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Expectations higher for Penn State after Big Ten title, Rose Bowl berth

| Friday, April 21, 2017, 6:42 p.m.
USA Today Sports
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley (runs against USC defensive back Adoree' Jackson during the third quarter at the Rose Bowl.

UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State is in a different situation for this season's annual Blue-White game than it was a year ago.

For one, the Nittany Lions are projected to be one of the best teams in college football in 2017 after their revival in 2016. Last season, the hope merely was to stay afloat in a tough Big Ten East.

But a conference championship and an appearance in what arguably was a thrilling Rose Bowl will elevate the expectations for any program, especially one that is returning 18 starters.

As hopes heightened for the Nittany Lions to be College Football Playoff contenders come fall, coach James Franklin and his staff had to determine what the team needed to do in winter workouts and spring practices leading to the Blue-White game to build on last season.

“I think you can always get better,” Franklin said at his season-ending news conference in January. “We'll go back and look at that like we do everything after the fact and say what did we do well, what can we do better, what are other people doing across the country to make great decisions.”

But how much can really be determined from an intrasquad scrimmage in April?

Last season, Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens were in competition to determine who would replace Christian Hackenberg as the team's starting quarterback. McSorley completed 23 of his 27 passes for 281 yards and threw four touchdown passes in the 2016 Blue-White game, but Franklin didn't name him the starter until August.

Franklin said this week he sees more value in evaluating players in practices than in the spring game.

“The Blue and White game, to be honest with you, it's about going in and kind of one last hoorah, and it's for the fans and everything else.” Franklin said Wednesday. “I would say more value is in the practice.”

It isn't likely McSorley or dynamic running back Saquon Barkley will be on the field much. Veteran safety Marcus Allen and defensive captain Jason Cabinda also aren't expected to line up, and coaches likely will be cautios with tight end Mike Gesicki.

The game gives newcomers and scout-teamers an opportunity to state their claims for a longer look this summer and during fall camp.

Matt Martell is a freelance writer.

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