Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hopes for the New Year for Penn State

2011 was wonderful for 10 months, hellacious for the last two; may the recovery begin in 2012

May the New Year bring to Happy Valley ...

 ... as swift and painless a resolution to the Sandusky scandal as possible. May there be no more victims, no drawn out legal process, no more jarring and scarring revelations, no more national media convergence. May there simply as good a resolution as there can possibly be at this horrible juncture.

 ... recovery for the alleged victims, and peace in their lives.

 ... recovery for the Penn State community from the anguish imparted by the scandal.

 ..  recovery for Joe Paterno as he battles cancer and other health issues, as well as the emotional toll of the Sandusky scandal and his removal as Penn State football coach. And may he have his day to explain himself. And may people listen with clear minds. For example, telling your administrative boss and the head of campus police about possible wrongdoing by definition means you attempted to have that possible wrongdoing investigated properly. A clear mind can recognize that.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Halfway to failure? The Penn State coaching search languishes

Having failed miserably in expediency, and losing its grip on secrecy, the search committee now must try to secure an extraordinary coach while battling the negative momentum it created and the all-consuming legacy of Sandusky

Why would the Boise State coach (reportedly) decline the Penn State job?

Why would former PSU All-American Mike Munchak pass on the opportunity?

Why isn't Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald a candidate? What happened to Miami's Al Golden?

Yep, things are looking down for the Penn State football search committee. When Boise Freakin' State (Boise State!) is considered more desirable - reportedly BSU coach Chris Petersen did not reciprocate Penn State's interest - you have to begin wondering what is going on.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

All signs point to bowl drubbing for Nittany Lions

All signs point to TicketCity Bowl defeat for No. 22 PSU (9-3) vs. No. 19 Houston (12-1) 
Well, almost all signs point to a PSU drubbing. Not that anyone will notice the TicketCity Bowl anyway, as it is played concurrently with the Gator, Outback and Capital One Bowls, during the middle of a workday for many Americans

From the file of "Important things about Penn State football that are happening now yet few seem to care about" is the TicketCity Bowl vs. Houston on Jan. 2.

With all of the focus on Paterno, Sandusky and the coaching search, many have overlooked the fact that PSU actually still has a football team (a good team, too) and a bowl game to play, on Monday.

Historically, Penn State is an outstanding bowl team. The Nittany Lions lead all Big Ten teams in bowl victories and winning percentage (27-14-2, 65.1 percent).

But that was P-SS (pre-Sandusky scandal).

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Penn State, State College and the post-Sandusky media narrative

Many are inaccurately conveying that little town with the big university in central Pennsylvania, perhaps because it doesn't fit the media narrative

Wright Thompson didn't quite get it. He didn't grasp what State College and Penn State are all about.

Which is fine, since he never never lived there or went to school there. Except that Thompson wrote a major feature story about Penn State in the wake of Sandusky, and thus he needed to get it right.

Thompson, an accomplished writer with a college football background, wrote the story titled "We were ... ," in the Nov. 26 edition of ESPN The Magazine. (

Among many observations Thompson made was the following:

"This paragraph will prompt hate mail, but it's true: State College is an ordinary college town. No more, no less."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Is Penn State Really Considering Hiring JoePa's Replacement From Within?

Three people are known to have interviewed for the position, and all are on the current staff

Good thing all is quiet about Penn State, so we can just sit back and enjoy the holidays and ...

Kidding, of course. Tumult is the new norm at PSU.

Between the Sandusky trial and Curley/Schultz trial (or, as the media thinks of the Curley/Schultz trial, MORE REASONS TO WRITE ABOUT PATERNO-PATERNO-PATERNO ... ) and the various investigations, PSU will be in the media cycle for months and maybe years, most of it ugly. Sigh.

What new football coach will inherit this?

Since the scandal mushroomed like nuclear fallout and Joe Paterno was fired, RFBS and others firmly believed PSU would hire from outside. Someone with little or no connection to the PSU coaching staff - and thus no connection to the scandal - would be the next head coach. It just had to be that way. For a clean fresh start, and to ensure no embarrassing revelations later.

Now? Well, we've got reason to wonder if that is the mindset of the committee.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Time is Running Out: Name a Football Coach, Penn State

The search committee should introduce a new head football coach in the next week

Aside from the colossal blunder of PSU president Rodney Erickson saying he wants to de-emphasize the spotlight on athletics at the same time Penn State is named the best school for graduating its football players and is in the midst of trying to find a new football coach (memo to Erickson: NOT the way to sell your program to potential coaches), the coaching search has been going well for Penn State.

How do we know? Because we haven't heard much. Which means everyone involved is keeping their mouths closed.

Several names have been kicked around - Mike London? Dan Mullen? Mike Munchak? Tom Bradley? Greg Schiano? Al Golden? Chris Petersen? James Franklin? Ken Niumatalolo? - but little if anything has been confirmed regarding interest from PSU in a candidate, and vice versa.

Which is pretty hard to do these days, with the skills and technology the media has at its disposal for figuring out such things.

So, that's nice.

'Tis the Season: Holiday Sing-Alongs for Penn State

Sing along with abridged versions some old favorites, reflecting on the bizarro-tragic turn of events for Penn State

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

You know JoePa and Spanier, and Joyner and Curley,
Franco and LaVar, McQueary and Schultz-ey,
But do you recall
The most infamous Lion of all?
Jerry, the red-handed Lion
had a very wicked brain.
And if you ever met him
you would even say insane.
All of the other Lions
used to keep him at arm's length.
Yet they always let sick Jerry
inside Lasch for fitness and strength (workouts)
Then one tragic autumn day
the Grand Jury presentment said:
"Jerry with your hair so white,
you're going to jail for many nights"
Then only the media loved him
as they shouted out with glee,
Jerry the red-handed Lion,
you'll go down in infamy!
(And drag Penn State with you)

The 12 Days of Christmas
On the twelfth day of Christmas, Sandusky gave to thee ...

  • Twelve sordid counts against him (plus 40),
  • Eleven (thousand) Old Main vigil-ers,
  • Ten alleged victims accusing,
  • Nine million-plus THON dollars overshadowed,
  • Eight recruits reconsidering (at least),
  • Seven stages of grief (or denial?),
  • Six (hundred thousand) Penn Staters suffering,
  • Five (hundred thousand) dollars raised for RAINN
  • "Four quarters" of legal fighting promised (nooooo!), 
  • Three neverending investigations launched, 
  • Two damaged media vehicles
  • And a waived preliminary hearing in Bellefonte

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Sandusky's taking State College down
He made his list,
Abused it 52 times (allegedly)
There's no doubt he's naughty, not nice.
Sandusky has destroyed children's lives (allegedly)
He abused when they were sleeping (allegedly),
He abused when they were awake (allegedly)
We know he's been sooo bad, not good (allegedly)
So plead out for goodness sake!

You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Sandusky's taking PSU down

Frosty the Snowman
Jer-ry the phony, was a jolly happy soul,
With denial and an vile heart,
And a charity founded on fraud.
Jer-ry the phony was The Second Mile saint,
He was made of gold but the children know
what he did when they were all alone.
There must have been a door open in
Lasch Building that night.
For when McQueary walked inside,
Well, what did he actually see?
Oh, Jer-ry the phony
Whatever happened to your soul?
And the children say he could laugh
And play, just not the same as you and me.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Very Early Sneak Peek at Penn State Football 2012

While all the news out of State College is related to the ongoing Sandusky scandal and its collateral outcomes, for many Nittany Lion football players the 2012 season begins now, during bowl preparation

Football coaches consider preparation for mediocre bowl games to be the start of the next season.

The additional practice time might be the best thing about the bowl game; teams that don't go to a bowl miss out on a few extra weeks of practices. A good month of practice and/or a strong performance on game day provide a springboard into the next season.

Did someone say next season? Well, the Nittany Lions don't even have a head coach for next season (the search continues ... ). And they're likely to have an entirely new coaching staff.

They're also likely to lose several committed recruits, and have more players transfer than usual this offseason due to the impending coaching change and Sandusky scandal (which, as long as Sandusky doesn't plead guilty and go away, will continue to be brutal front-page news).

And there's still the bowl game to play Jan. 2 vs. Houston (once everybody gets over the disappointment of getting a raw deal and stuck with the bottom-tier TicketCity Bowl). And then Signing Day, and spring football practice, and the spring game, and ...

Yes, there are a lot of things to be far more concerned with right now regarding Penn State football than the on-field personnel for next season.

But RFBS is taking a peek forward anyway.

For many up-and-comers who have played little, such as LB Mike Hull, DT Evan Hailes, DE C.J. Olaniyan and DB Adrian Amos - and all of the redshirting freshmen such as OLs Donovan Smith and Angelo Mangiro, and DEs Deion Barnes and Anthony Zettel - the 2012 season begins now. There is a lot of intriguing potential. And many question marks as 14 starters graduate.

(all stats from 2011 season unless otherwise noted)
Projected 2012 Penn State depth chart - OFFENSE

1. Paul Jones (So.)
2. Matt McGloin (Sr.)
3. Skyler Mornhinweg (true Fr.)
4. Shane McGregor (Sr.)
  • The skinny: No QBs graduated. Rob Bolden needs a fresh start and is likely to transfer. McGloin has underwhelmed in two years of significant playing time. Jones, who sat out this season to concentrate on academics, is entering his third spring at PSU and is a good bet to seize the starting job. If HS senior Mornhinweg honors his commitment to PSU, he could get a chance to play early.

1. Silas Redd (Jr.)
2. Curtis Dukes (Jr.)
3. Brandon Beachum (Sr.)
4. Derek Day (Sr.)
  • The skinny: Backup Stephfon Green graduated. This could be a huge position of strength next season, though PSU will need to sign a couple of RBs to offset the lack of depth. Perhaps WR Bill Belton could play RB in a pinch. Redd (1,188 yards, 5.2 avg, 7 TD) is an All-American candidate, Dukes looked good in a flash of action at midseason, and sadly Beachum once again must overcome a serious injury (broken leg) if he wants to return for his fifth year. Day, a walk-on, plays a lot on special teams.

1. Michael Zordich (Sr.)
2. Zach Zwinak (So.)
3. Andre Dupree (Jr.), Pat Zerbe (Jr.), P.J. Byers (Jr.)
  • The skinny: Co-starter Joe Suhey graduated. Zordich is a fiery team leader, special teams player and good blocker, but fumbles and dropped passes plagued him in 2011. Zwinak has been relatively nonexistent his first two seasons for a pretty big recruit. Unless he's overwhelmed or has off-field issues, he'll be the backup FB and play some. Zordich and Zwinak - the Z boys - should be special teams stalwarts as well. Dupree, Zerbe and Byers are walk-ons battling for backup duty.

1. Mike Farrell (Sr.)
1. Donovan Smith (RS Fr.)
2. Adam Gress (Jr.)
2. Nate Cadogan (Jr.)
3. Ryan Nowicki (RS Fr.)
3. Patrick Christie (So.)
  • The skinny: Starters Chima Okoli (RT) and Quinn Barham (LT) graduated. Farrell has looked good in spot duty at RT, but he has spent four seasons on the bench. Smith impressed right away as a true freshman and will have a shot at LT along with Cadogan and perhaps Gress, two veterans. Expect one or two other scholarship players to move to tackle, either from the defensive line or interior offensive live, and Nowicki could play guard. 

1. John Urschel (Jr.)
1. Eric Shrive (Jr.)
2. Angelo Mangiro (RS Fr.)
2. Mark Arcidiacono (Jr.)
3. Frank Figueroa (Jr.)
3. Khamrone Kolb (So.)
  • The skinny: Starters Johnnie Troutman (LG) and De'Onte Pannell (RG) graduated. Arcidiacono, Mangiro and Shrive, once a top recruit, all could be competing for the LG spot opposite Urschel at RG. Urschel has impressed in spot duty and along with Matt Stankiewitch, the returning starter at center, appears to be the most likely starter on the rebuilt offensive line. 

1. Matt Stankiewitch (Sr.)
2. Ty Howle (Jr.)
3. Miles Dieffenbach (So.)
  • The skinny: No starters graduated. One of the deeper positions on the team, with Stankiewitch starting the entire 2011 season and Howle very experienced as the long snapper. Dieffenbach was a highly regarded recruit and might get a crack at guard. 

1. Justin Brown (Sr.)
1. Curtis Drake (Jr.)
1. Shawney Kersey (Jr.)
2. Devon Smith (Sr.)
2. Brandon Moseby-Felder (Jr.)
2. Bill Belton (So.)
3. Allen Robinson (So.)
3. Matt Zanellato (RS Fr.)
3. Christian Kuntz (Jr.)
4. Ryan Scherer (Sr.)
4. Evan Lewis (Sr.)
  • The skinny: Starter Derek Moye graduated. Though the No. 1 receiver is departing, this is one of the deepest positions on the team, with several quality players deserving more targets than PSU's ineffective passing game has provided. Brown (34 catches, 448 yards) is not fast but he has big-time potential and one more year to prove he is an All-Big Ten caliber player. Drake finally should be fully recovered from his broken legs. Kersey has speed, size and hands but has languished on the bench in favor of Smith (23 catches, 353 yards). Belton, Moseby-Felder and Robinson all had limited opportunities in 2011 (combined 8 catches) but could crack the playing rotation.

1. Kevin Haplea (Jr.)
2. Garry Gilliam (Jr.)
3. Brian Irvin (Sr.), J.D. Mason (Sr.), Kyle Carter (RS Fr.)

  • The skinny: Starter Andrew Szczerba graduated. This position has degenerated since Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler departed after the 2009 season. Haplea and Gilliam have some talent and need to step up, and if anyone else would like to challenge them, great. Gilliam missed all of last season with a knee injury, and Haplea didn't do much as the backup to Szczerba in 2011. OT Nate Cadogan always could return to TE, and anyone buried on the DE depth chart could too.

Projected 2012 Penn State depth chart - DEFENSE

1. Sean Stanley (Sr.)
1. Pete Massaro (Sr.)
2. Deion Barnes (RS Fr.)
2. C.J. Olaniyan (So.) 
3. Kyle Baublitz (So.)
3. Brad Bars (So.)
4. Shawn Oakman (RS Fr.)
4. Jordan Kerner (RS Fr.)

  • The skinny: Starter Jack Crawford and co-starter Eric Latimore graduated. Stanley has a big-play knack (4.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles) and will start full-time if he takes care of business off the field, while the other starting spot (and the backup to Stanley), should be a battle between Massaro, Barnes and Olaniyan. Massaro's promising career was derailed by a second major injury (knee) and he missed 2011. Baublitz (6-5, 275) and Oakman (6-7, 260) have intriguing size, while Bars, at 226 pounds, ultimately could end up at LB.

1. Jordan Hill (Sr.)
1. DaQuan Jones (Jr.)
2. James Terry (Sr.)
2. Evan Hailes (So.)
3. Anthony Zettel (RS Fr.)
3. Anthony Alosi (RS Fr.)
3. Luke Graham (So.)
  • The skinny: Starter Devon Still graduated. It's an epic drop off from Big Ten defensive player of the year Still to Jones (7 tackles). But Jones is likely to share time with Hailes, Terry and perhaps Alosi and Zettel alongside Hill (in the position that booted-from-team Brandon Ware should have occupied in his senior season 2012). It will be tougher sledding at NT for the productive Hill (58 tackles, 8 for loss, 3 fumble recoveries), who is accustomed to defenses focusing on Still. PSU has commitments from numerous DLs, so reinforcements are coming, though they might not have much impact in 2012. And many commitments might bail out due to the Sandusky scandal and coaching change. Expect the defensive line performance to nose dive in 2012, despite the presence of Hill and Stanley, because DEs Crawford and Latimore, and especially DT Still, were a major physical presence.

1. Gerald Hodges (OLB - Sr.)
1. Michael Mauti (OLB - Sr.)
1. Glenn Carson (MLB - Jr.)
2. Khairi Fortt (Jr.)
2. Mike Hull (So.)
2. James Van Fleet (Sr.)
3. Michael Yancich (Sr.)
3. Ben Kline (RS Fr.)
3. Dakota Royer (So.)
  • The skinny: Starter Nate Stupar graduated. If Mauti comes back at close to 100 percent from his second ACL injury, this will be one of the best LB corps in America. Again. Same as every season since 2004. Fortt (31 tackles, 4 for loss) is just too good to be a backup, so he'll play a lot behind both Carson (74 tackles, 2 forced fumbles) and Mauti - unless he starts ahead of them. Hull also is an eventual first-rate player, though probably not until 2013. Hodges is the lead dog after a stellar, All-Big Ten 2011 season (team-high 97 tackles, 10 for loss, 4.5 sacks) but there's an outside chance he opts for the NFL draft this spring even though he doesn't turn 21 until January.  

1. Stephon Morris (Sr.)
1. Derrick Thomas (Jr.)
2. Alex Kenney (So.)
2. Mike Wallace (Jr.)
  • The skinny: Starters Chaz Powell and D'Anton Lynn graduated. Adrian Amos could move from CB - where he was so impressive in spot duty as a true freshman in 2011 - to safety for 2012. Which would ensure Morris gets his old starting position back, and he should play well. Thomas seemingly had a lifetime pass to JoePa's doghouse, but with Paterno gone he needs to seize the opportunity to fulfill his potential. Kenney and Wallace have been around awhile and will push for playing time, with both being prime possibilities in nickel and dime packages. Some true freshman also could get a chance to play in nickel and dime packages.

1. Adrian Amos (So.)
1. Malcolm Willis (Jr.)
2. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (Jr.)
2. Jacob Fagnano (Sr.)
3. Ryan Keiser (So.)

  • The skinny: Starters Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino graduated. Amos was not a particularly highly regarded recruit, but he was PSU's best freshman in 2011. With his size (6-0, 205) and instincts he could easily slide from cornerback to safety, where there seems to be more of a need. Willis has played well as a top backup and substitute starter the past two years, with 79 total tackles in 2010-11. A Willis-Amos tandem has mouth-watering potential if it survives some growing pains; the drop-off to the backups is significant.

Projected 2012 Penn State depth chart - SPECIAL TEAMS

1. Anthony Fera (Jr.)
2. Sam Ficken (So.)
3. Evan Lewis (Sr.)

1. Anthony Fera (Jr.)
2. Alex Butterworth (Jr.)

  • The skinny: No starters graduated. Fera is The Man for placements (14-17 FGs), punts (42.0 avg. ) and kickoffs (10 touchbacks) again in 2012. If he were to lose any of those jobs (or if the coaches did not want him doing them all), he most likely would cede punting - if Butterworth can continue developing and do better placing the ball inside the 15 yard line, or if the new coach employs rugby-style punting.

1. Ty Howle (Jr.)
2. Emery Etter (Jr.)

1. Adrian Amos (So.)
1. Shawney Kersey (Jr.)
2. Devon Smith (Sr.)
2. Curtis Drake (Jr.)
3. Bill Belton (So.)
3. Alex Kenney (So.)
3. Stephon Morris (Sr.)
  • The skinny: Starter Chaz Powell graduated. Kersey needs to touch the ball more so maybe he gets that chance here. Smith, despite his road-runner speed, averaged a paltry 10.4 yards in four kickoff returns. So hopefully Kersey gets a shot. Amos averaged 21.2 in six attempts as the No. 2 returner behind Powell. The blazing-fast Morris has never had an opportunity to be a primary kickoff returner.

1. Curtis Drake (Jr.)
2. Adrian Amos (So.)
3. Justin Brown (Sr.)
3. Bill Belton (So.)
3. Devon Smith (Sr.)
3. Alex Kenney (So.)
  • The skinny: Reserve Derek Moye graduated. It'll be interesting to see if the new coaching staff views Brown in this role; he was probably the biggest (6-3, 215) punt returner in America (26-194-7.5 avg.), and he'll be the No. 1 receiver next season. A safety is always the default punt returner in punt-safe alignment, and you could do a lot worse than Amos in that role. Drake needs to touch the ball more, has sure hands and can make big plays, so he is the leading candidate to supplant Brown.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The New York Times egregiously misses with Jerry Sandusky (12.4.11)

The New York Times speaks for four hours with Jerry Sandusky and ... writes about Joe Paterno. With a unique and important opportunity to delve into Sandusky, the Times instead retreads old information about Paterno 

The past couple of weeks, with the unprecedented scandal at Penn State and follow-up scandal at Syracuse, have provided telling insight into the mentality and fallibility of the national media.

And it has been a sad commentary, especially for a public that relies on the national media for objective reporting and investigative journalism.

Today's case in point: The New York Times - that sanctified, celebrated, historic bastion of journalism - recently spoke with Jerry Sandusky for four hours.

In four hours obviously a lot of ground can be covered. Have you ever had a two-hour conversation? Just double it.

And what did the Times write about after these four hours, over the course of two interviews, with the infamous man accused of dozens of heinous sex crimes against children?

About Joe Paterno, of course.

The lead to the Times' big weekend Sandusky Scandal feature, following four hours of exclusivity with Sandusky himself, was the following: "The former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, in his first extended interview since his indictment on sexual abuse charges last month, said coach Joe Paterno never spoke to him about any suspected misconduct with minors ... ''

That was the first sentence - directly to Paterno. It was followed by a few sentences that pretty much just reiterated the same thing ("Sandusky said Paterno did not speak to him or confront him ... despite the fact that ... blah blah")

Hmmm. So after four hours with Sandusky, the best the Times can do is repeat exactly what Bob Costas gleaned three weeks ago in a relatively brief phone interview with Sandusky. Here is an excerpt from Costas' highly publicized interview on Nov. 14:
To your knowledge did Joe Paterno at any time ever speak to you directly about your behavior?
He never asked you about what you might have done? He never asked you if you needed help? If you needed counseling?                       
No. No.                       
Never? Never expressed disapproval of any kind?                       
(The full transcript can be found at:

So, Sandusky sheds no new light whatsoever on Paterno's role in this epic tragedy, yet the Times chooses to lead its story with Paterno. What, were the other 3 hours and 57 minutes that unrevealing?

Sandusky is one of the most sickening, confounding, flagrant, mortifying and notorious accused criminals of our time. Millions are shocked and dumbfounded by the sheer volume and horror of the allegations against him. The Times speaks with him for four hours, an incredible opportunity to uncover, unlock, unveil, reveal and ... it leads with photocopied news about Joe Paterno.


Why would the Times do this?

Because the Times is more interested in supporting itself than anything else. What other conclusion is there?

The national media simply can't help itself from focusing on Paterno, or trying to justify its focus on Paterno, or justify its insistence that Paterno be fired (which of course he was). Despite the magnitude of Sandusky's alleged crimes.

The fact is, Paterno should have been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation. The grand jury presentment provides a sliver of incomplete information re: Paterno. A potentially damning and explosive sliver, for sure, but a sliver nonetheless.

There is an incredible amount that is as yet unknown about this saga. There is an investigation, and of course possibly a trial for Sandusky upcoming. Far too much is unknown at this point to fire Paterno - the PSU Board of Trustees canceled Paterno's press conference and never spoke with him before firing him -  but enough is known to place him on leave pending the investigation.

Nonetheless, supporting its conclusions about Paterno is only part of the Times' rationale for focusing on Paterno. As importantly, the Times knows Paterno's name gets eyeballs, gets pageviews, gets attention.

(Curiously, the Times also seems to think that if Sandusky says something to someone else besides the Times - in this case Costas -  he didn't actually say it.)

So, instead of journalistic prudence, instead of focusing on how Sandusky managed to get away with the widespread allegations against him, instead of burrowing for hours into the seemingly inconceivable - how such such monstrous behavior could occur so often over such a long period of time with so many individuals so close to Sandusky either unknowing, unwilling or unable to prevent it - instead of zeroing in on "how could this have happened?", the Times opted to recycle Sandusky's comments about Paterno, which were virtually identical to his comments to Costas.

How sad - for us. The media is supposed to be the watchdog. Instead, it's your neighbor's annoying little barking fur ball, yelping the same screechy yelp, over and over.

Yes, of course there was much more to the Times' story. They did actually move beyond Paterno. There was some insight into Sandusky's charity, The Second Mile, permitting his continued access to kids for years even after it was informed in 2002 of the molestation allegation against Sandusky by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary.

But there wasn't much more. And it was all buried beneath PATERNO. Just like everything seems to be.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Fab 44 of Penn State Football 2011

PSU's best players and coaches this season, ranked in order, after the Lions compiled a 9-3 overall record, 6-2 in the Big Ten, and played the final three regular season games immersed in the greatest scandal in school history

The Fab 44 for 2011
  1. Tom Bradley, DC/Head Coach - Perhaps his best season yet in his 12th as a coordinator, comparing favorably to 2005, 2008 and 2004. But much more than just good PSU defensive play was the steady hand Bradley provided in the most difficult of circumstances when asked to replace Joe Paterno in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Despite the blowout finale at Wisconsin, Bradley gets Penn State football's top honor for 2011 from RFBS.
  2. Devon Still, DT, Sr. - For PSU to succeed, he had to play every snap like a beast. He did. Rarely taking a breather, Still consistently made big plays, including 17 tackles for loss, Still has earned all of the honors coming his way, such as Big Ten defensive lineman of the year, the fifth Nittany Lion to do so (Courtney Brown 1999, Jimmy Kennedy 2002, Tamba Hali 2005, Jared Odrick 2009), and conference defensive player of the year. Should be picked in the first two rounds of the NFL draft.
  3. Ron Vanderlinden, LB Coach - Since about 2004, there have been no better collection of LBs in college football than Penn State's. And Vanderlinden, in his 11th season at PSU, is as much the reason for that as anyone. Emerging star Michael Mauti injured his knee early on, and PSU barely flinched, plugging in Nate Stupar and continuing to excel.
  4. Larry Johnson, DL Coach - And the beat goes on, Part II. Like Vanderlinden, since about 2002 there have been few if any DLs in America than can match PSU. And Johnson, in his 15th season at PSU and 11th as defensive line coach, is as much the reason for that as anyone. 
  5. Gerald Hodges, LB, Jr. - When Mauti went down in Game 4, Hodges, a true junior who was injured much of his sophomore year, stepped it up, emerging as a complete 'backer, big-play maker  and occasional pass-rush specialist. He joined Still as PSU's lone first-team All-Big Ten selection, leading the Lions with 97 tackles.
  6. Silas Redd, RB, So. - As the season went along and the passing game regressed, Redd kept adding more and more responsibility. He responded in a big way - until an injury Nov. 12 vs. Nebraska slowed him for two weeks - leading the nation in rushing in October. Chosen second-team All-Big Ten, Redd finished with 1,188 rushing yards, a 5.2 avg and 7 TDs. Barring injury, he should challenge PSU's all-time rushing mark before he is finished.
  7. Jack Crawford, DE, Sr. - Once upon a time he was considered a prime candidate to be the next great PSU defensive lineman. It never quite materialzed, but Crawford was a rock this season and should be a mid-round NFL draft pick due to his size/speed/toughness combination. Led PSU with 6.5 sacks and led the DLs with 5 passes defensed.
  8. Derek Moye, WR, Sr. - He missed almost three games due to a freak foot injury, but his gutty return for the final drive vs. Illinois was one of the highlights of the season, and it's not his fault the QBs were lame. With good health and QB play, Moye (40 receptions) would have been first-team all-conference. He departs third all-time at PSU in receiving yards (2,395), fourth in receiving TDs (18) and fifth in receptions (144), and like Crawford figures to be a mid-round NFL draft pick.
  9. Jordan Hill, NT, Jr. - The always-hustling overachiever just keeps getting better. Like Still, he rarely took a breather due to lack of quality depth at DT, yet he continued to make plays into the fourth quarter, notching 58 tackles, 8 for loss, and 3 fumble recoveries - great numbers for a nose tackle.
  10. Anthony Fera, K/P, So. - Started the season in Paterno's doghouse and on the bench, then pounded too many punts into the end zone. But he was very good on field goals (14-17), good on kickoffs (10 touchbacks) and his punting improved late in the year, stabilizing PSU's special teams.
  11. Chaz Powell, CB/KR, Sr. - His excellence on kickoff returns gave him an edge among the quartet of senior DBs in these ratings. He could play in the NFL if he can settle on a position at the next level (offense? slot receiver? nickel back/special teams gunner?) and devote himself to special teams.
  12. Joe Paterno, former Head Coach - Penn State's internal investigation of the Sandusky scandal, and the trial, obviously will dramatically alter Paterno's perception and legacy. We'll see how much. As far as his coaching this season goes, JoePa needs to get some credit for the close wins and strong defense and some blame for the offensive regression.
  13. Drew Astorino, SS, Sr. - In the playing rotation since his redshirt freshman season, the once lightly-regarded recruit had the best season of his career, finishing second in tackles with 77, with 5 for loss and 7 passes defensed. His size/speed combo makes him an NFL longshot.
  14. Nate Stupar, LB, Sr. - Stupar figured to be the hard-luck story of the year, a productive veteran supplanted in the starting lineup when Mauti moved from MLB to OLB in the preseason. Then Mauti got hurt, Stupar stepped in and was superb the rest of the way, finishing fourth with 68 tackles. Like LB predecessors Tim Shaw and Josh Hull, Stupar could stick in the NFL and might be a late-round draft pick.
  15. John Thomas, Strength/Conditioning Coach - In his 20th season at PSU, Thomas must be credited for the extraordinary performance in the second half of games by the Lions defense this season.
  16. Nick Sukay, FS, Sr. - Had a good season and made a lot of big plays, but also seemed to just miss on some other critical opportunities and occasionally struggled tackling (he's now featured on Montee Ball's highlight reel). Sukay also could possibly get a look from the pros if he's dedicated to playing special teams and his 2010 injury continues doesn't red-flag him with NFL teams.
  17. Johnnie Troutman, LG, Sr. - A bull in the trenches, Troutman was good at pulling or plowing on run plays and was stout against the pass. Like Powell, Sukay, Stupar and a few other PSU seniors, he has just enough ability to play in the NFL if he can stay healthy and is fully committed.
  18. Justin Brown, WR/PR, Jr. - Despite improvement each season, Brown, a true junior, still seems to be not quite fulfilling his potential. Came very close to making several great catches, made a few of them, but looks a bit overweight for a WR and misses some makable plays for someone with his ability. Finished second to Moye with 34 receptions for 448 yards.
  19. Chima Okoli, RT, Sr. - PSU quarterbacks were sacked just 12 times, least in the Big Ten, and Okoli was one of the primary reasons. He played DL for a few years before settling in at RT last season, and this season earned second-team All-Big Ten honors.
  20. Quinn Barham, LT, Sr. - Had played relatively little prior to this season (13 starts) for a senior captain starting at an important position, and by and large he came through for the Lions. Bookend tackles Barham and Okoli won't be confused with Levi Brown, but they were solid. 
  21. Dick Anderson and Bill Kenney, OL/TE Coaches - The offensive line was loaded with fifth-year seniors, but it wasn't overly experienced or talented. Nonetheless, Anderson (centers/guards, 34th season at PSU) and Kenney (tackles/TEs, 24th season) molded them into a quintessentially solid-but-unspectacular unit (of note is that the TEs were well below average this season). Redd's 5.2 per carry average and the low sack total are excellent measures for the OL.
    1. D'Anton Lynn, CB, Sr. - Injured in a midseason collision, Lynn missed a couple of games, and he came up with few big plays (the Nebraska game was not a good one for him). But Lynn was reliable most of this season and in his four seasons in the lineup. He's one of many seniors on the bubble re: the NFL, where he might play safety and special teams. 
    2. Sean Stanley, DE, Jr. - With the graduation of Crawford and Eric Latimore, Stanley will be counted on even more next season. Though a bit undersized (6-1, 245), he notched 4.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles in 2011 - and could pair with returning-from-injury Pete Massaro and redshirt freshman Deion Barnes, among others, in a nice DE rotation in 2012.
    3. Glenn Carson, MLB, So. - Named a surprise starter just before the season, Carson proved his back injury was a thing of the past and that he is a capable Big Ten-caliber LB. He'll need to take it up a notch next season as fellow sophomore Khairi Fortt and others are pushing for playing time.
    4. De'Onte Pannell, RG, Sr. - Had some bad moments, but overall was decent. He fended off John Urschel to remain the starter throughout the season and put a generally good finish on a very uneven career.
    5. Matt Stankiewitch, C, Jr. - The nondescript offensive line steadily improved as the season went along, as did Stankiewitch. He will be counted on next season to lead a revamped unit as the lone returning starter.
    6. Joe Suhey, FB, Sr. - Ultimately it was a disappointing season for the talented Suhey. He battled injuries at midseason and was underused otherwise, his excellent receiving and surprising rushing skills rarely on display. He also split time with Michael Zordich in PSU's "legacy" FB tandem. Suhey should get a chance to make an NFL roster as a FB, H-Back and special teams player. 
    7. Stephfon Green, RB, Sr. - Green capped a bizarre season and career with a blaze of glory in the final few games. Booted off the team for several months, Green was granted a reprieve during training camp after the seniors pleaded with Paterno for his reinstatement. He scarcely touched the field the first half of the season but finished with 203 rushing yards and 5 TDs. His special teams prowess and third-down back potential should get him a free agency opportunity in the NFL.
    8. Matt McGloin, QB, Jr. - Provided leadership during the Sandusky crisis and handled the two-quearterback situation much better than Rob Bolden, earning the starting job the final few games. Nonetheless, if/when the new coaching staff comes in McGloin, due to mediocre performance, will be tossed back into the pool of QB candidates for 2012, along with Paul Jones, possibly Bolden (who seems likely to transfer) and likely incoming recruit Skyler Mornhinweg.
    9. Kermit Buggs, Safeties Coach - PSU safeties Sukay, Astorino and Malcolm Willis played both the pass and the run well throughout 2011, aside from the Wisconsin game (which could be said about many PSU players). Buggs is in his ninth year on the staff and fourth working with the safeties.
    10. Michael Mauti, LB, Jr. - Was off to a sensational start before tearing an ACL for the second time in his career early in the fourth game of the season. Has the total package of LB skills and looked like the successor to Posluszny, Connor, Lee, Bowman, etc. The questions now are if he can get back up to speed, and if he can remain healthy.
    11. Eric Latimore, DE, Sr. - An occasional starter throughout his career, Latimore was always hustling, if not always producing. Continued the pipeline from Delaware (Devon Still, Justin Brown) to PSU. His size (6-6, 275) and effort will get him an NFL look.
    12. Devon Smith, WR/KR, Jr. - Bad hands, diminutive stature and bad instincts (impossible to believe he didn't block the Wisconin DB who made the tackle on Stephfon Green's 89-yard run that was called back vs. Wisconsin) offset Smith's blazing speed and grit. Third-leading receiver with 23 catches for 353 yards and 2 TDs.
    13. Khairi Fortt, LB, So. - Saw significant action as Carson's backup, and it will be hard to keep Fortt from getting more playing time in 2012. Shows good instincts and speed and should be in the Top 20 on this list the next two seasons, if not higher.
    14. Malcolm Willis, DB, So. - With the four senior DB starters departing, Willis will anchor the secondary next season, and like Fortt should be a defensive pillar the next two seasons. He should be up to the task after stepping in adequately for an injured Sukay in 2010, and playing effectively in some nickel and dime packages this season.
    15. Michael Zordich, FB, Jr. - If not for a late-season "hands of stone" display, Zordich would be much higher. The fiery blocker dropped a few passes and fumbled a kickoff, costly errors. With Suhey graduating, Zordich will need to improve his ball skills for next season.
    16. Adrian Amos, CB/KR, Fr. - The true freshman was a revelation in limited duty in the secondary and as a kickoff returner. When Lynn and Stephon Morris both were injured, Amos stepped in at CB like a veteran. Should start at CB or safety next season and vault up this list. He's a gamer.
    17. Stephon Morris, CB, Jr. - Small (5-foot-8) speed merchant played better this season in limited action than the past two seasons when he started 10 games. A prime contender to regain his starting CB role in 2012, Morris had five passes defensed.
    18. Curtis Dukes, RB, So. - A big back (237 pounds) with good speed, Dukes had a nice stretch as Silas Redd's backup then fell off the map, allowing Stephfon Green to shine in the final few games of his career. Dukes was second in rushing yards with 237 and a robust 5.8 avg.
    19. Galen Hall, Offensive Coordinator/RB Coach - Though the play-calling was poor much of the season and the offense was mediocre at best overall, Hall must be given some credit for the sterling performance this season by RB Silas Redd.
    20. Curtis Drake and Shawney Kersey, WRs, So. - Both are spectacularly underutilized, combining for just 10 catches for an eye-popping 21 yards per catch. In Drake's case his recuperated broken leg apparently had lingering issues, but he's a playmaker when healthy as demonstrated the final two games when he played some option QB. Kersey, for unknown reasons, receives scant playing time. 
    21. Jay Paterno and Mike McQueary, QB and WR Coach (respectively) - Had to be one of the toughest seasons ever for JayPa, with Rob Bolden's regression and the Jerry Sandusky scandal resulting in the firing of his father. McQueary's ascending career was derailed by his grand jury testimony and subsequent administrative leave, putting his future in the profession in doubt.
    22. Brandon Beachum, RB, Jr. - Never quite seemed fully recovered from an ACL injury, though at times he was the No. 2 RB and short-yardage specialist before a hamstring injury slowed him. Sadly, late in the final game at Wisconsin he broke his leg. Apparently he might not return for his final season of eligibility. Was fourth with 137 rushing yards.
    23. Rob Bolden, QB, So. - Whatever happened to the skinny kid with the textbook release who started at QB from Day 1 of his true freshman season in 2010 after just a few weeks on campus? Hopefully we see him again someday. Bolden 2.0 was a case study in lost confidence.