Monday, August 31, 2009

More on Rodriguez

THEM Coach Rich Rodriguez was teary eyed as he held a press conference today.



There apparently were some strange goings-on at WVU after Rodriguez took the UM job. According to this ESPN article from January 2008:

West Virginia University said Tuesday it will investigate the disappearance of player and football program files found to be missing from the former office of ex-Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez.

Paperwork detailing every player on West Virginia's roster, as well as the program's activities over the past seven years, went missing between Rodriguez's resignation as coach to take over at Michigan and the team's return from the Fiesta Bowl, the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette reported.

After returning to work about a week ago, the staff at WVU's Puskar Center found that most of the files that had been stored in Rodriguez's office, as well as the players' strength and conditioning files in the weight room, were gone, the Gazette reported.

According to the report, multiple sources said several people in the Puskar Center reported seeing Rodriguez and at least one of his assistants, video coordinator Dusty Rutledge, in Rodriguez's private office shredding paperwork on Dec. 18 -- the day he returned from Ann Arbor after being named Michigan's new head coach.


Of note is that Rodriguez brought his strength and conditioning coach with him from WVU.

Sooo . . . do you believe him?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Trash Talking

Um, from Akron?

I kid you not.

ZipsNation has a thread started by ZachtheZip (with a name like that, it has to be good!) Here's some gems and evidence of a lack of intelligent life in Ohio:
I think we'll have a better chance to beat them than we've ever had before. We have a mostly veteran team who won't be scared or in awe of their crowd. Walt Harris knows how to beat Penn State at their place, and you can bet that he's doing all he can to get us ready to beat his old rival.

The fact was corrected later--Walt Harris beat PSU only once--in Pittsburgh.

It's go time! PSUcks! The Nittany Housecats are going down. Get angry!
I Know we can beat Penn. Penn is our B...ch. You know I'm fired up.

Are they playing us or Penn--now I'm just confused?

I want to see our Zips walk onto field with heads held high, and the smell of "No Fear" emanting from their from their jerseys. I want to see fear in the eyes of Penn's offensive team starting early in the game. I want to see Penn's QB staring up at the sky. I want to see our defense deliver hits harder than Superman's knee. I want to see Joe Paterno sweating like a MF'er (no matter how cold it may be!). I want to see Bowser pull in multiple 30yd. receptions. I want to see our "D" Smack the dalites out of their offense. I want to see many loyal Zips in the stadium mercilessly/crazy loud, cheering on our team.


I just want to see this guy's face after the game.
Pennzoil State

OK, that's a new one. Point for originality. Two point loss for lameness, though. Speaking of which . . .
PSUcks
Did I warp onto a Pitt board? OMG.

As for the fans, we need to grow up. Grow beyond the NE Ohio mentality. We don't have the least bit of confidence as a group of sports fans. I will tell you that confidence is contagious, though.


So is the plague. And Swine Flu.
BRING them suckers on! I can't wait. Our monster defense and explosive offense is gonna Beat them up and down. We are gonna shock them with 5,000 mega watts of raw ROO POWER. Penn is in for the shock of their lives.

I'm sorry, but does raw ROO POWER just not want to make you laugh. It's so Wonder Twins--not superman. To be honest, I'm thinking Winnie-the-Pooh. Heffalumps and woozles!

Spewing the Venom

As I have recently been accused of spewing the venom about our Big Ten Brethern better than anyone else on the Internet . . .

The Detroit Free Press has posted a story that is stoking the fire under Rich Rodriguez's hot seat.

The NCAA, which governs college athletics, has strict limits on how much time coaches can require players to spend on their sport. But Rodriguez’s team has routinely broken the rules since he took over in January 2008, people inside the program told the Free Press.

Numerous players on the 2008 and 2009 teams said the program far exceeded limits intended to protect athletes from coaching excesses and to ensure fair competition. Two players called Michigan’s off-season requirements “ridiculous.” The players described the coaches’ expectations as an ongoing concern among many teammates. Parents of several players agreed.

The players and parents agreed to talk only if they were not identified because they said they feared repercussions from the coaching staff.

In the past two off-seasons, players said, the Wolverines were expected to spend two to three times more than the eight hours allowed for required workouts each week. Players are free to exceed the limit, but it must be truly voluntary. The players said the off-season work was clearly required. Several of them said players who failed to do all the strength and conditioning were forced to come back to finish or were punished with additional work.

“It was mandatory,” one player said. “They’d tell you it wasn’t, but it really was. If you didn’t show up, there was punishment. I just felt for the guys that did miss a workout and had to go through the personal hell they would go through.”

In addition, the players cited these practices within the program:
• Players spent at least nine hours on football activities on Sundays after games last fall. NCAA rules mandate a daily 4-hour limit. The Wolverines also exceeded the weekly limit of 20 hours, the athletes said.
• Players said members of Rodriguez’s quality-control staff often watched seven-on-seven off-season scrimmages. The noncontact drills, in which an offense runs plays against a defense, are supposed to be voluntary and player-run. They are held at U-M’s football facilities. NCAA rules allow only training staff — not quality-control staffers — to attend as a safety precaution. Quality-control staffers provide administrative and other support for the coaches but are not allowed to interact directly with players during games, practices or workouts.

The 2008 Wolverines were shocked by how much Rodriguez required on fall Sundays. Rodriguez required his players to arrive at Schembechler Hall by noon the day after games. They would then go through a full weight-lifting session, followed by individual position meetings and a full-team meeting. Then, at night, they would hold a full practice. Often, they would not leave the practice facility until after 10 p.m.

In September 2008, three weeks into Rodriguez’s first season, senior defensive tackle Terrance Taylor talked about his previous Sunday. “It was, like, 10 hours,” Taylor said. “Everybody was like, ‘Where were you at?’ ‘I was at practice all day.’ My parents were still here. They were like, ‘Where were you at?’ I was like, ‘I was at the building all day.’ ”

The NCAA limit is 4 hours a day for required activities.

“The Sundays were miserable,” one player said. “I could never get healthy. You’d go through a game and then go through a hard workout. Sundays would just kill you.”

The NCAA also limits teams to 20 hours a week, and Rodriguez apparently exceeded that limit as well.

That's some story. Of most interest to me is the fact that this is being published by the Detroit Media--not Columbus or South Bend or what-have-you. This is a back yard witch hunt. Even Paterno has been fairly spared by the local media regarding players in trouble with the law. ESPN's Outside the Lines did most of the witch-hunting.

So I headed over to Brian Cook's mgoblog, perhaps the definitive source for THEM football on the web. He has some comments as well as some comments from other parents.

From one parent:
The worst part of all of this is that the reporters targeted the freshman, with misleading questions they can get them to say anything. I’m a fire chief, and I deal with the media. I don’t let my men deal with the media, because they can get them to say anything. They could make us sound like the worst station out there if they wanted to. Without names, this article means nothing to me.

Okay--attack the media. That's a good start.

Another parent:

"I haven't read the article yet, but I also haven't heard anything about over practice, or anything like that."

Good. Good. Simple denial. The Sergeant Schultz approach. I saw noth-zing.

In the main article on the issue, a reader actually emailed the NCAA rules in question. That's excellent. The Bill Clinton approach. Just what is your definition of getting screwed.

And then, there's this assumption . . .
. . . that would be totally evil if Rodriguez was an idiot who hadn't dealt with NCAA compliance for 20 years and hadn't made sure the strenuous workouts fit the definitions of "voluntary." This is unlikely.
How many times have we seen NCAA violations follow coaches from one school to another? Just because Rodriguez has been dealing with the NCAA for x number of years doesn't mean that he wouldn't try to bend or stretch the rules. In fact, if he's gotten away with things like this before, it probably makes it more likely that he would continue to push the envelope.

All in all, though, this is pretty small potatoes. USC commits worse infractions than this practically on a daily basis and the NCAA turns a blind eye. THEM played with an ineligible player a couple years back but apparently that wasn't enough of a league infraction to do anything about it. I strongly suspect nothing will come of this.

But where there's smoke, there's usually fire. I think the biggest problem Rodriguez faces is some faction that appears to have no love for him.

But even this isn't anything new. John Woolard of WVfan.com writes:
In a piece written in a question-and-answer format by Rivals.com's Tom Dienhart, Rodriguez insists that he was the target of a "smear campaign" by a cabal of WVU officials.
So why does Rodriguez have so many cabals after him? I guess it takes a lot of cabals to coach football like he does.

Swift Goes State




Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Season Countdown: #3

Here's the countdown from the easiest to the hardest game to win:

12. Eastern Illinois
11. Syracuse
10. Akron
9. Temple
8. Indiana
7. Minnesota
6. THEM
5. Michigan State
4. Ohio State
3. Northwestern

I know exactly what you are thinking--Northwestern? More difficult than Ohio State? Have I lost all credibility here? (That assumes of course there was any credibility to lose in the first place.)

You might be further surprised to know that I almost ranked Iowa here, putting Northwestern in the top 2 difficult games.

But the Wildcats just don't have the talent nor the defense that Iowa (or Ohio State) brings to the field. But Northwestern benefits from some intangibles that can't be overlooked in the game of football.

First and foremost, this game is on the road. Here is our record to date in Evanston:

1993: W 43-21
1995: L 10-21
1997: W 30-27 (PSU ranked #2)
2001: W 38-35 (ties Bear Bryant)
2003: L 7-17
2005: W 34-29 (converting 4th and 15 and Williams epic TD)

With the exception of 1993, Penn State has either won by 5 points or less, or flat out lost. And a couple of those wins were close enough to cause palpitations and were a play away from being disasters. My conclusion based on the available evidence: we do not dominate on the road at Northwestern.

Northwestern may not be competing for the Big Ten Championship, but they aren't your grandfather's Northwestern team either. Pat Fitzgerald is doing a good job out there, and Northwestern took Missouri into OT before losing the Alamo Bowl. The Wildcats can play with the big boys.

Pete Fiutak of CollegeFootballNews thinks they'll surprise some people:
Northwestern - The defense will be up to Pat Fitzgerald's high standards, the offensive line should be among the Big Ten's best, and the backfield will crank out rushing yards in chunks. Missing Ohio State is a major plus, and not getting Michigan, even in its mediocre rebuilding phase, isn't a bad thing, and the record should be excellent, at least early on, before dealing with a tough finishing kick.


Schedule-wise, this game is sandwiched between a road trip to Ann Arbor and that game with the team from Columbus. So no pressure there, huh? For the Wildcats, they play Indiana before us, and head to Iowa the week after.

Also, given the general interest for the rest of the world in this game, it likely will be a noon start, central time--11 am for us back east. We have not been real sharp in early games of late. (I am really hoping that Illinois is played at 3:30!)

If Penn State performs the way I expect, we should be undefeated coming into this game. Can we avoid the let-down? Could this be the "Iowa" game of 2009? Who knows, but the Wildcats are certainly capable of winning a football game if we come in flat and unemotional. It's hard to keep up the intensity week to week, but in a conference like the Big Ten, you have to.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Will We?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Season Countdown: #4

Here's the countdown from the easiest game to win to the one that will send us searching for the Pepto-Bismol :

12. Eastern Illinois
11. Syracuse
10. Akron
9. Temple
8. Indiana
7. Minnesota
6. THEM
5. Michigan State
4. Ohio State

This will probably be a student section whiteout game. The official Whitehouse game is Iowa. This will be November, and the heavy non-white jackets will be in style.

It also won't be an 8pm game because the Big Ten, in their infinite wisdom, has decreed no night games in November. It could be a 3:30 start though. And who knows, if both teams are undefeated, the league might find a way to move this clash into primetime if it means more TV bucks.

Big Bucks. No Whammies.

While the media has ordained the Buckeyes as the heir apparent to the Big Ten Throne, and ESPN can't say enough good things about Mr. Pryor, consider this blogger somewhat unimpressed.

Granted, there is not a team on our schedule with better recruits (if you're into astrology and stars and stuff like that) and the Buckeyes have been reloading since 2002, I think there comes a time in the cycle of things when despite everything looking rosy, things just don't come together. Seven years is enough. Such is the 2009 season for Ohio State.

That is my prediction based on nothing but a vague sense of things and perhaps a quiet desperation on my part. But I am NOT impressed with Pryor as a QB. As an athlete--he's great. But if he has to pass the ball to win a game, well, he's going to have to prove it to me. I'm more afraid of Mr. Stanzi, and that's why you haven't seen the Hawkeyes on this list yet. I think Akron's QB may have more passing yards than the Buckeyes.

In the past four years, this has been a close, tough, defensive game and there is no reason to think that 2009 will be any different. Of course, I'm ignoring the last time the Buckeyes came to Beaver Stadium and pasted us 37-17 because they were great that year, we had Morelli, who knows what went wrong with our D, and Ohio State went to the BCS championship. That's how Tressel and Paterno play. It's in their sweatervests and thick glasses. It bores the hell out of Big XII fans, and most of the rest of the country, but by God, that's how we do things in this conference.

And in games like this, it comes down to who makes the fewest mistakes. Home field advantage is critical. How well will Pryor handle the noise? Will our defense feed off the energy of the fans? Turn-overs are crucial. Who will flinch first?

Clark is from Ohio, and despite Penn State winning last year, I think that game left a bad taste in his mouth. It was Devlin who actually led the winning score as Clark prowled the sideline with a concussion. There's no way to predict injuries, but barring one, I look for Clark to be back for some redemption. This is his team. His home. His game. And a 110,000 of his friends will be right there with him. You won't read that kind of advantage in any media guide or statistics report.

This is Penn State football at its finest, unless of course, we lose.

If any other team lost seven starters, you wouldn't expect them to win the conference. That list includes Beanie Wells and Brian Robiskie. Add to that defensive playmakers like Lauranitis, Freeman and Jenkins, and you shake your head wondering how anyone could expect this team to compete for the conference title. And to make the rebuilding on defense even trickier, the Buckeyes will be without Tyler Moeller, who suffered a terrible head injury in a tragic attack.

Part of the explanation is the perception that the Big Ten is "down." Despite their losses, they are still more talented than the teams around them. And part--a large part--is the fact that the Buckeyes have shown the ability to reload rather than rebuild.

On the other side of the ball, Buckeye fans think that this is Pryor's game. . . that last year's painful loss is a motivation for him to move to the next level. And against USC, I expect that to happen--I expect him to play better. I hope he beats the Trojans just so we can stop this crap about how down the Big Ten is as a conference.

But it is quite another thing as a sophomore to come into a venue like Beaver Stadium and silence the crowd, which is pretty much what he's going to have to do to win this game. If he can do that, then I will be impressed. Until then, we'll just have to wait and see.

Overall, I like how we match-up with the Buckeyes and having this game at home is huge.

Doom & Gloom?

Angst appears to be rippling through Nittany Nation like bad news on the stock market. Fan confidence has fallen a bit on the latest report from Joe Paterno here in the Altoona Mirror.

"We're still struggling with that offensive line right now, and we're not sure about our wideouts," he said. "We've got some kids that are someday going
to be really good, but it's all so new to them. So we're not anywhere near where I would hope we would be at this stage.

"We're only [nine] days away from playing a football game, and if we had to play this week - well, we'll have troubles regardless - but we'd have big, big troubles."

The new receivers are still having trouble with some fundamentals. "You still have to question wideouts knowing it's third down and 8, they go 7, third down and 10, they go 9. And the timing isn't good," Paterno said.


So what gives?

Come on people . . . this is classic JoePa. He's not going to come out saying about how great his team is and how many games they are going to win. HE DOES NOT DO THAT. In fact, positive things from Joe are often harbingers of bad things to come, as he tries to instill some false confidence in his players. False confidence is better than none at all.

He was reluctant to praise Lavar Arrington too highly. He highly praised Morelli. You do the math.

Akron will be the greatest football team they have ever faced. After his press conference, you'll wonder why Eastern Illinois isn't ranked in the top 20.

One messageboard poster commented that the complaints are too specific, so it must be true. Why???

So the receivers are running nine yard routes rather ten? When haven't we seen that? I always thought that was the play the coaches called! That is a fixable problem, people. If they can't catch or get open, that's more worrisome. Timing is something that comes with practice and our opening schedule is favorable to work the kinks out.

Do you really think Joe Paterno is going to let Akron, Syracuse . . . Iowa and Ohio State know exactly what he thinks his team's weaknesses are? The practices are largely closed and just try to get an injury update before a game--I dare you. This is not a program that publicizes details. That alone makes me question how much real truth there is to this.

Is he trying to set up excuses for later on? Maybe. But Paterno has never been a man to worry about excuses. He'll spell out L-O-U-S-Y if his team plays that way. He may chide the fans on excessive expectations, and perhaps he's trying to temper our high hopes, not against disillusionment, but more to common sense. Maybe I'm wrong, and three or four losses into the season he'll point back and say "I told you we weren't good" but I bet that even if he says something like that, it will be laced with regret, as if he had hoped he wouldn't have to play that card and is genuinely disappointed the point needs bringing up.
These were two of the three major areas that everyone was concerned about (the secondary being the third element.) Are we surprised that those areas are not on par with the rest of the team?

I personally think he's just trying to motivate the team and keep them focused. Maybe he sees their real potential and wants them to work harder and become more aggressive. That won't happen if he stands there and piles praises on as if he's fertilizing with manure.
Both parts of Paterno's interview can be viewed on Facebook. In part II, Paterno actually praises the speed and talent of the young guys in the skill positions. We could analzye this to death, but I think he's just trying to build confidence on the depth chart, while challenging his receivers and offensive line to step it up.
We'll know more come September 5th. That's when we play Akron, a pretty good team that might win the MAC, the BCS title, an academy award and perhaps $10 million dollars from publisher's clearinghouse. I hear they're so good, and we're not, maybe we shouldn't even bother to show up.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Preseason Blog Poll is Up

Brian of mgoblog has worked hard over the past several seasons to put together the blog poll--think coaches poll but with bloggers casting the votes.

The 2009 Preseason Blog Poll has also anointed Florida #1.

My ballot, which earned a wack job alert, is here.

I am actually a little disappointed in my blogging brethern. Only two of us (out of 101 votes) chose a team other than Florida. Really???!!! Is there any point in even playing this season? Are we all so sucked into the Urban Meyer Legend? Is it that SEC speed? Have we become one country composed of nothing but Gator Bait? Are we all drinking Gator-ade?

Seriously . . . not one Big XII blogger picked Texas or Oklahoma. No number one votes for USC. Alabama and LSU made the top 10, but not a single blogger thinks they might be #1?

What's the point of having our own poll if we're simply going to rubber stamp the ESPN-hype mentality. At least 6 of the coaches picked someone other than the gators, with four teams sharing votes. The AP poll had only two outliers--both for Texas. At least the blogpoll outliers were creative. Pardon me while I pat myself on the back.

Obviously, all the polls should be similar--we're all looking at the same data sets, which at this point are severely limited by the fact that not a single game has been played yet. Shouldn't there be some subjective bias? Is everyone so consumed about "getting it right" that no one is willing to gamble on a long shot? I'm not asking for a dozen bloggers to pick Vanderbilt to be number one, but I was hoping for some to display some shameless homerism, or at least think outside the blog for a ballot that basically means nothing anyway--most folks understand that the final ballots always differ considerably from the preseason. This ballot is simply an exercise in imagination.

Apparently, we as a group, lack much in the way of imagination.

Penn State to Play FedEx in 2010

The FedEx Orange Bowl? Who knows?

But Penn State will be playing at FedEx Field in Washington D.C. when Indiana moves their home game from Bloomington to the home of the Redskins.

Why, you may ask?

$$$$$$$ What else?

According to Kevin McGuire of the Examiner.com:

The November 20, 2010 game between Penn State and Indiana will switch locations from Indiana's campus in Bloomington, Indiana to FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. FedEx Field is home of the NFL's Washington Redskins.

The Herald Times of Bloomington reports that the Redskins approached Indiana about moving their home game to their stadium in exchange for a #3 million payout. The Hoosiers gladly accepted the deal as they annually rank near the bottom of the Big Ten in terms of football money.

This is good news for Penn State fans as the game will be in a much more Penn State friendly region and most of the 90,000+ seats figure to be filled with fans in blue and white, even though the game will still be considered a "home" game for Indiana.


I wonder what Indiana fans (either one) think about that! I'm not big on road trips, but I might consider this one.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Season Countdown: #5

Here's the countdown from the easiest to the hardest game to win:

12. Eastern Illinois
11. Syracuse
10. Akron
9. Temple
8. Indiana
7. Minnesota
6. THEM
5. Michigan State

Michigan State could be one of the best teams in the Big Ten. They might struggle to get a bowl bid. Such is the lot in East Lansing where you never know which Michigan State team will show up. The Spartans managed to beat Iowa and Northwestern last year--both bowl bound teams--yet struggled against Penn State, Ohio State and lost their bowl game to Georgia 24-12. But they do seem to have more consistency under Dantonio than previously.

But if Penn State's program has questions (O-line, WR and secondary) then Michigan State's is even greater, having to replace both Hoyer at QB and Ringer at RB. The defense will return eight starters, and they should improve with experience, but let's face it--we scored 49 points on them last year.

Factors that favor the Spartans--home field advantage, coming off a road game with Purdue, and the fact that Dantonio was pissed off at Penn State for using its time-outs to honor the seniors last season.

For the Lions, they will be coming off a game with Indiana and Penn State may be mad at Dantonio for using his time outs in a ploy to prolong last year's game and make the fans wait in the cold for their impending celebration of a Big Ten title. Petty? Perhaps, but it is the sort of thing that rivalries can build on.

Michigan State has not beaten PSU at Beaver Stadium since we joined the conference in 1993. Alas, this game will not be played in the Beav. We have lost 4 games in East Lansing while winning 4. We lost the last match-up there, so we're due for another win, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. I'm not convinced that Dantonio has turned the program around, so to speak. They reminded me last year of the Penn State teams under Morelli--good enough to win the easy games, barely good enough to win the games they should win, and just lousy enough not to win any of the big games. Last season they lost to PSU, OSU, Georgia, and California. They beat a ND team that was still struggling, and barely beat a Wisconsin team that Penn State simply dominated. With a new QB and RB, I just don't understand how people feel this team will be in the mix for a Big Ten title. Oh wait. The Big Ten is down this year, so I guess just about anyone can win it?

That said, they're still number 5 on the list, and no easy win by any means.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Do Not Adjust Your TV

The Big Ten Network is taking control of Atlantic Broadband. This is good news for the folks in my viewing area--including me.

From the Altoona Mirror:
Atlantic Broadband and Big Ten Network officials announced at a joint news conference today that the Big Ten Network will be carried on Atlantic Broadband starting Sept. 1. The company's vice president for operations, David Dane, said the multi-year agreement specifies coverage will be on the value or basic level of service. The announcement means that the Big Ten Network will be available to Atlantic Broadband customers in time for Penn State's football opener Sept. 5 against Akron.


Well, it's about time.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Off Topic: Blogging

Outside of football, there is more to the world. I know. You don't believe it, and I'm not wholly convinced myself. But a recent article on non-sports blogging caught my eye.

According to John Sutter, pittgirl, a local superhero of sorts, was fired from her job after her true identity was revealed.

Blog fans in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, saw PittGirl as their masked superhero -- a comedian and local commentator who jibed the mayor without reserve and ranted freely about her hatred of pigeons.

But despite her effort to keep her real name secret, people started to figure out who PittGirl was.

Feeling pressure to take control of her identity before someone else outed her, PittGirl on Wednesday posted pictures of herself on her blog and introduced readers to her real-world self: Virginia Montanez, a 35-year-old married mother of two who worked in the nonprofit sector.

On Thursday morning, Montanez was fired from her job because of her
online persona, she said.

Now I could see if you worked for Pepsi and posted on-line that Coke was the best. Or if you worked for a company or a person who you denigrated on the Internet for the rest of the world to see. (Maybe pittgirl did that--I didn't read her whole blog since most of it was not about Penn State football.)
In a related CNN article, a judge recently has paved the way for people to sue on-line services to find the identity of anonymous posters. In this particular suit, a model feels slandered as pictures of her appeared on a website with derogatory comments.
How far is anyone from this? I post what some might consider to be derogatory comments about opposing teams. Sometimes coaches. Maybe players. I may not call them skanks, but I may question their ability. I recently called Lloyd Carr beady-eyed. Is that slanderous? I think several Big Ten refs couldn't pass an eye test. (JUst kidding for goodness sake!!!) When does my personal opinion and my right to express that opinion become slander? In most cases, I post to entertain my Penn State readers, but humor does have an edge to it. Do blondes enjoy dumb blonde jokes? Even if you explain it to them? There's a certain ironic humor in responding to someone who accuses your fanbase of being foul-mouthed with a well, a foul mouth.
I can sympathize with pittgirl.

Yes, it sucks VERY VERY HARD, but I put in a good six years there and it is time for me to step away from that job.

I could type EXACTLY the same thing, except I was not ready to step away. My situation was kind of the opposite. Because some fan thought that I, as a doctor, should be more eloquent in my private email to him, he got me fired from my paying job at PennLive. But that was not my primary job, and although I will miss the income, it won't likely alter my life in any way. But I feel bad for pittgirl, even if she is um, "pitt" girl. BTW, I think the moniker is a Pittsburgh thing rather than a Pitt panther thing, although she did call Paterno (or PSU) a "LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE!" in regard to his salary.

I always posted with my real name on the blog. When I moved here, I intentionally left my name off so as to avoid Dick Foust from stalking me any further. (That ploy has failed.)

But I am Todd Sponsler, formerly of the 50-Yard Lion Blog. You may not agree with what I say, but I thought that was what free speech and America were all about. Unfortunately, I am finding out that the America they taught me about in school no longer exists.

And that is a truly disheartening realization.

The Season Countdown: #6

So far, I have broken the season down from the easiest game to the most difficult thusly:
12. Eastern Illinois
11. Syracuse
10. Akron
9. Temple
8. Indiana
7. Minnesota
6. THEM

Some new quarterback changes have come to light since I first ranked these. Syracuse will be led by Greg Paulus, former Duke point guard that will now play for the Orange. And Eastern Illinois will be directed by Iowa transfer Jake Christiansen. Let's check the new numbers . . . probably going to have some effect . . . nope, not so much.

Moving on . . .

The wolverines, or THEM to readers who are not familiar with my label (as in THE M, that big block M that marches down the field, the team with the ugly helmets that's too sexy for their shirts, the team whose fans think the college football world revolves around THEM, the only team that apparently counts when ratinmg the strength of the conference, you get the idea), is a team that can only improve after a 3-9 season that featured such epic games as a 13-10 loss to the Toledo Rockets. ( I know, I know. Toledo beat PSU in 2000 when the Rockets went 10-1, winning their conference and their bowl game. Contrast that to last year's team that went 3-9 in the same MAC conference and stayed home for the holidays. In reality, that loss was even worse than the Appalachian State loss because at least Appalachian State was one of the best teams in their division.)

Anyway,THEM went 3-9 and missed out on a bowl game for the first time since like Lincoln was president. As I said, things appear to be poised for improvement, but how much is the key question.

The wolverines have been riddled with transfers since Rodriguez took over. Outsiders look at that as a sign of problematic issues with the new regime. Die hard fans, though, are quick to jump to RichRod's support--the transfers are just normal growing pains and the program is better off without Carr's recruits that "didn't fit" into the spread system. Isn't that convenient. . . or perhaps . . . . Satan? You decide.

And while the mightly wolverines made a game of it last year for thirty minutes, clinging to a 3 point lead at half-time, the final score of 46-17 was a better indicator of the disparity of these two teams.

Penn State will return a veteran signal caller. THEM will debut the power of the Forcier, a freshman who was highly heralded, but was aided by the transfer of Threet and an injury to Sheridan. Did he actually win the job or was this the product of addition by subtraction?

The one thing that worries me about this game is the venue. We have not played well in Ann Arbor since like 1994 (we played well in 2005 but got screwed, but let's not go there yet.) But quite frankly, I don't fear Rodriguez the way I feared that shifty, beady eyed Carr, most often caught smirking on the sideline or giving the patented drive-by handshake after a loss.

I still fear the refs, but I don't think Rich Rod has the same rapport (or influence) as Carr did.

Greg Robinson has moved from Syracuse to Ann Arbor to be the defensive coordinator. Yeah, that scares me. Holy crap? Did Syracuse even have a defense? Syracuse was 101 out of 119 teams in total defense last year. Is there a coaching position that he is even less qualified? Oh yeah, Syracuse was 114th in total offense, so offensive coordinator wouldn't have been a good choice either.

Personally, I think the whole Rich Rod hiring was a mistake. I think he will continue to struggle for a couple more years, but I just don't see him returning the program to the success that Carr had, which included a national championship. I wasn't that impressed with his coaching at WVU--he recruited well and competed in a weak conference, and still managed to lose the occasional key game. I may be wrong, but I don't think he will survive at THEM.

The wolverines have a functional bye week before we play them, with a game against Delaware State on October 17th. They face a road trip to Illinois the week after. They should have four wins (Indiana, Eastern and Western Michigan, and Delaware State) and will also have faced the Irish, their cross state rivals, the Spartans, and Iowa on the road. I'm thinking 4-3 here. With Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio State still ahead, this could be a make or break game for a bowl bid. Of course, if I'm wrong, and they beat Notre Dame and Sparty, the swagger will be back and that would be a dangerous thing. 7-0 and I will start to sweat. A lot. And forget that whole Rich Rod not surviving thing. It's like I didn't type that.

As for Penn State, we will be coming off ahome again against the gophers, and be facing an away game at Northwestern, which if you haven't noticed, hasn't appeared on the list yet. Northwestern is the trap game du jour for this year, even though many fans and sportswriters are fearing Illinois on the road.

Bottom Line: If Forcier is truly a force to be reckoned with, the wolverines will hurt some people this year, maybe even Penn State.

Most Likely scenario: Forcier will have growing pains like all athletic freshmen, with falshes of brilliance tempered by stupid plays at inopportune moments.

This will be a close game either way.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Badgers Like Beaver Stadium

According to Badger Beat, players at Wisconsin like to play at Beaver Stadium.

"It might be my most horrible memory, but Penn State was the best stadium I’ve played in. It’s 100,000 people and it rises over you. It’s crazy there." — receiver David Gilreath

Conversely: "The toughest stadium to play in is Beaver Stadium, Penn State -- by far. That was the loudest I’ve ever heard. Worst stadium, I’d have to say, is Minnesota (Metrodome). That was crappy." — offensive tackle Gabe Carimi

Rowdy place: "We don’t get to play them this year, but definitely Penn State. Their crowd is definitely the rowdiest crowd that I’ve ever played against, and it’s just fun to play there -- and I’d love to get an upset there." — linebacker Culmer St. Jean


The players are also in favor of adding a 12th team (preferrably Notre Dame), think Bret Bielema is honest and nice, think that celebration is the worst NCAA penalty, and Minnesota is their biggest rival.

SEC The Next Evil Empire?

According to Michael Kruse of the St. Petersburg Times, the SEC is making a bold move that would make even Senator Palpatine envious.

But the battlefield here is not the Galactic Empire, but the SEC's exlcusive TV contract that generates billions for the conference.

The SEC, one of college sports' biggest, richest, most prominent conferences, earlier this month sent to its 12 schools an eye-opening new media policy. It places increasingly stringent limits on reporters and how much audio, video and "real-time" blogging they can do at games, practices and news conferences.

But even more interesting is that the policy also includes rules for fans in the stands. No updating Twitter feeds. No taking photos with phones and posting them on Facebook or Flickr. No taking videos and putting them on YouTube.


How do you like them apples Penn State fans? Granted, this is not the NCAA--only the SEC--but you can rest assured if the policy takes hold down south, the powers that be will look to protect the Big Ten Network's assets as well.
But will it work?

Much of the fan reaction over the past week — aside from open-mouthed exasperation — has focused on enforcement. Namely: How?
Said David Hooper of the Tennessee fan site Rocky Top Talk: "They'll be chasing shadows."

I disagree. The Internet is not an anonymous place. Take for instance the issue of copying on-line music without paying for it. Last October, the Recording Industry won a case against a woman for downloading music--she lost and it cost her over $200,000! In that case . . .
During the three-day trial, record companies presented evidence they said showed the copyrighted songs were offered by a Kazaa user under the name "tereastarr." Their witnesses, including officials from an Internet provider and a security firm, testified that the Internet address used by "tereastarr" belonged to Thomas.

Maybe there's a way to have a hidden YouTube or Facebook Account, but I doubt it. It would seem to me that all the SEC has to do is see the video on the web and track it down to the person who posted it, just like the recording industry did against Jamie "aka tereastarr" Thomas. I don't think they'll be able to do anything about texting an update to a friend or passing a picture to a family member, but once the material is public, it can be tracked.

In a worst case scenario, the SEC could ban cameras and cell phones from football games and throw out ticket holders who break the rules--it might not stop the proliferation of unauthorized material, but it would seriously impede fans from doing so. It is also possible that Internet sites like YouTube and Facebook will not allow such postings as it may open them to potential lawsuits.

As the article discussed, the major emphasis is more on circumventing the issue now, before the technology becomes even better. It will be interesting to see how this power struggle plays out.

As a member of the "free press"--those that comment on sports events without actually getting paid for it--I am obviously against this policy. I understand the SEC's position and interest, and I agree that videotaping the event in high definition and selling DVDs afterward for profit is crossing the line. But a student taping the student section during a whiteout and posting it on YouTube should still be allowed to do so. And I should still be free to express my comments about the game on the interent with impunity.

But then again, my Buckeye Buddy "DICK" was a marine who fought for our freedoms but doesn't think I am allowed to an express an opinion that he disagrees with, so I guess it all comes down to who has the power to make the rules.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Season Countdown: #8 and #7

In my countdown from the easiest game (#12) to the most difficult (#1), here is where we stand so far:

12. Eastern Illinois
11. Syracuse
10. Akron
9. Temple
8. INDIANA . . .

With the out of conference schedule such as it is, we have only Big Ten games left. It should be no surprise that Indiana is the easiest of those games since most projections have them finishing last or near last in the conference. In fact, the real argument here might be whether Akron or Temple will be a tougher opponent, but does that positioning really matter in the great grand scheme of things?

Indiana has never beaten Penn State on the football field. They came within a goal line stand in 2004 but came up short, a game that many point to as the "turn-around" for Penn State football in this decade. So the Hoosiers have got that going for them.

Indiana will come to Beaver Stadium on November 14, after facing Iowa and Wisconsin the previous weeks. They won't likely be looking ahead to Purdue. The Lions could be caught looking ahead to the Spartans, and will be coming off a big game with the Buckeyes. Schedule wise, the differences are a wash.

The Hoosiers return 18 starters from a team that finished last in the conference. QB Kellen Lewis was actually slated to shift to WR, but ended up being dismissed from the team in April for violating team rules. They also lost leading rusher Marcus Thigpen. As the next to last game of the year, their new quarterback will have had plenty of experience--maybe some bad experiences--but it will be his first time in Beaver Stadium.

I just don't see this team pulling an Iowa-type upset. Coach Bill Lynch, in his third year, has his work cut out for him.

#7: MINNESOTA

I quite frankly don't know where to put this Gopher team. I still remember vividly the 1999 homecoming game where the Gophers spoiled a perfect season--a game which many feel was the start of Penn State's slide that bottomed out in 2003-4.

But Glenn "let's open the half with a successful onsides kick" Mason isn't on the sidelines anymore. Minnesota went 7-6 last year with a lopsided loss to Kansas in the Insight Bowl. Penn State has not faced the gophers in two seasons when they rotated off the schedule.

Minnesota opens their season at Syracuse, so a common opponent will help us gauge this match-up a little better beforehand. The Gophers will be coming off games against Wisconsin and Purdue before coming to Happy Valley, and have another road trip to Columbus looming on the horizon. Penn State will be coming off a road trip to Illinois and a scrimmage (functional BYE WEEK) against Eastern Illinois, and as I said, the game will be played in front of a homecoming crowd. Caution must be used not to be thinking ahead to a road trip to Ann Arbor the following week. Unlike Indiana, Minnesota is able to win some games. They also have an un-Minnesota like OOC game with Cal.

I know it's unfair to criticize their schedule when our own is laughable this year, but the last few years have seen the gophers scheduling ridiculous OOC games (they have South Dakota State late in the season) which they ride into conference play undefeated. They lost their last 5 games last year after opening at 7-1.

The Gophers had trouble with their ground game last season, but sport a capable passer in Adam Weber, who had an accuracy of 62%, threw for 2,761 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has veteran receivers to throw to, which is a concern for our secondary. The line will be bolstered by Notre Dame transfer Carufel and junior college transfer Wills. I think our defense will be settled in at this point, but then I never expected USC to light up the scoreboard against us last year either. The Gopher staff will have new offensive and defensive coordinators running the show, so that presents an unknown quantity.

I don't expect a 2005 result, but I would not be surprised if we didn't control this game. However, the Gophers have 18 starters returning and they likely will improve. This game could be close enough to cause the Lion faithful palpitations. I still think we win at home.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In Other News . . .

According to Holly Anderson, Spurrier, Zook and Beamer are taking college football in a new direction with a special weapons player . . . a trumpet player.

Steve Spurrier thinks high school senior Ryan Miller can be the man to "lead the University of South Carolina to the SEC championship and the national championship!" Illinois wants to make sure the sought-after recruit knows Coach Zook is having a birthday soon. Frank Beamer would love the kid to drop by Virginia Tech sometime.

The only problem? Ryan Miller's not a football player. Some paper-pusher at a recruiting service that supplies schools with addresses of top prospects has mixed up this Miller, a runner and marching band member, with the actual football-playing Ryan Miller from nearby Erhardt.

I understand that there is some negative recruiting going on regarding the Blue Band, but then we expect that, don't we?

Matt Hinton writes about bad karma at USC:

The BCS Championship Trophy, the one that USC won at the conclusion of the 2004 season, has been damaged. The crystal football which usualy sits atop the trophy was last seen at the bottom of the trophy case at Heritage Hall. [...]Rumor has it that some horseplay in the vicinity of the trophy case was to blame.

That is clearly a fumble! Cover it guys! And where was OJ when this happened?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Neither Can I

Adapted from Garfield:

I Hate Mondays

I actually saw a rumor last night, but the Altoona Mirror confirms it this morning: Michael Mauti has suffered a knee injury and may be out for the season.

Michael Mauti, the talented sophomore linebacker nicknamed "The Cajun Connor" after former Penn State star Dan Connor, suffered a knee injury during a scrimmage Sunday.

Fightonstate.com broke the story and cited unnamed sources saying the initial diagnosis was a torn ACL. If that's the case, Mauti would have to miss the upcoming season.


Maybe this will help brighten your spirit a bit:

Preseason Blog Poll Draft

If you want an exercise in futility, try sitting down and ranking the top 25 teams BEFORE THEY EVEN PLAY A DOWN. It's not as easy as it sounds and it is more difficult than it really is.

In fact, it is difficult to pick 25 teams to begin with, let alone to try and rank them with no real data to support anything you choose.

For all the years I have participated in this process, I have stuck by one rule: whoever was first on MY final poll the year before is first on the preseason poll. So it may seem weird that Utah is #1, but they were number one when the season ended, and they haven't lost a game yet. It's my ballot, and if Spurrier can give Duke a vote each year (which either he didn't vote this year or he finally broike with tradition since Duke got no votes) I can anoint the Utes #1. If they don't deserve to be there, the season will tell the story.

I think that the following teams have a good shot at going undefeated: Penn State, Utah, Boise State, USC, Florida/Mississippi, and Texas. Why do I say this? Why do you not agree? No one really has any facts to support anything other than schedules to look at and games to dream about.

With that in mind, here is my ballot, such as it is:

RankTeam
1Utah
2Florida
3Texas
4Southern Cal
5Mississippi
6Oklahoma
7Penn State
8Virginia Tech
9LSU
10Ohio State
11Boise State
12Oregon
13Alabama
14Oklahoma State
15Georgia Tech
16Iowa
17California
18Georgia
19Nebraska
20TCU
21Florida State
22Brigham Young
23Kansas
24Oregon State
25Michigan State

Feel free to comment.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Funnies

From Bill Bettwy in the Altoona Mirror:

Jerome Out Of Retirement?

Hey, if Brett Favre can come out of retirement on a weekly basis, is it so far a stretch to imagine Jermoe Bettis trying it once?

Alas, it was simply a matter of poor edukashun.



Steeler fans can breathe easy . . .Bettis remains black and gold.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Counting Down the Season - Part One

Strap on your helmets, here we go.

Each year, I preview the season by starting with what appears--in my estimation--to be the easiest game on our schedule to win, and finishing up 12 games later with the game that I perceive as being the toughest to win.

This analysis is completely scientific. It's as dependable as photosynthesis and as right as an angle in the Pythagorean Theorem. And if you believe that, I also have some lovely swampland in Florida I'd like to sell you.

Most of my analysis is not based on numbers or fact, but on gut instincts. As such, I might be right, or it just might be gas. Sometimes I have appendicitis.

Normally I would start the countdown with one team, but let's face it, this year's schedule does not lend itself well to that. Most people with any modicum of football knowledge would know that Eastern Illinois is the easiest game on the schedule, and that game alone is probably not worth an entire post.

In fact, the schedule lends itself to thirds--one third that are almost definite wins (as definite as you can get in an era when "on any given Saturday" can bite you in the grass)--one third that should be wins, and one third that could go either way.

The first third shakes out like this . . .

12. Eastern Illinois
11. Syracuse
10. Akron
9. Temple

Is it coincidence that the four easiest games are also the out of conference schedule? I was sorely tempted to add Indiana to this mix, but you can rest easily knowing they will appear at #8, not because there's much chance we will lose to them, but because I couldn't really argue that they are any worse than the above teams either. And five teams does not constitute a third unless you round down or are really bad at math.

EASTERN ILLINOIS

This FCS team hails from the Ohio Valley Conference which includes such teams as Murray State, Jacksonville State, and Austin Peay. I know of these only from the ticker that runs across the bottom of ESPN updating scores of games no one cares about.

The Panthers went 5-7 last year and 3-5 in their conference. Their offense ranked sixth--in their league. Their 2008 Sagarin ranking was 200. (Sagarin rankings are between the games played by 245 teams, so they were 45th from dead last.)
I have already spent more time on this game than is worth the bandwidth, so we shall move on.

SYRACUSE

While the Orangeman somehow found a way to beat the bowl-bound Irish, their 3-9 season (1-6 in the Big Least) was a dismal parting gift for Greg Robinson who jumped ship to be defensive coordinator for another 3 win program in the Big Ten.

The Orange will return their senior signal caller, but that's kind of like being on a boat and having the captain of the Titanic back.

The Lions pasted the Orange 55-13 on their turf. It won't be any prettier in Beaver Stadium.

Interestingly, the Orange open with Minnesota, Penn State and Northwestern. Paterno recently threw Syracuse's name out there in regard to expansion. Coincidence? This could be a crucial interview period and pretest for Syracuse IF the Big Ten ever expands and IF Syracuse would be given any consideration by someone other than Paterno.

AKRON

The things that will make this game interesting are 1) it is the season opener --woo hoo!, and 2) it will feature one of the few competent QBs on our schedule versus our rebuilt and suspect secondary.

Chris Jacquemain passed for over 2,700 yards, 57.9% completions, 20 TDs and 14 INTs. His two favorite targets are both back. Virtually all his line returns except for All-MAC lineman Kemme, but they will be breaking in a new running back. This will be an excellent opening test for our defense.

But even with a decent passing game, the Zips were only 5-7 last year and 3-5 in the MAC. None of the preseason publications I have read have them challenging for the MAC title.

Mark it down: If we can control Akron's passing game, that bodes very well for the season. If we give up a lot of passing yardage in the first three quarters, it shifts the balance of confidence for future games negatively.

TEMPLE

Temple will be chasing defending MAC Champion Buffalo and Bowling Green in their conference, let alone hoping to make a respectable showing in Beaver Stadium. Last year, I read a lot of positive things about the Owls--not enough to worry me about our game with them, but enough to wonder if Al Golden really could turn the program around. Some Tem,ple fans were even dreaming BOWL. Alas, when the dust settled, the Owls were 5-7 (4-4) and the dream of a bowl game dashed in the ashes of failure.

But it's all in how you look at it. Temple's five wins were the most in 18 seasons. Eighteen! Unfortunately, the Owls have some rebuilding to do on offense, beginning with replacing one time PSU recruit and starting QB Adam DiMichele. New QB + Beaver Stadium = disaster.

On the plus side, they return nine starters on defense--a defense that gave up 45 points to our HD offense last season on the road so to speak.

The Owls open with Villanova and have a bye before coming to University Park. They can't afford not to look ahead because they open MAC play against Buffalo the following week--yeah, a win against PSU would be a feather in their cap, but they need to concentrate on competing in their own conference before they set out to conquer the world.
Penn State ought to be 4-0 after these games. No excuses.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Coming This Fall

Thanks to Alex Cohen!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Clark-Wisniewski On Cover

From Sports Illustrated:


SI ranks the Lions at #14 preseason.

Monday, August 10, 2009

PSU #8 - AGAIN

On the heels of USA Today's ranking of Penn State at #8 in the preseason, we have a site that has ranked schools by the all-time number of NFL draft picks.

1- Notre Dame (462)
2- USC (461)
3- Ohio State (390)
4- Oklahoma (339)
5- Michigan (332)
6- Nebraska (331)
7- Tennessee (321)
8- Penn State (317)
9- Texas (316)
10- Miami (FL) (294)

Other Big Ten schools . . .

12- Michigan State (286)
18- Purdue (269)
22- Minnesota (254)
24- Wisconsin (245)
27- Illinois (225)
29- Iowa (220)
46- Northwestern (168)
54-Indiana (154)

Interesting, for all the hype the SEC gets, they have only one team in the top 10, with Florida, Alabama and Georgia all barely missing out.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Twelve Games: Two Big Questions

In my former blog, I used to preview the upcoming season by analyzing the schedule, from what I perceived as the easiest game to win through all the games in order to the game I think we will have the most trouble winning. I still plan to do that countdown, but I want to look at the upcoming season from the big picture first.

If you are looking for in-depth analysis, recruiting stars, 40 times and player weights, then you have come to the wrong site. Granted, I dabble with computer rankings and analyze data sets between teams and conferences, but we all know that in the game of football, there are elements that cannot be described by mere numbers. For every probability of winning, there is also a probability of losing, and since the advent of tie breakers in college football, one of those two outcomes will surely occur, unless the game is delayed for some reason.


In other words, there are teams that have a high probability of winning the national championship (USC, Florida, Texas, etc), and teams that have a very low probability (Temple, Kent State, Buffalo, etc.) Everyone else falls somewhere in between. The actual outcome of any given game depends not on the relative probability, but on a myriad of uncontrolled factors (injuries, illness, mental focus, luck, officiating, etc.)


For instance, while Florida may have had a high probability of winning the BCS last year, who could have predicted they would lose to Mississippi? Likewise for USC losing to Oregon State. Or even Penn State’s loss to Iowa.


As such, Penn State’s season might not come down to a simple matter of a good offensive line, some receivers stepping up, or how well the secondary can be rebuilt. I think this is true this particular year more than most, because the schedule is so favorable for an undefeated season on paper. We’ll look at that later in closer detail.


I think the success of this season depends on what you define as success, and there are two key questions, that will determine that success.


But before we ask those questions, perhaps we should ask an equally obvious one: what will be a successful season? Can we put a numerical value on that?


Last year, even despite a loss and missing out on a possible title game by a late field goal by the Hawkeyes, and a rather dismal second quarter in the Rose Bowl, most fans would declare the season a success. But that is only because the outcome has to be tempered against the expectations. Daryll Clark was an unknown factor. Many fans thought Devlin should be the starter at this time last year. The gauntlet of Illinois, Wisconsin, THEM and Ohio State seemed insurmountable, and many fans thought that 2-2 over that span would be great, let alone 4-0!
But scanning the messageboards this season, you will find a greater number of fans thinking undefeated year, most thinking BCS bowl game, and the majority thinking that 10-2 is pretty doable. The Coach’s USA Today Poll already put PSU in the Top Ten at #8.


The expectations are higher this year, whether that is justified or not.


Look at the schedule. There is not a team on there that can’t be beaten. There is not a single non-conference foe that really has a legitimate shot of beating Penn State. Iowa and Ohio State are within the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium—friendly for Lions, not for their opponents. But Illinois, Michigan State, Northwestern and even THEM present opportunities for the Lions to disappoint. Where could things go wrong?


Question One: Will Clark stay healthy?


When you talk about the offensive line, the underlying theme is whether Clark will have the time to find receivers—whom have had little or limited playing time. The question is not whether Clark can get the job done or even if he has the ability. Rather, can they protect the quarterback???


Some fans have likened the 2009 season to the 2005 season, directed by Michael Robinson. The comparisons between those two quarterbacks are obvious, but the contrast between those two seasons is not negligible. This team is NOT like the 2005 team. I grant you that there were no snickers behind their backs at the Big Ten Media Day last month. The 2005 team was coming off a 4-7 season and a streak of 7-17 dating back to a Capital One Bowl loss to Auburn. Things were dark. Visitors in the night came to Paterno’s house to force him to retire.


That is not 2009. We are coming off a 10-2 season and Paterno still has a couple of years left on a contract that seemed quite improbable in 2004. Whereas MRob was a great athlete, he had spent three years playing nearly every position but linebacker and water boy. If I’m not mistaken, he even filled in for the cheerleaders. (Just Kidding!) But his QB experience was limited to gadget plays where Mills was a receiver or called draw plays. That is not Mr. Clark, thank you very much. This young man has a great year under his belt and certainly has given no indication that he will not progress. I personally think he is going to have a great season.


In 2005, no one realized how good Penn State was until the Minnesota game. Penn State will likely make the top 15 of most preseason polls in 2009. It wasn’t until the week before the Ohio State game that people talked about a Big Ten title. People are talking about it right now before the season has just begun. If anything, last year’s team was the team to compare to 2005, but even that team had greater expectations after a couple of 8-4 seasons. I, for one, will never forget the emotion of that 2005 season and a lot of it had to do with I TOLD YOU SO. But that attitude was the product of dismal losing seasons, and I would never want to suffer through that again, even if it means catching lightning in a bottle a second time.


But back to 2009 and Clark. His health is a great concern. He suffered a concussion against the Buckeyes last season, which just might have been one of those unpredictable factors that led to a loss in Iowa. (That and the lack of sideline heaters!) If he goes down against Ohio State this year, is it even remotely possible that Newsome or McGloin can orchestrate scoring drives like Pat Devlin? The likely answer is no, but we won’t know unless it happens, God forbid. Newsome could pull a Pryor-like freshman mistake at an inopportune time—I think you would expect that from a freshman, more than you would expect a game-winning touchdown pass.


The other issue is whether the staff—and in particular, Joe Paterno—change the game plans to protect the quarterback. Problems on the offensive line or with the receivers could be offset by Clark’s ability to scramble and make plays. If the staff tries to protect him too much, they may limit his ability to make things happen. In a worst case scenario, the receivers can’t get open, the line can’t maintain the pocket, and defenses settle into a plan of containing Royster which would be highly effective in shutting the offense down at that point.


My personal feeling is the staff won’t alter the HD offense against most opponents, but look for the Ohio State game and possibly the Iowa game, to be ugly, defensive slugfests. The first three games will also likely give the back-up quarterbacks a chance to get some playing time, and the staff will have a better sense going into the Big Ten schedule of how precarious the offense might be without Clark.


Question Two: How badly does Joe Paterno want another undefeated season?


For the most part, the legend has publicly stated time and again that he doesn’t pay attention to things like how many wins he has, or what milestones he has achieved. But in 2003, in an NBC interview, Joe admitted that he wanted another undefeated season.



“I’ve coached undefeated football teams in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. That’s four decades that I’ve had undefeated teams,” Paterno said Friday, two days before he turns 77. “We had a shot at the national championship in every single one of those decades.

“I want to do it for five decades. Every year that’s what I want to do. I really thought we had a legitimate shot at it last year [2002] and I’m working my butt off to give us a chance to get it done before I get out of it. I understand what it takes to get it done and I know how to get it done.”


Well, Joe, it’s 2009—time is running out on this decade. Can he do it? (Yes he can!)


But that might mean coaching outside of the [press] box. It might mean taking some chances he wouldn’t ordinarily take. It might mean personnel changes that will result in wins rather than rewards for seniors who have put in their time. It might mean opening up the offense on the road against Illinois or THEM, something we traditionally don’t do (Wisconsin 2008 was a pleasurable exception!)


Those are the two questions, and the answers to those will largely determine the outcome of this season, more so than dissecting the secondary, comparing this year’s receivers to last year’s, or fretting about a rebuilt offensive line. Those things are important, but not insurmountable. On the other hand, significant problems in any one of those areas could be the difference between 12-0 and 8-4.


I'll look more closely at the schedule in the coming weeks.

Magical Big Ten Tour

Drew Cieszynski and a few of his friends are going on a Big Ten Tour this fall, trying to attend a game at each Big Ten Venue.

Per their website . . .


We're a few guys who thought we'd ignore the troublesome economy this Fall & throw our money into watching Big 10 football LIVE in every venue! Among their goals:

- Enjoy the taste of Bud Light Lime in 8 different states (there goes our Miller sponsor)
- Make "Backstreet Boys" acceptable tailgating music
- Visit the state of Iowa and see what all the hoopla is about
- Not get arrested. I've managed to successfully do this throughout life, but gee, 11 or 12 weekends of tailgating, bars, and travel...you get the picture.
- Have Mike Greenberg respond to an email about our visit to Northwestern (Mike & Mike in the morning on ESPN).
- To sit inside every Big 10 stadium and witness a game
- Make some of the sweetest road trip mix tapes that ears could beg for
- Try a different local micro-brew in each city
- Create a dance move for each campus.
- Dominate Bucky the Badger in arm wrestling and tell him "I drive truck, break arms, and arm wrestle. It's what I love to do, it's what I do best."
- Take in everything each school has to offer & take it in with some great people.


I didn't know there was an hoopla about Iowa. A dance move???


They have a schedule, and Penn State is the their first stop--our Septemeber 5th game versus Akron. Too bad they couldn't have found a game like Iowa or Ohio State to really taste the flavor of a Penn State weekend, but then they might have trouble getting tickets for those games.


Andrew further writes . . .



I was wondering if you could mention the tour to your readers and ask them to send me feedback on where to eat/where to drink/where to tailgate/etc in happy valley so that I have the most fulfilling experience possible?


We are not sponsored, we are not reporters and have relatively little experience
"blogging."


There's a link for the "BESTS" of the whole tour on the website. The 4 of us didn't attend any BIG TEN school, and each of us from a different BIG TEN state, so we've got an unbiased view. Here's to hoping Penn State gets a few of those awards!

Penn State #8

The USA Today (Coach's) Poll is out, and the Lions are #8.

1. Florida (53) 0-0 1,466
2. Texas (4) 0-0 1,386
3. Oklahoma (1) 0-0 1,358
4. USC (1) 0-0 1,321
5. Alabama 0-0 1,134
6. Ohio State 0-0 1,126
7. Virginia Tech 0-0 1,020
8. Penn State 0-0 988
9. LSU 0-0 917
10. Mississippi 0-0 889

As you can see, that southern speed has earned four spots in the Top Ten. Penn State is in pretty good company. In addition to how well we play, the season may hinge on that OSU-USC matchup early on. IF the Buckeyes win, and IF (when?) we beat them, Penn State could be in great shape, despite a weak OOC schedule.

But wouldn't it be more fun to watch the games than just sit around talking about them? Alas, that is all we have for now.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Success Story

Jay Paterno has a story to tell, and this one is worth the read.

Saturday was the 3rd Annual Penn State Football Letterman’s Golf Outing and 128 former Penn State Football players took part. Student-Athletes from teams in the 1950s all the way through the current decade gathered for golf, but more importantly to catch up with former teammates and to meet other people who share a proud tradition.

At the dinner following the Penn State Football Letterman’s Golf Outing, Justin Kurpeikis got up to introduce a very special former Penn State Nittany Lion. It would turn out to be a moment that none of us there will ever forget.He introduced one of his teammates—Rick Slater. Most Penn State fans will not recall his name, number or what position he played—but they should know his name for what he’s done since college.

Rick’s path to becoming a Penn State Football student-athlete was an unconventional one. He graduated from high school in Flint, Michigan in 1988. Before coming to Penn State, he served 8 years in the military, primarily as a Navy Seal. He enrolled at Penn State in 1997 and decided to try and walk-on to the football team—at the tender age of 28 years old.

He made the team, and although he didn’t see a lot of game action he made lasting impression on all of us. He became a great influence on a lot for younger players who looked up to him once they knew this “old” guy’s story.

When I’d walk through the locker room, Lavar Arrington, Brandon Short, Justin
Kurpeikis and other guys who were big-time players for us would be gathered around his locker listening to him tell stories. I remember hearing one about a monkey in Panama who refused to get out of Rick’s jeep.In the summer work-outs the toughest part of the running is the phase when our guys finish by running twelve 300 yard sprints. To accommodate the team they used to have three running groups, one at 6 a.m., one at 7 a.m. and one at 8 a.m. Rick would show up at 6 a.m. and make all the times for the 300 yard sprints. Then he’d stick around and do it again and again—passing the times for ALL thirty-six 300 yard sprints.

Through that, he earned the respect of his teammates, but also in so many other ways.

He became the oldest college football player in the country during the 1999 season when he started camp as a 30-year old junior.In his senior year an injury ended his football career, but he went out for the boxing team. All he did was go out and win the National Championship in his weight class.

As Justin Kurpeikis introduced him, he explained that after college Rick was going on with his life until September 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks on this country changed the course of Rick’s life. Rick knew what he had to do—he re-enlisted as a Navy Seal.

By the time he stood up to speak to the group assembled last night, he had completed a total of 5 tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and will be heading back again. But even those facts aren’t what hit us all.It was what Rick said to all of us.“The fact that we all played for Penn State and for Joe Paterno, in my mind, makes us all brothers. My time on this team is among the most meaningful things I’ve ever done in my life. We are all better men for having played for Joe Paterno and these coaches.”

Then he pointed to the belt he was wearing, and we all recognized it as a belt you would wear in your football pants.“

This belt I’m wearing, is the belt I wore in my football pants on Saturdays at Penn State. I wear it today, but this belt has also been with me ever since I left here. It’s been with me when I jumped out of airplanes at 25,000 feet on oxygen at night, it has been on all my missions. I wear it for all the guys who played at Penn State—all the guys who played before me and all the guys who will play after me.”


All I can say is WOW.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Vote for the Steelers

ESPN SportsNation is hosting a poll to determine America's team.

Vote for the Steelers!