Friday, September 28, 2012

Paul Jones' sad goodbye to PSU football

The Penn State career of the former elite recruit will be remembered for what might have been.

The tweet was short and sweet. It came at about 9:30 Wednesday night:

"My dream is playing quarterback. And I'm going to chase it."

And with that, Paul Jones was no longer a part of the Penn State football program.

The departures of WR Shawney Kersey and K Matt Marcincin from the Nittany Lions a couple of weeks ago were somewhat inexplicable.

This one is much less surprising - but much more saddening. Jones was a great representative of Penn State football.

He had battled his way through academic struggles and ineligibility.

He had never whined publicly about losing out on the starting QB position in 2010 and again this season, when he was a strong candidate both times.

He easily could have transferred out a couple of months ago, in late July/early August, when the NCAA sanctions hit and made transferring as enticing as possible. But he stayed. Heck, many were surprised he hadn't transferred in 2010-11.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Penn State football attendance: The Big Question

To the surprise of no one, fewer people are in the Beaver Stadium stands than since the 1990s. What does it mean?

So, how big of a problem is attendance for Penn State football?

It sure seems like a hefty problem. The numbers are way down from just a couple of years ago, and they might be for several years during the NCAA sanction era.

Barring a major surge in the second half of this season - there should be at least a modest bump in attendance for the four Big Ten home games -  PSU won't average at least 100,000 fans for the first time since the 2001 stadium expansion to the current capacity of about 107,000.

Last week's attendance against Temple, 93,680, was the lowest since the expansion. Ohio (97,186) and Navy (98,792) were a little better.

The three home games thus far all rank among the seven least-attended games of the expansion era.

Looks like a serious problem, eh?

Well, 90-something thousand is a heck of a lot of people at a football game and the envy of almost any other school.

But 10,000 empty seats isn't a good thing for a program that has always packed them in.

So how big of a problem is it?

The Cornerstones: The most important players for Penn State's football future

If the Nittany Lions are to transition back from surviving to thriving during the next few years, they will do it on the shoulder pads of these 25 guys, the most important players for the future of the program.

Last week Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien referenced something called the "Supa Six."

The grammatically challenged Supa Six is a sextet of second-year Lions - RB Bill Belton, WR Allen Robinson, OT Donovan Smith, TE Kyle Carter, CB Adrian Amos and DE Deion Barnes - who have tagged themselves collectively as, um, "Supa." 

Hubris aside - O'Brien poked a little fun at their self-anointing - these six are good, promising young players.

However, PSU needs more than six "supas." It needs about 25. Needs to find, develop and keep them.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The sun finally is shining on the Nittany Lions

And it might keep shining, as underwhelming performances by other Big Ten teams provide extra optimism for 2012 after PSU's 34-7 win over Navy

Don't look now, but Penn State suddenly has a realistic shot at a championship this season.

No joke. And by "Penn State," we mean Penn State football, not volleyball or wrestling or another super-successful PSU team.


A couple of weeks ago, relatively quietly, the Big Ten said that probation-ridden Ohio State and Penn State could in fact win the Big Ten Leaders Division football title. They could be declared the division champions if they finish atop the standings.

They just couldn't represent the league in the conference championship game.

At the time, it seemed to boost Ohio State only and not roster-robbed PSU, to give the talented Buckeyes an extra dose of motivation and a genuine opportunity to beat out Wisconsin for the division title.

Now? Ohio State and especially woebegone Wisconsin aren't looking so special, are they? Both struggled mightily in home wins against underwhelming opponents Saturday.

Now? Purdue, Illinois and even Penn State - yes, Penn State - have a chance to be Leaders Division champions.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The key to the future of Penn State football

The future of Penn State, and Penn State football, is looking back at you in the reflection 

You hold the key to the future of Penn State, and Penn State football.
Huh? Who, me? Um, I can’t replace Shawney Kersey ...
Yes, you.
You, Joe the Penn State fan. You, Jill the casual PSU alum.
You, the used-to-go-to-all-the-games, die-hard supporter. You, message board warrior guy.
You, captain of industry, corporate donor. You, I’ve always loved to tailgate at Beaver Stadium.
You, overwrought with disgust for Sandusky and anything Sandusky related. You, rightfully sickened by the national media, the Freeh Report, the NCAA/Mark Emmert, and/or the PSU Board of Trustees.
You, disillusioned by Joe Paterno’s inaction. You, Mr. and Mrs. might make it to a game or two each season, that’s all we can do, we have three kids.
You hold the blue-and-white key to the rebirth of the Nittany Lions, and the university.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Matt McGloin holds the season in his right hand

There are lots of areas Penn State needs to continue to improve, but none are nearly as important as quarterback (not even kicker!)

The Penn State secondary has a hole, or two. The pass rush needs a little more oomph. The running backs have to hit the hole harder. The receivers need to get more aggressive. The offensive line must pick up the blitz better. (As for the kicking/punting, we're in favor of it.)

All of this is happening, to some degree, through the first two games of the Bill O'Brien/NCAA sanctions/post-Sandusky era. Yep, Penn State improved in most areas from Game 1 to Game 2, though the Lions incurred a brutally tough 17-16 defeat at Virginia.

Almost every team with new offensive and defensive systems, and a slew of new starters, does improve over the course of a season. So optimism remains despite the 0-2 record.

But one player carries Penn State's fortunes more than anyone. PSU still can have a memorable season if this one Lion keeps getting better:

QB Matt McGloin.

But will he? In his fifth year at PSU, his third year on the field, and his first year in a new offensive system, McGloin has provided plenty of reasons to believe he can't lead a winning team.

But after Saturday, there's more reason than ever to believe he can.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Penn State and Sam Ficken tap into the painful side of kicking

Penn State sophomore kicker Sam Ficken joins a long list of those who play the ultimate all-or-nothing position and suffer for it, missing five kicks in PSU's 17-16 loss at Virginia.

This is how she described it, what every single instance was like, hundreds of them, for years:

She always was sitting in the stands, surrounded by other parents of the football players, as the team lined up for the attempt, either a field goal or extra point. She would lean forward, hands on her knees, bending at the waist ... and keep leaning, keep bending, until her head was down between her calves. And her heart was in her throat.

She was the mom of a kicker. And a very good kicker, a standout for a Penn State rival in the Big Ten.

She never watched. She knew by the crowd reaction. 

On all the good ones, she sat up, exhaled and cheered.

The bad ones? Raw agony.

Somewhere, right now, Mrs. Ficken, Sam's mom, is agonizing.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Rewriting history: The national media undercutting of Joe Paterno

Penn State football did well during the final years of the Joe Paterno era, despite what you may read.

What would you say about a college football program that ranked in the Top 10 in winning percentage among BCS conference schools over the past seven years, ahead of Oregon, Georgia and Auburn, among others, and less than 1 percentage point behind mega-powerhouses Oklahoma and Alabama? (See chart at end.)
What about a school that was second in its conference over that span, ahead of Wisconsin and Nebraska, and far ahead of Michigan, Iowa and Michigan State?
Pretty good, eh?
Well, as October flipped over into November last fall, that’s exactly where Penn State stood. Since the start of the 2005 season, PSU was 66-20 (76.7%), with an 8-1 record in 2011 at that juncture. 
But the national media would have you believe the program was a decomposed relic when Joe Paterno was fired. It’s just another insidious component of the relentless media campaign to unfairly slam Paterno due to the abhorrent actions of Jerry Sandusky.
In Paterno’s waning years, the national media will tell you, PSU didn’t:
  • recruit well (despite a stellar class in 2010 and another one in the works for 2012 when the scandal broke),
  • win much (despite the 76.7 win percentage in Paterno’s final seven seasons, better than his career average),
  • develop top players (despite a slew of defensive stars in the NFL right now, and a dozen PSU rookies in NFL camp this fall).
If they can find a way to lampoon the program he left behind, they do, facts be damned. For example, a Sports Illustrated feature story last week on new PSU head coach Bill O’Brien essentially belittled the final chapter of the Paterno coaching era as no more than an insular old man overseeing a crumbling, decrepit former empire.
Among the excerpts:

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Hope for the future at Penn State despite loss to Ohio

The second-half debacle Saturday at Beaver Stadium was about as depressing as possible for Penn State football fans.

The offense stagnated. The defense caved. The injuries mounted. A 14-3 lead became a 24-14 loss. The New Era is 0-1.

It had the ring of, "welcome to your life for the next 5-10 years."

It had the feel of, "now, reality sets in."

It had the look of ... Mark Emmert smirking.

The hope, however - yes, there is hope, real hope - lies in the fact that so much about Saturday wasn't reality, or at least wasn't PSU's immediate future football reality.