The Season That Was
The college football season has entered its quiet phase, the nearly month-long stretch between the end of the regular season and the glut of holiday bowl games. What news there is centers mostly on bowl previews, coaches being fired and hired, and a slew of postseason awards. The Nittany Lions won’t be going bowling anytime soon, of course, but their coach (who’s staying put, if you hadn’t heard) and many of their players have been making news—pretty much all of it good.
Start with the awards, most notably Bill O’Brien’s selection as Big Ten Coach of the Year and his status as a favorite for a slew of national COY awards. Such trophies aren’t usually handed to men who coach 8–4 teams, but his fellow coaches and the media members who vote for these awards seem to agree that what O’Brien did at Penn State this season—given the extraordinary circumstances, and in his first year as a head coach at any level—was worthy of recognition. Rick Reilly of ESPN made the case as well as anyone.
(FWIW: Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror argues that the man who hired O’Brien deserves some credit, as well.)
Two other awards reflect the impression that not just O’Brien but the entire program did something unique this season. There was Matt McGloin, the senior quarterback in his first and only season as a full-time starter, setting nine Penn State passing records and earning the Burlsworth Trophy as the top former walk-on in the country. That relatively new award is essentially a way to honor the nation’s greatest overachiever, and really, what better metaphor for this Penn State team?
Then there’s the Thomas Brookshier Spirit Award, presented by the Maxwell Football Club in recognition of their “commitment, leadership and outstanding effort.” That one’s going to the Nittany Lions’ entire senior class, a group O’Brien has relentlessly praised for keeping the Penn State program together. It’s quite the stack of kudos for a team that didn’t even win its division, and a cynic might argue that, just as the media piling on that deemed Penn State football “crippled” in July was overwrought, this flood of postseason honors might overstate what the Lions accomplished this season.
In truth, the symbolic and unifying value of this Penn State team is probably impossible to overstate.
Ryan Jones, senior editor