Penn State’s stunning turnaround to win the Big Ten by way of the conference’s East division—the toughest in college football—proved to be one of the biggest stories in the sport in 2016. A team that was one of the youngest in the country and one that didn’t register one single voting point in either preseason poll (51 other programs appeared at least once on Coaches Poll ballots) went 11-3 and finished No. 7 in the nation.

It marked the Nittany Lions first outright Big Ten title in 22 seasons. It seemed to be quite the 180 about the vibe around the program after Penn State defeated No. 2 Ohio State – a win that quieted a bunch of skeptics who were ready to put coach James Franklin on the hot seat. Keep in mind Franklin was only in his third season there and had taken over a program that had been rocked by hefty NCAA sanctions that gutted PSU’s scholarship numbers. Plus, it wasn’t like Franklin hadn’t already shown that he knew what he was doing. He led Vandy to back-to-back Top 25 finishes and over his last 20 games at Vanderbilt, the only team that had a better record in the SEC was Alabama.

I got to spend some time up close around the Nittany Lions program last week and have some takeaways...

One big challenge for Franklin and his staff is handling the success of 2016, especially with a team that is still pretty young.

“It’s how do we use the experiences we had last year — the Rose Bowl, the Big Ten Championship game — without losing our identity? How do we use those experiences for growth, not lose our identity, not start focusing on things that don’t matter,” Franklin said.

What does Franklin see as that identity?

“It’s about get back to what I think Penn State is: 'blue-collar, hard-nosed; no names on the jersey. You’re a part of something bigger than yourself.'

Franklin’s plan is rooted in sticking with what got the team there last year: "Let’s start from Day 1, do the spring install of how we call the plays and what are our alignments as if they’ve never heard them before. Let's force ourselves to go through the process and build this team from the beginning all over again. I know everybody says that but over time you start to take things for granted."