Friday, August 31, 2012

5 things for Penn State fans to watch for Saturday

The most anticipated New Era in PSU annals begins Saturday. Here's what to look for in the season-opener vs. Ohio U.

RB Bill Belton will have his moments. He'll cut and bolt, and slash and burst, for a few nice runs.

A lot of true freshman will play. The new depth chart is speckled with them. A few - such as TE Jesse James, CB Da'Quan Davis, and fast-rising WRs Eugene Lewis and Trevor Williams - might have significant roles.

The PSU fans and players will be very emotional.

The pass catchers - the wide receivers and tight ends collectively - will be as good or better than last season.

Linebackers Mike Mauti, Glenn Carson and Gerald Hodges will de-cleat ballcarriers on 1st down, wallop receivers on 2nd and breath fire on 3rd. Heck, they might even end up returning kicks, as the kick returners have been kept secret.

Matt McGloin will look great on one play and much-less-than great on the next.

Jordan Hill will cover more ground than any NT in America. He'll make a tackle 10 yards downfield, and one near each sideline.

These things will happen, and PSU fans will be excited to see them. But Hodges' QB pressures and Mauti's backfield smash hits alone won't win new head coach Bill O'Brien's debut against a highly touted Ohio U. team - Sports Illustrated predicted the Bobcats to go undefeated this season - coached by former Nebraska coach Frank Solich.

What will determine ultimate success or failure on Saturday? These five things:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fearless Big Ten football 2012 projections

How will the Big Ten shake out in 2012? Our fearless predictions:


1. Ohio State (6-2, 10-2) - The Buckeyes are ineligible for the postseason, so Wisconsin is virtually assured of a berth in the Big Ten title game. But HC Urban Meyer inherits an excellent situation and OSU will be solid this season. The postseason ban provides OSU an extra edge in the regular season, so the Buckeyes get the nod over Wisconsin.

2. Wisconsin (5-3, 9-3) - Without amazing QB Russell Wilson and three departed stud OLs, the Badgers back up in 2012. The offense won't simply steamroll everyone this year. LBs Chris Borland and Mike Taylor are elite, but the rest of the defense is mediocre. Noncon schedule should be four wins, though Sept. 8 trip to Oregon State could be tricky.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saturday will be unlike any other game for Penn State

Penn State football history has been marked by some extraordinary and emotional moments. This Saturday will rank high on the list - and be unlike any other for Penn State fans.

Emotions only go so high, a big-time ACC college basketball coach once said.

He had coached at a tiny high school when he was younger, and his point was, the emotions at the Backwoods High vs. Nowheresville Tech rivalry game were no different than a big-time Tobacco Road showdown: Maximum emotion is maximum emotion. It's just the number of people experiencing the emotion that is different.

There will be lots of maximum emotion Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

That emotional unleashing will extend to legions of Penn Staters around the globe watching the Penn State-Ohio U. season-opening game on TV or the Internet.

Have the supporters of any team or school ever experienced anything remotely like this?

No. Penn State fans stand alone.

There was no coach as iconic as Joe Paterno. No program as proud of its earned status for all-around excellence (the Holy Trinity of academic success, no cheating and winning). No scandal as grand and heinous. No coach's firing as upsetting. No coach's death as untimely. No comprehensive independent investigation as deceptive and flawed (thanks, Louis Freeh). No NCAA sanctions as egregious (thanks, Mark Emmert). No cultural condemnation as inappropriate (you again, Emmert). No mass media coverage as relentlessly shallow and misleading.

That is an emotional onslaught.

After all that, the Lions take the field Saturday.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Top 10 things Penn State football needs to succeed in 2012

With a fleeced roster, fledgling coaching staff (and no Joe Paterno), postseason ban, names on the backs of the iconic uniforms and coming off the most bizarre, demoralizing 10 months of their lives, the Nittany Lions are embarking one of the most unique seasons in college football history. Here's what they must do to win games, starting Sept. 1 vs. Ohio U.

Most college football pundits are predicting hard times for Penn State this season. A .500 record, or worse. Near the bottom of the Big Ten.

The best prognosticating publication out there, Phil Steele's, pegged PSU 5th in the Big Ten Leaders Division, ahead of only perennial bottom-dweller Indiana - and that was before the NCAA went nuts and slimy coaches started pickpocketing Penn State.

There is little margin for error if the Lions want to surprise the college football world this season. Here are the 10 things they must do to ensure a winning record, and change the momentum of the program.

It can be done.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

More than a uniform: Another era ends at Penn State

As much as any other college football program, Penn State has been associated with its uniforms. Simple, pure, gorgeous - and with no names on the back, bucking convention for decades. Well, not anymore.

Where some saw plain, others saw classic.

Where some saw boring, others saw timeless.

Where some became aggravated - "how am I supposed to know the players without names!" - others were impressed by the selflessness.

Yes, Penn State football has long been known for many things, and very high on the list was being known as the team with no names on the back of its uniforms.

It connected generations of Penn State football players and supporters. From Richie Lucas to Mike Reid to Greg Buttle to Steve Smith to Derek Bochna to Tony Johnson to Alan Zemaitis to Gerald Hodges.

In that regard, it was a lot like Joe Paterno.

Many disliked it, many loved it, and almost all respected what it represented - team. Total commitment to the team, over the individual.

So, what do the Penn State uniforms represent now?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Finally, fall camp: Penn State football primer entering 2012 preseason

The longest summer in Happy Valley is ending. Hopefully the transfers are ending soon, too. Penn State began fall camp this morning for the first time since 1950 without Joe Paterno, and the team looked very different than it did in the spring.

Let's get this out of the way: Who's no longer here who likely would have seen significant playing time this fall (listed in order of value to the team this season, asterisk denotes likely starter).
  • Jr. RB Silas Redd* (transfer/USC)
  • Sr. WR Justin Brown* (transfer/Oklahoma)
  • Jr. CB Curtis Drake* (dismissed)
  • Jr. P/K Anthony Fera* (transfer/Texas)
  • Jr. CB Derrick Thomas (left team)
  • Jr. LB Khairi Fortt (transfer/Cal)
  • So. DT Evan Hailes (retired/blood clots)
  • Sr. WR Devon Smith (dismissed)
  • Jr. TE Kevin Haplea (transfer/Florida St.)
That's essentially nine of the top 55-60 or so players on the team, and three of the top dozen or so in Redd, Brown and Fera. The loss of Redd (244 carries, 1,251 yards, 7 TD, 5.1 avg. in 2011), a supreme talent, is devastating. The loss of some others stings. Overall depth and talent have taken a hit.

Time to move on. Time for others to seize the opportunity. Entering fall practice, here's the breakdown at each position for the 2012 Nittany Lions:

1. Sr. Matt McGloin (6-1, 200)
2. So. Paul Jones (6-3, 245)
3. Sr. Shane McGregor (6-1, 200)
4. Fr. Steven Bench (6-1, 205)

Summary: Head coach Bill O'Brien's leadership, acumen and resourcefulness will be tested. Not only in dealing with the surreal situation surrounding PSU football, and with everything about being a first-year head coach, and with succeeding Joe Paterno, but in crafting a functional, competent offense with the Lions' erstwhile clear No. 1 (Redd) and No. 2 (Brown) offensive playmakers having transferred in the past week. The key at QB will be O'Brien's and QB coach Charlie Fisher's ability to recognize McGloin's assets and limitations, and finding ways to maximize the good and minimize the bad with the soft-armed QB. Also, O'Brien and McGloin (54.1 completion percentage in 2011) must forge a special connection. The former walk-on is a senior and a team leader, and for the first time is entering the fall as the No. 1 QB. If he falters and/or his relationship with O'Brien sours, it could be a loooooong season. Jones needs refinement and reps but has some excellent raw tools. Beleaguered Rob Bolden transferred to LSU. McGregor is a veteran walk-on, Bench is O'Brien's first QB recruit.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

NCAA's restriction-free transfer "rules" decimating Penn State

Had the NCAA not administered its brutal sanctions with unprecedented swiftness on the heels of the Freeh Report in July, Penn State football likely would have done well this season. Instead, the team is losing key players and could struggle this fall - and for a long time.  

Of all the things the NCAA did to punish Penn State - and they did a lot, with huge scholarship losses, financial losses and postseason bans for years - perhaps none will prove more devastating to the football program than the timing.

The timing of the sanctions is killing PSU football, specifically the timing of the ridiculous total deregulation of transfer procedures for PSU players. By inexplicably and immediately permitting restriction-free recruiting of Penn State players - Head Coach Bill O'Brien likened it to free agency -  the NCAA created a Wild West, anything-goes, chaotic atmosphere about the PSU football program.

(Link to the "rules" for Penn State transfers:

And by doing this all in July, instead of August, it's having the intended effect: The Lions are losing lots of players. The program is leaking oil.

Had the timing been delayed just two weeks, had the NCAA used even a modicum of deliberation, the number of transfers would have been greatly reduced.

Coaches devoid of an ethical compass - that would be you USC and Oklahoma, along with some others - are exploiting the situation and swiping PSU players just a month before the season is set to start. The most notable and damaging loss is star RB Silas Redd, who transferred for USC. He is one of nine players at last count who are skipping out on probation-saddled PSU.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Freeh's Folly: The Report withers under actual scrutiny

The Freeh Report reaches damning conclusions about Joe Paterno despite a glaring lack of evidence against him, and thus has brutally compounded the damage from the tragedy of Jerry Sandusky's child sexual abuse. But where's the media scrutiny?

It has been three weeks now, and the Freeh Report has been read and re-read, digested and re-digested, by this blog.

Why still parsing through it? Because it's another step in the innate Quest To Know Everything About Everything With Regard To The Sandusky Scandal. A Penn State thing, this quest, I suppose. 

And with each passing day, something is becoming more and more stunning: That the Freeh Report goes completely unexamined and uncritiqued, as if encased in a golden, bulletproof bubble.

No one in the media, no one with a significant voice, no one with a clear mind and no connection to Penn State, has had the inclination to call out the flagrant fundamental defects in the Freeh Report. No one has examined the very real and alarming issues with a few of its assertive, historic and destructive conclusions.

Because the Penn State Board of Trustees and the NCAA accepted it fully - the NCAA inexplicably did no investigating of its own - no one has bothered to notice the foibles of the Freeh Report.