Monday, November 26, 2012

Ranking the best of Penn State football 2012

Penn State's best players and coaches this season - The Fab 44 - ranked in order, after the Lions compiled an 8-4 overall record, 6-2 in the Big Ten, and played under sudden, harsh NCAA sanctions and in the most extraordinary circumstances of the Sandusky scandal aftermath. How much have things changed at PSU in the past year? Of the 44 listed below, just 13 were on this list after last season.

The Fab 44 for Penn State 2012
(last season's ranking in parentheses)

  1. Bill O'Brien, Head Coach (NR) - O'Brien would be great coaching any team, anywhere. But without question he is the best man for this job, among the most difficult imagineable when he inherited it, then greatly exacerbated when the sanctions dropped in late July, but now one with optimism for the future. It's his program now.
  2. Michael Mauti, LB, Sr. (31) - A real leader, Mauti stepped to the forefront amidst scandal and sanctions, and demonstrated the Penn State Way was about passion, excellence, integrity and grace, not anything coming out of Mark Emmert's disgusting mouth. Also played pretty darn well coming off his second major knee injury, making 95 tackles with team highs of 3 int. and 3 forced fumbles before incurring his third major knee injury on an illegal chop block vs. Indiana in Game 11.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Penn State's 2012 football season was amazing, despite everything

This amazing season of Penn State football will be remembered long and well by Penn Staters, while others still struggle to grasp PSU and its football program

Rick and Ilsa had Paris. Penn State football will always have the unfettered joy of this victory over Wisconsin, and of this amazing renaissance season of unity, stoicism, defiance, resilience and excellence.

And the national media has its perverse version of events, too.

They are trying to alter perceptions already. Trying to change the storyline. Trying to obscure Penn State's surprising success in 2012, and trying to trump-up the auxiliary issues instead.

They are the ESPN.coms of the world, which couldn't let Penn State revel in the 24-21 season-ending overtime win over Wisconsin on Saturday for even a nanosecond. Because it doesn't fit their predetermined narrative.

Incredibly, chose to run as its primary story from the Penn State-Wisconsin game ... a piece about how Penn State football attendance declined in 2012.

That's right: Moments after PSU completed its amazing season, defying all predictions and expectations of everyone outside the program, winning 8 of its last 10 games, including a nailbiting, bone-chilling finale over a high-quality opponent, didn't prominently feature a story about the game. Or about Penn State's season. Instead it featured a decidedly negative story about attendance.

Penn State's football attendance is an issue - a complicated issue to write about next week. Or next month.

Saturday at 7:30pm it was not remotely the biggest storyline from this game, not unless there were 96,000 empty, instead of filled, seats at Beaver Stadium.

Or unless your motives are corrupt.

They of course will claim it was journalism. Just reporting the news. Well, their news report was absent the critical fact that Penn State's last two home games were played with school out of session - no students in town - a bizarre quirk which of course had a big impact on attendance.

It was an editorial disgrace. But that's what Penn State is up against. Still. There are those who maintain Penn State should not even have a football program right now.

The national media and general public still don't quite know what to make of Penn State and PSU football, for two reasons:
  1. The general public still largely completely misunderstands many elements of the Sandusky scandal - we won't get into the myriad ways in which they misunderstand it right now, but you know it, and it's largely the national media's, Louis Freeh's and Mark Emmert's fault.
  2. They just can't quite grasp the force that is Penn State football. The positive force.
You, Penn State football fan, know exactly how wonderful PSU football is, and how wonderful this 2012 team has been. Here are a few highlights:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The most exceptional legacy of Michael Mauti

Michael Mauti always will be remembered fondly by Penn State football fans, for his leadership, dignity and passion.

This is a legacy.

Upon sustaining a college career-ending injury, a teammate launches into an in-depth analogy between you and Odysseus, of hero Homer's epics Odyssey and Iliad.

This is a legacy.

When asked, at Big Ten media days, about the unprecedented NCAA sanctions just levied against your football program, you look them right in the eye, and you articulate, over and over, firmly and passionately, what an extraordinary crock of shi%! it is, pride oozing from your pores.

When your PSU career is ended by yet another devastating knee injury, a teammate says, with matter-of-factness, "Michael Mauti will lead us, whether he's playing or not."

This is a legacy.

When you hobble back out into Beaver Stadium, on crutches, near the end of the game in which your remarkable career has ended due to yet another knee injury, tens of thousands chant your name, over and over and over.

Monday, November 19, 2012

You can gush over O'Brien and McGloin without falsely bashing the Paternos

The new offense has been very good for Penn State, but the belittling of the previous PSU coaching regime - specifically the offense and the Paternos -  is factually misguided.

Is there anything for Penn State fans not to love about Bill O'Brien?

Hardly. This guy has been awesome.

From the get-go - that dynamic, assured opening press conference - right up to Saturday, when his offense diced Indiana’s woeful defense in the 45-22 Lions win, O'Brien has been wonderful in seemingly every way.

So, give him a standing O ... Brien.

(Give him another if PSU beats Wisconsin on Saturday. And another if he could please suppress these will-he-leave-for-the-NFL? rumors with some more "Golden Handcuff" additions to his contract.)

And what about Matt McGloin? Hard to say enough good things about him, too.

The 5th-year senior seized the No. 1 QB job in the spring, and ever since has shown an increasing grasp of O'Brien's pass-centric, up-tempo offense, vastly improved sifting through his progressions and sharply cut down on mistakes.

Extremely rare is the former walk-on QB who plays so well at a major-conference school.

So, super-kudos to O'Brien and McGloin. 

But this bashing of the past (Joe and Jay Paterno) while exalting the present (McGloin and O'Brien) has to stop. Because it's incorrect, wrong and false.

The facts and stats simply say otherwise.

The Framing of Joe Paterno mini-movie creating a stir

The coverage of the Sandusky scandal, specifically relating to Joe Paterno, is dissected on a new video, which harshly criticizes the national media narrative and the Freeh Report

For most of a year now, the Internet has been roiling with furor over Joe Paterno’s inaction. 
That furor has been surpassed, though, by the flip-side: Those who believe the fact distortion, truth omission, superficial media coverage, pre-determined perspectives and miscarried justice relating to Paterno in the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal has been a travesty piled right on top of the Sandusky tragedy.
Now it has gone to the big screen. Almost.
The "mini-movie" released last week on the website, titled appropriately "The Framing of Joe Paterno," should be required viewing.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Penn State football: Is something rotten with Big Ten officials?

"It looks like a touchdown," said Sean McDonough to announcing partner Chris Spielman. "I think you're absolutely right," replied Spielman. Both were correct, and both were wrong.

It was another big college football game replete with questionable calls, like most big college football games.

There was no question about this particular call, though.

Technology made it clear during the replay review: It was a touchdown. And as such Penn State would take the lead, 30-27, midway through the fourth quarter Saturday in Lincoln.

"It certainly appeared the ball broke the plane of the end zone,'' play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough said while watching the replay. "Yeah, no doubt."

"That's six points, Nittany Lions," color commentator Chris Spielman said.

Instead, after the review, the ruling on the field - a fumble by Penn State TE Matt Lehman - was upheld. Nebraska ball at the 20, and Nebraska still led, 27-23. The 'Huskers would win, 32-23.

A few knuckleheads aside, we can all agree it was a touchdown. The camera angle was perfect. The view was unblocked. The image pristine - ball in hands over goal line.

There was nothing that could be disputed. It was close, for sure, but very clear - touchdown.

So, why wasn't it ruled a touchdown?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Reinventing - and vastly upgrading - the red zone metric: Total Red Zone

Heading into the Nebraska game, both Penn State and the 'Huskers were faring well this season in a true measure of red zone success - Total Red Zone.

In an era in which seemingly every imaginable sports statistic has sprouted, it is amazing and occasionally infuriating how incomplete and un-insightful the standard red zone measurement can be.

For example, when the television graphic flashes a red zone statistic, typically it looks something like this:

Team BlahBlah in red zone: 24 of 28 (85.7 percent)

This is followed by the play-by-play announcer saying something like this: "Team BlahBlah now is in the red zone, and as you can see they've been very successful there this season with an 85.7 success rate. Which ranks third in the Big Ten."

Okay, you think: Third in the Big Ten. They’re pretty good in the red zone.

But moments later the color commentator might say: "But of those 24 scores, 10 of them are field goals and only 14 are touchdowns, which ranks 10th in the Big Ten.''

And you are left with a big, huge ? in your head, and perhaps a "huh?" expression on your face.

Is Team BlahBlah good in the red zone? Not good in the red zone?

Well, finally, there is a solution to your red zone quandary.

It is Total Red Zone (TRZ).

It is one number, an easily quantifiable percentage out of 100. It's simple, and provides much better context than what is currently peddled.

Here's how it works:

Sports Illustrated continues to fail in its coverage of Penn State

Sports Illustrated doesn't grasp the full picture with regard to the Sandusky scandal. Again.

The esteemed major news publication that late this summer declared “We Were Penn State” on a darkened, shadowy cover of its national magazine just ran a lengthy one-year-after-the-Sandusky-bomb-dropped story titled “We Are Still ... Penn State.”

That’s what one raucous 107,000-plus whiteout will do, apparently.

It was the cover story of last week’s Sports Illustrated, accompanied by a breathtaking photo of the jam-packed Beaver Stadium “whiteout” Oct. 27 vs. Ohio State.

(In other parts of the country SI ran a different story/photo on the cover, but still had a teaser to the PSU story.)

SI beat the rush. We’ve been flooded with one-year-after-Sandusky stories the past several days.

However, this in-depth feature went much deeper than a superficial, seemingly optimistic twist on Penn State’s catchphrase.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Another Big Game for Penn State: Nebraska presents biggest test of the season

After botching the Ohio State game two weeks ago, the road warrior Lions head to Nebraska this week for another Big Game, where PSU hopes to complete a perfect Big Ten road schedule and score its first Big Game win of the Bill O'Brien era.

All the Penn State defense has to do this week is contain the conference's most potent offense while playing in arguably the most rabid atmosphere in the Big Ten halfway across the country vs. the league's second-best team in PSU's second straight road game.

Simply put, it's the biggest challenge the Lions will face this season, at least as big as Ohio State was, considering the home-field scenario and likely absence of injured NT Jordan Hill.

Many wondered, after the Oct. 27 loss to Ohio State, if sanction-saddled PSU might play another Big Game anytime in the next few years.

Well, here it is. And it only took two weeks.

It meets the Big Game criteria. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Carter, McGloin and Robinson lead assault on Penn State record book

One of the byproducts of Bill O'Brien's new offensive system, with its increased passing efficiency and uptempo pace creating more plays each game, is the sudden endangering of many PSU passing and receiving records.

Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler, prepare to step down.

You too, Darryl Clark.

O.J. McDuffie and Bobby Engram, your days are numbered.

Penn State’s vibrant and versatile uptempo passing attack under new head coach Bill O’Brien is about to shake up the PSU record book - specifically, the records set by the aforementioned Lions legends.

After only eight games, it’s clear almost all major PSU single-season passing and receiving standards - established over 130 years of football - are in jeopardy.

TE Kyle Carter, WR Allen Robinson and QB Matt McGloin are closing in fast on Penn State records.