Sunday, April 22, 2012

Penn State football leaving the past behind quickly

The massive fallout from the incomprehensibly awful Sandusky scandal will resonate throughout 2012 at Penn State. Just don't expect it to impact the football program very much anymore, despite what commentators are saying

"The dark cloud hovering over Penn State football," the announcer said.

"The team will continue to have to deal with huge distractions next season," the other announcer said.

This was Saturday, in the aftermath of the PSU spring game. Lots of major college football programs had spring games Saturday, so ESPN gathered whichever college football announcers weren't on a Caribbean vacation or watching Barcelona-Real Madrid to provide a few token comments on the culmination of spring football.

When the topic shifted to Penn State, they instantly cited a hovering "dark cloud" and "huge distractions."

Which begs this response: What rock have these guys been hiding under the past few months?

Penn State football under dynamic new Head Coach Bill O'Brien is sprinting away from the scandal like Usain Bolt and into a brand new era, clouds and distractions shrinking in the rearview mirror.

Penn State, on the other hand, will have to deal with the relentless repercussions throughout this year - the Sandusky trial, the controversy over the Board of Trustees' code of silence, the release of completed investigations, etc. And it will be a very big deal as it unfolds.

But Penn State football? It's moving on, thank you very much, as it has demonstrated the past several months.

The football program - which endured the apocalypse in November, December and January - simply won't allow itself to be mired in Sandusky any longer.

The players? They've had enough, and they aren't going to reflect on it anymore. Heck, many didn't even know who Sandusky was until he obliterated their football season and turned their university inside out.

The coaches? The vast majority are brand new and weren't around when it went nuclear in Happy Valley in November. They want nothing to do with it and can get away with that perspective because they had nothing to do with it and weren't there.

O'Brien? He's proving every day to be as good a coach as possible for this most extraordinary coaching transition. He is so consumed with completely solidifying all aspects of the program that he has no inclination to linger in Sanduskyland. And he's simply too smart and focused to let the media coerce him there, except for brief acknowledgments.

The legions of various football program supporters? Yeah, they've had enough of Sandusky too, and are eager to move forward.

Which leaves us with ... the man himself, Joe Paterno, and the Paterno family. The Sandusky "dark cloud" and "distraction" is one thing; all that transpired with Paterno, and his passing in January after 62 incomparable years at Penn State, is another.

Paterno's death, Paterno's involvement in the scandal, the transition from the legendary (Paterno) to an unknown (O'Brien) from outside the Paterno coaching family, and Jay Paterno's awkward status all could be a major distraction for Penn State football moving forward, possibly for years.

Except that the Paterno family simply has too much class and grace to let that happen. As they have done every step of the way since the scandal broke (since forever, really), they will handle any situations in the best and most appropriate manner. That's what they do. That's why they are who they are.

So Penn State football wants to move on. Of course it does. But how do we know PSU football is moving forward so decisively?

The proof is in the response of the players, football supporters and most notably recruits.

  • Every player who could come back to PSU football this spring did - incredibly, no one transferred - and the new off-season conditioning program and offensive and defensive systems and coaches have, by all accounts, been embraced.
  • Aside from some exceedingly dumb knee-jerk reactive comments from a couple of extremely prominent alums - who backtracked and apologized shortly thereafter - there has been an almost universal embracing of O'Brien and staff from the Nittany Nation. 
  • And the coaches have been killing it on the recruiting trail, with eight very early commitments for 2013, including six 4-star recruits.

Recruiting for a college football program has never been more important than it is for Penn State right now. And the early returns are outstanding.

This isn't to suggest the Lions are going to win the Big Ten title next season - they won't. There is a long way to go, lots of transition angst and growing pains to endure. But considering where things were at the end of 2011, it's almost inconceivable PSU football could be better positioned at this juncture.

(Okay, maybe a good, seasoned quarterback could have transferred in ... )

Penn State football is stock worth buying. All the moreso because the national media haven't noticed yet.

The scandal will linger, of course. It will scar 2012, just like it did 2011.

But Penn State football is moving past it, full speed ahead, dark clouds behind.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. But we'll know that the clouds have truly parted and let the sunshine in when we can stand together and sing the Alma Mater in Paterno Stadium.