Seriously, who would have thought back in September that Penn State would be playing in Indianapolis this past weekend? After a narrow loss to Pitt, and uninspired wins over Kent State and Temple, and a dreadful disaster in Ann Arbor, there were probably a lot of fans wondering if Penn State could even become bowl eligible, let alone win the conference and secure a spot in the Rose Bowl.
Yet, Saturday, our beloved Nittany Lions took the field, slight underdogs to the big bad boys of Wisconsin who averaged something like 600 pounds on the offensive line. They defeated the Badgers in a come from behind win that has become their signature this season. The final was 38-31 and was sweet for a school and fan base who has suffered needlessly the past five years.
One Penn State fan wrote a public letter to Dr. Emmert, who spearheaded the sanctions against Penn State:
At no point in the investigation or trial of Jerry Sandusky was one student-athlete ever implicated in either aiding and abetting Sandusky or in covering up said crimes. Despite that, Dr. Emmert, you chose to sanction a football program and, ultimately, student-athletes, to say nothing of the dedicated student fan base who had nothing to do with the horrific mistreatment of children. And, when you quietly walked back the sanctions and restored the wins to Coach Joe Paterno, you never apologized to those students or alumni for what seemed to be a vengeance against our beloved university.
And that, Dr. Emmert, is why Saturday night in Indianapolis was so sweet. For the athletes who stayed and for those who moved on. For the students who looked beyond the headlines and applied and were accepted to our great university. For our alumni – our wonderful, dedicated alumni. For Coach Bill O’Brien and Coach James Franklin and their staffs. For the lives that have been positively impacted by the research and teaching of our faculty. For the hundreds of thousands of diehard Penn Staters, the 2016 football season only represents what we already know. Penn State is an amazing place. We never believed that we were who you tried to tell us we are.
Dr. Emmert, we are Penn State.
Last week, I posted some numbers about Penn State’s performance vis-a-vis first and second half performances. I concluded that giving up 28 points in the first half was a bad thing, since both games where opponents scored 28 points in the opening half were losses.
And as the Badgers went up 28-7 in the first half, I did start to have my doubts. Couple this with the fact that Wisconsin was running the ball virtually at will, and we didn’t seem to have an answer for that. But apparently, we had them right where we wanted them
The scenario played out as it had for most of this season. Penn State narrowed the deficit to 14 before the half, and then outscored the Badgers 24-3 in the second half to win the Big Ten Title.
Trace McSorely had a record setting day passing. The defense adjusted and Wisconsin no longer moved the line of scrimmage at will. Our defense stuffed the over weighted Badger line on fourth down to secure the win.
But while the SEC, PAC-10, and ACC will send their champions to the college playoffs, the Big Ten will send a team that LOST to their champion. I know, the conference had nothing to do with the selection. But . . .
Oddly enough, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney argued before the championship game that Ohio State had “done enough” to earn a spot in the playoff. Is it any wonder that the fans in Indianapolis booed him soundly during the awards ceremony?
What did the chief representative of this conference have to gain by arguing that the winner of the conference championship did not deserve to be in the playoffs? Shouldn’t he have been lobbying for two conference teams to be in the playoff? Wouldn’t that have been good for the conference? (Of course, if he made that argument, he would in all likelihood be arguing that Ohio State and MICHIGAN be in the playoff together).
Is it mere coincidence that one of the playoff committee members is Barry Alvarez, a former Wisconsin coach with strong Big Ten ties?
Some would argue that we should be happy. Maybe we don’t want to play Alabama? The Rose Bowl is a really nice bowl in a really nice environment with really nice weather and a really, really nice parade.
So for an NFL team, is just making it to the playoffs as good as making it to the Superbowl?
We can argue for hours about why Penn State should be in the playoffs. We could do the same for Western Michigan, Michigan, Oklahoma, and whoever else feels slighted.
It seemed the stars were aligning. But in the end, they got sucked into a black hole of politics and rhetoric.
Sometimes an entire season comes down to a play or two that makes a difference. Had Penn State not been intercepted by Pitt and won that game, they might have made it in at 11-1. Had Michigan State kicked an extra point instead of going for two against the Buckeyes, maybe they would be out. If we hadn’t had half our defense out for injuries against Michigan, maybe the score wouldn’t have looked so bad.
But . . . had we not blocked the punt against OSU–or if Urban had chosen to punt us deep or if Wisconsin had made their last fourth down or if Minnesota hadn’t lost to us in OT . . . the what if game just goes on and on and on and on and on.
It sure would have been fun to see what this team could do against Alabama.
Instead, we’ll get to see them in action against a very good Southern Cal team. And Tide jokes are never as funny as Trojan jokes.
After the way September went, I’m thrilled to see this team head to Pasadena.