogs. Penn State and Georgia are currently tied with the third-highest number of bowl wins in franchise history with 28. The only teams with more bowl wins are Alabama and USC.
The game will be an important one for Penn State, as they get their first real opportunity to see how well their offense can function after the dismissal of offensive coordinator and tight ends coach, John Donovan. Despite a talented, professional caliber quarterback in Christian Hackenberg and a breakout running back in Saquon Barkley, Penn State has continued to remain in the bottom half of the Big Ten in terms of offensive production.
“I have tremendous respect for John and the work he has put in over the last five years,” head coach James Franklin said in a released statement.
Much of Penn State’s lackluster success over the past two years have been attributed to the offense and John Donovan. One observer of the Nittany Lions for many years described Donovan’s problem as how he “could not build a offensive scheme around his players.” Instead Donovan focused on making a gameplan first, and worrying about fitting the square pegs in the round holes later.
Currently, quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne has taken over the duties of offensive coordinator. Coach Franklin does not seem to want Rahne to take over the position permanently. “Right now we’re looking outside the program” said Franklin. “At this point I want to go out and I think the best interests for our players and our program is to hire a guy who has been calling plays, and been successful for a number of years”.
The other big outcome that will come from the TaxSlayer Bowl will determine what exactly will Christian Hackenberg do. Touted as a future top-five pick at the beginning of the year, Hackenberg has been seen as an elite quarterback since stepping out onto the field in 2013.
In his rookie season, under the direction of former head coach Bill O’Brien, Hackenberg threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns with a 59 percent completion rate. Since then he has slid to 53 percent completion with 600 fewer yards.
How well Hackenberg plays in the bowl game could very well decide what the junior wants to do with his career. Many mock drafts are including Hackenberg in their draft picks, often having the quarterback go in the second round to the Houston Texans, which are currently being coached by Hackenberg’s former coach Bill O’Brien.
Another factor that is sure to find its way into the excitement of bowl season will be on the defensive line. The Nittany Lions are a young team and will be losing only three players — possibly four, depending on Hackenberg’s decision. Of these players, two are starting defensive linemen, Carl Nassib and Anthony Zettel.
The final game of the regular season was an absolute blowout for Penn State. Facing off against Michigan State in East Lansing, the Nittany Lions lost to the tune of 55-16. Nassib and Zettel, who are both looking sharp for the NFL draft in April are the heart and soul of the team.
Many would consider them the epitome of what it means to be a Nittany Lion because they embrace the trials of hard work. Nassib first entered the team as a walk-on player and eventually worked his way on to the starting roster through hard work and dedication. Zettel has strived for greatness since he joined the team, even fighting with his teammates by his side just days after losing his father to cancer. Neither player wants to end their collegiate careers on such a devastating loss.
Many factors go into playing a football game and sometimes you need both tactical genius and heart to come out with a victory. January 2, 2016 will be the 46th opportunity for Penn State to display their Nittany Lion abilities on a national stage. Against a powerful Georgia team, hopefully they can earn win number 29.