Five observations from Penn State's 66-3 blowout win at Maryland on Saturday:
Penn State is ahead of schedule. Five years after the NCAA sanctions, including a major scholarship reduction, threatened to send the program into a decline from which it would struggle to recover, the Nittany Lions have posted a second straight season of double-digit wins.
James Franklin he wasn't thinking about such quick success at the time of his hiring in January 2014 but added, "I felt that this was a possibility. How long it was going to take us to get back to this situation, I'm not sure. Obviously it didn't happen fast enough for a lot of people, but for us looking back at it and kind of having a perspective, I'm very pleased."
Franklin and his staff deserve credit for recruiting the talent and for creating a united locker room where the older players are the leaders but the younger players are allowed to have their say.
Although the Lions lose a bunch of productive players after the bowl game, including running back Saquon Barkley (presumably), linebacker Jason Cabinda and free safety Marcus Allen, they have another top-10 recruiting class ready to come in, so there doesn't seem to be a limit as to how good they can be.
Barkley deserves to be in New York. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is such a shoo-in to be voted the Heisman Trophy winner that any additional finalists brought to New York for the presentation could be considered window dressing.
But after the year he experienced, especially his electrifying first two months of the season when he was the clear frontrunner for the award, Barkley has earned his place at the ceremony with other finalists, perhaps alongside Stanford's Bryce Love and maybe even Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor, a Salem High graduate.
"When you're a little kid and you watch college football, you dream about being in a situation like that," Barkley said Saturday. "It would be special to get invited. If I didn't get invited, it wouldn't hurt my feelings. I wouldn't get down or sad about it."
Tommy Stevens is the ultimate team player. Stevens, the Lions' second-team quarterback, rushed for a team-high 113 yards and accounted for four touchdowns – three rushing, one passing. Before relieving McSorley in the third quarter, he had lined up at running back and wide receiver in certain packages.
Despite the fact that he'd rather be the full-time quarterback, Stevens has fully embraced all the roles that his team has had for him, and his teammates appreciate it.
"He doesn't ever complain," Cabinda said. "There's a ton of places where he obviously could be starting right now. He has that kind of talent level, but he just does whatever the team asks him to do. I think the most special thing about Tommy is just how selfless he is."
Stevens will get the kind of off-season attention that few backup quarterbacks in America are afforded. If McSorley comes back for his final year, Stevens may choose to go elsewhere, especially considering he is scheduled to graduate in the spring. Graduate transfers don't have to sit out a season and Stevens, a redshirt sophomore, would have two years of eligibility remaining.
But perhaps the coolest moment of the day came for the McPhearson family of Columbia, Md., midway through the third quarter. Fifth-year senior running back Josh McPhearson forced a fumble on a kickoff return by the Terrapins and redshirt freshman cornerback Zech McPhearson – Josh's brother – recovered to set up the Lions' sixth touchdown.
The McPhearsons have an older brother, Gerrick, who played for Maryland when Franklin was an assistant coach there, and Josh remembered a 2004 game when he and his siblings wanted to go into the locker room to visit their brother and Franklin allowed them in. "Tonight was special for (Franklin) and special for me," Josh McPhearson said.
The team needs a break. The grind of playing in one of the toughest divisions in the country — the Big Ten East — took its toll on the Nittany Lions, who went 1-2 in their big three-game stretch versus Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State before finishing up the regular season with three straight wins. They will rest before finding out their bowl assignment next Sunday, and the players are looking forward to the break.