1999 vs. 2017 Penn State Football Teams

Story posted October 19, 2017 in Sports, CommRadio by Camden Tolfil

Penn State comes into their matchup with Michigan with the highest ranking since 1999. The Nittany Lions moved up to the No. 2 ranking after a loss by Clemson. After all the turmoil this program has gone through, it’s great see the program is back on the national map led by Coach Franklin.

The “Whiteout” game has brought an excitement level to this campus that hasn’t seen for years. With College Football Playoff aspirations, it’s safe to say that Penn State football is back.

The 1999 team was the last Penn State team to be ranked No. 2 which leads to comparisons between that team and the team currently playing in Happy Valley.

1999 Nittany Lions

Penn State finished that season with a 10-3 (5-3 Big Ten) record and made an appearance in the Alamo Bowl. That game finished with a 24-0 victory over Texas A&M. The Nittany Lions started the season with an impressive 9-0 record before losing three consecutive games. Penn State spent 11 straight weeks inside the top five of the AP poll.

Led by Coach Joe Paterno, the Nittany Lions finished the season ranked No. 11 in the country. During the season, Penn State played a total of seven ranked teams and finished with a record of 5-2 in those games.

Some of their big wins came against No. 4 Arizona, No. 8 Miami (FL) and No. 18 Ohio State. Tough losses to No. 16 Michigan and No. 15 Michigan State derailed their National Championship hopes.

The Nittany Lions were a well-balanced team averaging 32.1 points per game (18th in the NCAA) and only allowed their opponents to score 18 points per game (17th in the NCAA).

The offense was led by quarterback Kevin Thompson who threw 1916 yards and 13 touchdowns. Eric McCoo was the leading rusher on the team with 739 yards and Chafie Fields led the receivers with 692 yards.

Penn State defense, led by linebacker LaVar Arrington, was elite. Arrington was the best defensive player in the country as he won the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Dick Butkus Award (Best Linebacker). Also, defensive end Courtney Brown was one of the best players in the country. Brown and Arrington went first and second overall in the NFL Draft after the season.

Arrington was so dominant that he finished ninth in the Heisman voting for that season, which is extremely impressive for a defensive player.

2017 Nittany Lions

After a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth last season, the 2017 Nittany Lions had a ton of hype coming into this season. Under the direction of Coach James Franklin and key returning pieces quarterback Trace McSorley, running back Saquon Barkley and linebacker Jason Cabinda, many people expected this team to compete for a national championship.

With a preseason ranking of No. 6, the hype in Happy Valley was at an all-time high. Thus far, Penn State has lived up to the hype. The Nittany Lions are representing a 6-0 (3-0 Big Ten) record at the mid-point in the season.

Penn State’s offense have been their “bread-and-butter” in this season. McSorley and Barkley have been the best duo in college football. McSorley coming off a breakout campaign last season has been as dynamic this year. The quarterback has 1597 yards through the air and total of 17 touchdowns.

Saquon Barkley has been other worldly this season. The running back is arguably the frontrunner for the Heisman and is the best player in college football. Barkley is leading the country in scrimmage yards per game with 217. He has scored in four different ways: passing, rushing, receiving and kick return. Safe to say Barkley can do it all.

McSorley has plenty of weapons to throw to including Barkley, Juwan Johnson, DaeSean Hamilton and Mike Gesicki. McSorley has been able to spread the ball all over the field which has resulted in much success. The Nittany Lions are currently averaging 39.7 points per game.

The biggest surprise so far this season has to be the Penn State defense. The defense was the biggest unknown coming into this season; however, the Nittany Lion defense has been among the most elite.

Led by Cabinda and safety Marcus Allen, the defense has only allowed nine points per game and are the only team in the country that hasn’t allowed a point in the first quarter. They also rank second in the nation in turnover margin, proving doubters wrong about this defense.

Up to this point in the season, Penn State has taken care of weaker competition, but a tough three game stretch against Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State awaits. If the Nittany Lions can get out of these upcoming games unscathed, then we could be looking at an appearance in the College Football Playoff.

Both of the teams are among the great teams in Penn State history as they have school records and elite players on both sides of the ball. However, this 2017 team has the potential to do something the team in 1999 couldn’t: compete for a National Championship. We could be watching potentially the second Heisman winner in school history play in Saquon Barkley.

So as the annual “Whiteout” game approaches, let’s not take this team for granted. The 2017 Nittany Lions have the potential to win the third National Championship in school history and send Happy Valley into a frenzy.


Camden Tofil is a freshman majoring in advertising/public relations. To contact him, email camdentofil@gmail.com.