The Other Ohio

In past years, I have previewed the season as a countdown from the game I felt would be the easiest to win to the game that I felt we were most likely to lose, or the most difficult game to win.

But as I look at this year’s schedule, and contemplate the team we have, I realized something crucial . . .

The Old Paterno playbook.

I have no idea what to expect from this team.

For the first time since I have been following Penn State football, Joe Paterno is not at the helm.  And while there were games he missed the past few years due to health issues (or being unceremoniously fired without due process) his fingerprints were always discernible on the game plan.

With Joe, there was a certain constancy that was on the one hand comforting, and on the other hand terribly frustrating.  There was always a quarterback controversy–you never knew for sure who was going to start.  O’Brien has eliminated that doubt.  Barring an injury, McGloin will start the game.  It’s crazy shit.  The man picked a starting QB.  Before fall practice even began.  I know!  Can you imagine this?!

I think it is safe to assume that we are going to see a different kind of offense.  While that may not necessarily mean a pass happy, fun and gun, kind of up-tempo offense that scores oodles of points, it is going to be different than the stodgy, vanilla excuse for an offense that has mired Penn State teams down since Fran Ganter “resigned.” 

I expect the defense to be pretty good and perhaps more aggressive than what we Penn State fans are accustomed to.  Even though Bradley is no longer the defensive brain, the heart of those defenses–the defensive line and linebackers–should be solid, though depth issues may become a problem.  But those two areas should be okay due to the retention of Vanderlinden and Johnson.

Our kicking game took a hit with the transfer of Fera, but special teams can only be an improvement, as they have been sorely lacking for the past, oh, two decades?  I think we pretty much brought up the rear in kick off returns the past few seasons.  But I don’t see a dedicated special teams coach, and I am not sure who or how many coaches will be involved in that aspect.  I still think things have to be better in this department, but maybe that is just wishful thinking.

With these issues in mind, I realized the task of assigning priority to games on a countdown became an exercise in futility.  Without some specific knowledge of how we stack up against teams, it is very difficult to predict outcomes.  We could beat Ohio State and lose to Indiana.  It’s going to be that kind of year, I’m afraid to say.  Probably not, but I can wishfully think so here.  Actually, if we are going to wishfully think anything, then we’ll think undefeated season.

So with a new staff and a boatload of unfair sanctions, I decided not to present a countdown, but instead to preview each game in order.  We are going to take this season one game at a time.

First off, the Ohio Bobcats.

This is the game of Successors.  Frank Solich succeeded Tom Osborne.  Bill O’Brien succeeded you know who.  Of course, Frank was modestly successful and still got canned, and Ohio is where he fell.  The verdict on O’Brien may take years to determine.

Ohio is picked by the Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook to win the MAC.

Ohio has a young team coming off perhaps the school’s best season ever in the modern age of football.  According to SB Nation:

Solich has built the Ohio program the way he learned to at Nebraska: stock up on locals, redshirt like crazy, and bring in just enough outsiders to make things interesting.

Ohio has won at least eight games in four of its last six seasons, and not only did it bring home its first ever bowl win last December (in dramatic fashion, no less), but it did so with a ridiculously young squad.

Matt Zemek breaks down the Bobcat team and concludes that returning junior QB Tettleton is a key.

Bringing Tettleton back is big for the Bobcats and head coach Frank Solich, who has never had as good of a returning starting quarterback in place during spring camp in his eight years in Athens, Ohio. Tettleton threw for over 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns last season, and was second on the team in rushing in 2011. Despite all of this, the offense has some retooling to do in 2012. The Bobcats need to replace two wide recievers including LaVon Brazill, and need to place two tackles on the offensive line.

On the defensive side of the ball, Ohio’s 4-3 front seven lacked a bit of toughness last season, unable to apply consistent pressure on the quarterback. The biggest question mark for the Bobcats is that for the first time in four years they are without a stud middle linebacker. They lost Noah Keller to graduation. Despite this, they still do return nine starters on defense, including the entire secondary. If Solich and his staff can find someone to plug in the gaps at the middle linebacker position, they should be in good shape to once again challenge for the top spot in the MAC and claim the East Division flag.

On special teams, consistent junior Matt Weller returns to handle placekicking duties. The Bobcats must find replacements on kick returns, at long snapper, and at punter this spring.

This could be a dangerous first opponent.  But when I look at the out of conference schedule, only Navy didn’t go to a bowl game, and of the three schools playing in bowls last year, only Virginia lost.  I vacillate between us going 4-0 and 0-4. 
But the die-hard, Kool-Aid drinking fan in me insists that we win this opening game, which may feature one of the largest opening crowds since Arizona came to Beaver stadium in 1999.

The game is key for a variety of reasons.  First, it is Bill O’Brien’s debut.  Secondly, the whole world will be watching to see what happens at Penn State in the after-math of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. This game could set the tone for the whole season. 

I think our guys are going to come out on that field, to a full or nearly full stadium of fans anxious to put the past nine months behind us and MOVE ON, and score a solid victory for the Blue and White.  A win will do wonders to ease the pain of this past off-season.  Erickson can even apologize afterward if he feels the need–and he will.  The players can’t control the sanctions.  They can’t control the media.  But they can control their own destiny. 

Bobcats Like to Crack Nuts!

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Filed under analysis, Bill O'Brien, football, Ohio, Penn State, Pre-season, prediction

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