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.