Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Get Pumped!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Getting Ready for Some Football

Believe it or not, the first game of the season for Penn State is this Saturday . . . and the general college football season begins on Thursday.  Pitt leads off in its usual Thursday spot with a game against Utah.  The Utes have a 17 home game win streak going for them.  Pitt has . . .um, well, they're used to playing on Thursdays.  See, I can say something nice about them.

But as I prepared for the upcoming opener--hoisting the blue Penn State flag (blue for home, white for away), putting the Penn State Blue Band CD into the car's disc player (drivers look at me funny as I pound my fist in the air to P-S-U or remove my hat for the playing of the Alma Mater. . . . they look at me funny and give me strange gestures on other occasions, but I digress), and picking up the Citizen's Bank button ("Too Young For Old State")--I realized that my excitement level this year is not as high as it usually is.  I think its the lame button's fault.

Galen at LinebackerU likens the upcoming season to Christmas:
Did we get the proverbial Playstation 3 in the form of a Big Ten champ or did we get a team equivalent to a new set of tube socks?
I guess I'm fearing tube socks.  Worse yet, already worn and smelly tube socks.  Maybe underwear.  That doesn't fit.  And is already dirty.  You get the general idea.

Have I lowered my expectations?  Perhaps.  I just don't have a good feeling about this team yet--and I haven't even seen them play a down of regulation football yet.  Perhaps that is normal, but usually I could convince myself at this point that we are a mere 12 games away from playing in the BCS title game, and only the referees or bad weather could stand in our way.  The season is just a technicality.

So what do I want to see Saturday?

First and foremost-- a lopsided win.  No offense, YSU, but you suck and anything less will be a disappointment.   Oh look, I got ear muffs for Christmas!  Might come in handy in November, but we don't need those on this particular weekend.  Sagarin ranks PSU at #10 in the country. YSU is #150. Nuff said.

I want to see all three QBs look good.  Maybe one to look great.  I don't care who.  I don't care who starts.  I don't care if they are all listed as equal on the depth chart.  I want Alabama wondering which weapon will take the field on 9-11.  And gosh darn it, I want some weapons.  No BB guns.  Or fart dart guns.  I want to see cannons and laser guided missiles for crying out loud.  Shock and Awe--not shucks and Aww.

I know its the first game, but let's limit the stupid mistakes and turnovers.  Yeah, one school of thought is to get them over with--the law of averages argues that a team will have so many in a given year anyway.  May as well have them when the don't hurt you.  I've never been one to pay that much attention to the laws of physics or statistics.  Damn the torpedoes--full speed ahead.  Play a lights out game that leaves the Tide sleepless in Tuscaloosa.

I don't want to see any injuries.  Unless of course it's the stupid red hat guy who keeps calling TV timeouts.  I kind of hope he trips over his communication cable and is unable to stop play the entire game.  I'm not evil--I'm not asking for a permanent disability.  Just temporary enough to get this scrimmage over and get back to the tailgate.  Seriously, in this day and age of digital HDTV and technology, is it really necessary to stop play?  Why not just tape delay live play for the commercials, and edit out time in the huddle, etc. to catch up when there is no TO called by the teams?

I'd like to see Joe trot out on the field with the team.  I am so sick of all the doom and gloom.  It seems half the sportswriters in this country have already dug the man's grave.  Give 'em hell Joe!

Finally, good weather.  I'd hate to have to use the climate as an excuse for why we had  a bad outing against the Penguins.  Penguins play hockey.  Not football.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Can and Can't

Gary Brown of CollegeSportsMatchups plays the game of how each Big Ten team CAN win the conference titlle, and then why they CAN'T.
Penn State Nittany Lions

Why they can: Penn state football fans can be grateful their team has a solid running back in Evan Royster and depth in the receiving corp. There is also plenty of experienced talent coming back along the offensive line.

Why they can’t: Kevin Newsome has thrown eleven passes in his college football career and while the defense may mature over the year, the three top tacklers from last year are gone; this unit will be a question mark as the season begins.

Will they? Newsome will have to really mature quickly, but don’t count on a Big Ten title for Joe Pa this year.
Interesting that the defense is not even mentioned.  And he presupposes Newsome will be the starting QB--a safe assumption though.  But I think the 2010 defense will be as good if not better than last year's, even despite the losses of Bowman and Lee.  And defense wins championships, doesn't it???

In fact, if the receivers and o-line are as solid as he thinks, then that will only help the QB situation.  But I'm not sold on the o-line yet, and I'm not sure any of our QB prospects will be able to succeed this year.  As I noted in my pigskin prediction entry, though, the limiting factor will likely be the coaching staff and how willing they are to open things up and let the kids play to win, instead of playing not to make mistakes (and thereby lose.)  The latter gameplan works best with an experienced QB/leader and a lot of talent.
Other tidbits of interest/amusement:
  • If the Badgers go 4-0 in October they will be the Big Ten champs. This means they will have to reel off wins against Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and Iowa. Look for the Badgers to get it done and win the conference. [I'm not so sold on the big red W.]
  • Will they [Iowa]? Only if Kirk Ferentz and crew can coach the offensive line up.
  • Do Michigan State fans expect to win the Big Ten? Not really. So enjoy another good season with a good bowl game, but no Big Ten title. [lowered expectations?]
  • Michigan football is as unstable as it has probably ever been. With enough losses this year a new coaching staff will be in place, the NCAA penalties will be known and the journey to becoming Michigan football once again can be embarked on. [Sorry, but I think RichRod should stay.]
  • Indiana football just does not have enough playmakers anywhere on the team to make much noise in conference.  [That's kind of harsh.  OK, we all thought it, but he actually typed it out loud.]
  • Will they [Minnesota]? Have you seen the Gopher’s new stadium? It is really nice. See, we said something nice to avoid saying something else.  [Why did they fire Mason, anyway?]
  • So what to expect from the Big Ten? Look for a very solid Wisconsin team to be a surprise champion with Ohio State next in line. Penn State will improve as the season progresses and Iowa will disappoint. [Except for the Wisconsin winning it all part, I think the rest could be an accurate assessment.]
  • The rest of the conference will be looking ahead to the 2011 season. Illinois fans will start thinking how great the guy who replaced Ron Zook at Florida has done, while Bama fans will continue to be grateful that Michigan’s Rodriguez decided to pass on the opportunity to be their head coach.

Friday, August 13, 2010

You Decide!

Penn State Pigskin Prognostication

In another blog in another galaxy long, long ago, before Dick Foust and the Clown Wars, I prefaced each season with a countdown from the eastiest game for Penn State to win, to the the game I felt would be the toughest.  I tried to provide some insightful commentary and statistics, such as the number of returning players, type of offensive vs. defensive matchups and the like.  Hey, if you want that crap, go to ESPN.com.

I'm not going to do that this year.  Perhaps I am jaded by Penn State's STEP program that is seeking to separate me from the only seats I have ever sat in in Beaver Stadium.  Perhaps I am getting too old for this crap.

Whatever the reason, I'm going to breakdown the season in one long blog entry and you can just live with that.  No suspense of counting through the games, wondering if the next team toughest team will be Minnesota or Michigan State.  Who really cares anyway?  If you want suspense, rent a movie.  Maybe something by Stephen King.

As I see it, this season breaks down into three basic categories:  games we should definitely win, games that might go either way, and games we will likely lose.  It is this last category that really kept me from running my usual countdown.  I realized as I started organizing my list, there were some games that I simply couldn't see us winning.  And if you don't know me or follow my blog, you may wonder why this is significant.  I'll be happy to tell you.

I look at the world with blue-tinted lenses.  Probably ninety percent of the clothing I own is blue or white or has some PSU logo on it.  I am surrounded by thousands of dollars of Penn State collectibles in my office.  I have been the definition of homer for years.  I am generally the eternal optimist, and I am more likely to predict an undefeated season that not.  I am more quick to blame bad calls and lousy weather for a loss, than admitting that the other team was better.

But despite a lot of talent on this team, and pretty good recruiting years that give us some depth, I am not overly optimistic about this season.  And for the first time in a long time, I simply can't convince myself that we can win or compete in some of these games.  Jaded?  Disappointed?  Disillusioned?  Disenfranchised?  Too much blue Kool Aid?  Not enough alcohol?  Irritable bowel syndrome?  I DON'T KNOW.

So here we go . . .

Games we should win:  YSU, Kent State, Temple and Indiana.  Of this group, Temple and Indiana are the most likely to pull off an upset--the other two would be an apocalypse of Toledo-like proportions and likely plunge us into another dark age.  Can Temple or Indana pull this off?

No.  Don't even think about it.  Both will be home games, albeit Indiana will be played at Fed-Ex Field, but for all intents and purposes, it will be a home game.  Indiana fans don't fill their own stadium, let alone travel well.  While neither opponent will be as bad as they have been in the past, neither one has shown me that the future will be any different.

Which brings us to games that could go either way:  THEM, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan State, Northwestern.  In my heart, I'd like to declare all these wins, but any of these teams on any given Saturday, can jump up and bite you in the Lion's tail.

Illinois will likely be rebuilding, but what exactly are they rebuilding?  Don't you have to have had something built to rebuild?  Which begs the question . . . can the Wolverines rebuild?  Rich Rod is under fire.  He will have more experience at QB, but will that be enough?  He has yet to demonstrate that his offense which was so successful in the Big East can work in the Big Ten.  Sports Illustrated picks THEM to finish 2-6 in the Big Ten and 5-7 overall.  Is a bowl-less third straight year in the cards?  But I have seen us lose to that team when we had the better team but got out-coached, out-played and out-refereed, so I can't possibly assume this is a win.

Penn State will likely face three teams in the Top 10, all on the road.  We will have an inexperienced QB no matter who gets the job.  I have seen Paterno's gameplans for big games on the road and I just forsee gloom and doom no matter where I look.  Will he let an inexperienced QB throw downfield against Bama in the second game of the season, risking shaking his confidence and --God forbid-- risking making a mistake?  If you think he will, then it will be a change form the last forty five years.  Expect lots of runs up the middle against a nine man front.  A few quick out passes for a couple yards.  QB draws on the 3rd and long.  Punt the ball and hope your defense can create some points.  And if we have to depend on running the ball against a defense like Bama--on the road--this game could get ugly.  Think OSU vs USC at the Coliseum a couple years ago.

Seriously, when was the last time Penn State defeated a higher ranked opponent on the road?  Technically, I think it was Wisconsin in 2002, when we won 34-31 in Madison.  We were ranked 20th and they were 19th.  Woo Hoo!  (We also beat #17 Tennessee in the bowl in 2006 and LSU was ranked ahead of us in the BCS but not the AP poll last year.)  But these are not the upsets I am talking about. 

Arizona 1999?  We were ranked 3rd and they were fourth--and it was a home game.    Miami (FL) in 1999?  They were #8--but we were #3.  Not exactly an upset there, although we barely squeaked out the win.  We beat USC at East Rutherford to open the 1996 season.  We were #11 and they were #7.  We're back 14 years now.  Hardly a blink for Paterno, though.

We beat THEM in Ann Arbor in 1994 when they were ranked 5th, but we were 3rd.  Not an upset, but I don't remember who was favored in that game. 

Just looking back, I went to 1990 to find an upset win over the Irish, 24-21.  The Irish were #1 and we were at #18.  Twenty years since we defeated a highly ranked team on the road when we weren't ranked higher.  Heck, we've lost more games on the road (and at home) as the favored team in that time span.  We are a team that generally wins the games we're supposed to, and conversely we lose the games we are expected to, but we manage to drop a few that perhaps we should have won.

I'll be honest, I thought I'd have to go back to the 80's to find a quality upset.  I was close.

The one bright spot I see is that playing this level of competition early in the season has to be good for us.  I fear the past few years we have eaten a lot of cupcakes early on and perhaps these 18-22 year old kids have gotten a little over confident.  Then, when we hit Big Ten play, reality comes crashing in.  Maybe we'll be better prepared for conference play with an early wake-up call in Tuscaloosa.

We've lost like the last ninety games against !*w@. OK, I exaggerate.  But I see nothing to indicate that this will change.  Sure, we can always hope.  We have out tradition.  We have the drum major flip.  We have more national titles.  (They have one in 1958 by the Football Writers Association of America--LSU was #1 in the AP poll.)  I think we have better facilities including a larger stadium--but this is on the road.  Our recruiting rankings are usually higher.  Well, to hell with all those facts and statistics.  The Hawkeyes own us and this season will be same old same old.  I'm getting older and more jaded as I type this tripe.

And then there's that team in Columbus.  Yes, we actually won there two years ago, but don't expect lightning to strike twice.  I hate Terrell Pryor but the kid can play football.  Don't get me wrong--he's not a great QB, but he has a program around him that is built to reload and continue winning.

The optimist in me picks 9-3 with a bowl win.  (This is my official prediction.)

Best Case Scenario:  We upset one of those 3 teams on the road.  Ten wins and we might get over-matched in a bowl game.  So the best case scenario is 10-3 like the optimistic one?  I told you I wasn't very optimistic.

Worst Case Scenario:  We lose to THEM.  Or Temple.  Come on, anything less than 8 wins is going to be disappointing.  Demoralization at the hand of Bama, struggles against the like of Temple or Indiana, inexperienced QB mistakes or worse yet shuffling QBs back and forth so there is no offensive consistency . . . 5-7 is not out of the realm of believability.  (In the Big East, we might be undefeated.)

Various other asundry predictions:
  • Royster breaks the record for most yards.  OK, that's not a difficult prediction since he's only 481 yards away from the mark.
  • Kevin Newsome will start the season as our QB.  I don't think he will be the starter at the end.  I'll leave it at that.
  • Our defense will be good enough to keep us in most games, the prime exception will be Alabama, where I think we lose by double digits.  Maybe more than 20 points.
  • Special teams will be awful.  Again, not a difficult presumption given the steady decline in the past decade or so.
  • This will not be Paterno's last year.  I seriously doubt next year will be his last either.  Hard to tell.  Always in motion the future is.
  • This may be mine depending on how badly PSU screws me over with this ticket issue.
  • Dick Foust will have a mental breakdown trying to find my new email address so he can stalk me again.
And that's a wrap.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Paterno Nominated for Award

Per the CDT:
U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R Howard Township, nominated Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a letter sent Thursday to President Barack Obama.

“There has never been an accusation of corrupt recruiting and, in what is depressingly rare, his players stay in school and graduate,” says the letter, which praises Pater-no’s generosity and support of the Pennsylvania Special Olympics.

Sixteen Pennsylvania representatives — most of the state’s delegation — endorsed the nomination along with Penn State almunus Rep. Frank Wolf, of Virginia.

“This is really unusual,” Thompson spokeswoman Tina Kreisher said Saturday. “It takes somebody like Paterno to inspire folks to this level.”