Penn State football: Nittany Lions return hungrier than ever
CHICAGO -- With Penn State's most highly anticipated season in eight years approaching, the Nittany Lions feel like they have unfinished business.
Penn State might have won 11 games and a Big Ten championship last season, but the Lions remain miffed they weren't selected for the four-team College Football Playoff.
"I have that chip on my shoulder and I'm pretty sure my teammates do, too," safety Marcus Allen said Tuesday at the Big Ten Kickoff and Media Days. "We feel like we have a lot to prove. It's not like we won it all last year. People still doubt us to this day."
Penn State returns 17 starters from last season when the Lions finished No. 7 in the national rankings after a bitter 52-49 loss to Southern Cal in a thrilling Rose Bowl.
They will likely be ranked in the top 10 in the major preseason polls next month, but Ohio State was the overwhelming choice in a Big Ten media poll to finish ahead of them in the East Division this season.
"It doesn't really matter to us," senior linebacker Jason Cabinda said. "We know what we have in our building and in our locker room. We know the work we're doing. We're the only ones who can stop us.
"I don't feel the need to defend our talent in any kind of way. We're not really all about the talk or the flash."
But coach James Franklin acknowledged there is more buzz and excitement about Penn State this summer than there was going into any of his three previous three seasons.
"I think the expectations are always pretty big at Penn State," he said. "What has probably changed is that there are more people talking about Penn State nationally than in years past.
"One of the reasons why we came here is that we love the expectations. We embrace those expectations. Our players came to Penn State to be part of this type of program. They've embraced it."
Since last season ended, Franklin has raised concerns about the program becoming complacent and relaxing after winning the conference title last season.
Allen, Cabinda and tight end Mike Gesicki all said that's not the case at all among the players. They're even more focused because they know they're closer to winning Penn State's first national title in 31 years.
"Our hunger has absolutely increased (in the last year)," Gesicki said. "We're as hungry as we've ever been because we know what our team goals and expectations are. We're willing to do whatever it takes.
"We're a more mature team. We've been through the fire. We've been through the success. Now we know what it takes to reach our goals."
The Lions remain motivated seven months after blowing a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl to USC.
"I think that's something that will always be in the back of our minds," Cabinda said. "It leaves that chip on our shoulder. It keeps us hungry and humble. The Rose Bowl let us know what we can be and where we're capable of going."
Gesicki said Penn State has the talent and the coaching to compete with the best teams in the country.
"We need to focus on the little things to make us a better team," he said. "We have the talent. We have the schemes. We need to focus on being perfectionists."
The Lions made it clear they're not settling for the success they achieved last season.
"I think our hunger has increased because there are still people who think last year was a fluke," Allen said. "We have tremendous expectations. We talk about them all the time. We talk about championships. That's what we want to achieve."
This article is written by Rich Scarcella from Reading Eagle, Pa. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.