In the beginning, there was.....Joe Paterno.
Quite true, in fact, since
Northwestern fans everyone knows that college football began in 1993.* And THAT means that Joe Paterno is the lone coach to have been in charge at his school for the entire 11-team Big Ten era. If you had taken that bet to Las Vegas in 1993, what type of odds would you have gotten? And would betting on Paterno to outlast/outlive all the Big Ten coaches in 1993 be the strangest bet ever taken in Vegas?
*I know it's a running joke that football for Northwestern fans began in 1995, but a strong argument could honestly be made that college football as we know it did begin in 1993 or thereabouts. Not only did that mark Penn State's membership in the Big Ten, but: (1) in 1991 the SEC added South Carolina and Arkansas; (2) in 1996 the Big 12 began play; (3) in 1992 the BCS's predecessor the Bowl Alliance came into existence after split national championships in 1990 and 1991; (4) in 1993 ESPN's College Gameday moved out of the ESPN studios in Bristol and started broadcasting live outside college football stadiums; (5) and NCAA Rule 126.96.36.199 -- the rule establishing the 85 scholarship limit for football, thereby GREATLY equalizing the playing field in football -- went into effect in 1992. College football's current landscape -- competitively, tradition-wise, and the public's perception and enjoyment of the sport -- were basically forged between 1991-1996, making 1993 as good a year as any to be the "start" of college football. Perhaps a topic for another column someday...
Alright, enough digressions -- who knows how much time JoePa has left on earth to read this column? -- let's Potluck. Jump below for lazy/obligatory "Joe Paterno is old" talk, why Penn State is no longer the B1G's version of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, the biggest QB question in the B1G, a foreboding feeling I have about Penn State's season, and a discussion of non-conference rivalries (like Pitt-PSU?) that need to happen.....
1. Appetizer: I hate doing it, it's lazy, the topic is beaten to death, and frankly it has been proven irrelevant over the course of time. But still, as Big Ten bloggers, we're obligated to opine on the most obvious Penn State storyline, so here goes: Joe Paterno is old. Discuss.
Graham Filler: I'm just an observer here, a non-Penn Stater, who loves CFB. I love college football and tradition...and I truly enjoy having JoePa in Happy Valley. Three discussion points -
1) JoePa is a legend and his sideline presence brings so much personality to the game. His press conferences, so not full of coachspeak and bullshit, are required yearly viewing.
2) JoePa is everything good about college football. He's ethical, we assume, and we really don't have proof to go against that statement. In a sport culture that rewards leaving your position for always greener pastures, Joe has lovingly tied himself to the PSU campus and fanbase.
3) Don't get mad at me - Just a thought. I get this sneaky feeling that as long as Joe is the coach at PSU, they won't be a true threat to make a BCS run or take that NEXT STEP that we know a program of that magnitude is capable of. It'll be a few playcalling snafus that happen because of the sideline confusion. It might be a swirling mist of "is he sick, when will he leave" controversy that stops a team from concentrating fully on their season. A major program shouldn't have to yearly wonder if they'll be able to play distraction free football. A major program shouldn't have a staff with occasionally less than defined coaching roles.
Chadnudj: 401 wins. That's the benchmark for anyone who wants to offer an opinion on JoePa's career and when/how it should end. When you win 401 games, you can decide how old is too old to coach football.
Until then, everyone shut up with the "when will JoePa retire?" or "will JoePa retire?" or "who should replace JoePa?" discussions. Shut up and enjoy the ride -- the marvelous coaching of a true legend. Frankly, I hope he coaches for another 20 years....which he just might do.
2. Salad: In the tradition of the Supreme Court, the newest member to the Court (currently Justice Elena Kagan) is "tasked with any menial labor the justices may require as they convene alone, such as answering the door of their conference room, serving coffee, and transmitting the orders of the Court to the court's clerk." Thanks to the addition of Nebraska, Penn State is no longer the Big Ten's junior member, and is permanently off "menial labor" duty. What lessons did the Big Ten learn from the addition of Penn State? Is Penn State fully integrated as a member of the Big Ten, or does it still retain a bit of "outsider" status? And on a scale of 1-10, how successful has the addition of Penn State been for the Big Ten and for Penn State itself?
Paterno Ave: Penn State announced that it would be joining the Big Ten before I went to Kindergarten. I'm now an attorney. Sorry for making some of you feel old, but just wanted to put into perspective the fact that Penn State isn't "new" to the Big Ten by any means.
You would think that over the last 20+ years we would be just another league member. The fact that we're even asking the question is a testament to the fact that, really, we're not. In my opinion, the issue is geography. Penn State is an East Coast school. More alumni in New York City than any other school in the nation, and the other two major cities alumni gravitate towards are Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Even those fans from outside Pittsburgh, as west as any significant amount of alumni are likely to have grown up, fervently deny association with the Midwest.
The geography issue really carries over to football, for two particular reasons: rivalries and scheduling. First, it takes some geographic proximity to breed a real rivalry, a rivalry that fanbases actually see each other on a consistent enough basis that they can let some real hate grow. Twenty years of league games and all PSU has to show is a relatively unilateral rivalry with Ohio State, the only other school within a ten hour drive of its campus. Second, Penn State still feels a strong need to play games in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, it's typical recruiting grounds. It's tough to schedule an Alabama-level national school every year when you have to schedule 2 tomato cans (to keep up with the Joneses in the Win column) and at least one from Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, or Virginia.
So maybe the Big Ten learned that this time around it wanted a school whose fanbase's interests/identity were more closely aligned with their own, and with Nebraska they didn't have to sacrifice that and still get a traditional powerhouse.
For Penn State, though, I can't say it's been a wild success. Regardless of the fact that the wins haven't exactly been coming in droves, I don't feel as if a strong connection or sense of pride with the other members of the Big Ten has developed. On the other hand, it's not a failure. Penn State still has a strong enough schedule ever year that, if they play well, they're always in contention for the BCS while playing high-profile games with national appeal. Not something we'd be able to say if we had joined the Big East. 5/10?
Chadnudj: In the best and most important senses -- tradition and history, filling their stadium(s) with passionate fans, fielding competitive teams, playing the game the right way on and off the field, and having world class academics -- Penn State has been a grand slam for the Big Ten. In 1991 the SEC added Arkansas and South Carolina...in 1991 the ACC added Florida State; in 2004/05 they added Miami/VaTech/Boston College....in 1993 the Big Ten added Penn State. Is there any dispute that Penn State's addition is the greatest conference expansion/acquisition ever? (At worst, it's a close 2nd to the B1G's recent addition of Nebraska...)
That being said, Paterno Ave makes an excellent point -- Penn State still has problems "fitting in" because it's an East Coast/Northeast-identifying school. The B1G is a Midwest conference founded in Chicago....that's why we host potlucks here at OTE. Penn State grads head to New York City; B1G grads that head to a big city choose Chicago overwhelmingly. (Indeed, Penn State is DEAD LAST in terms of B1G schools in terms of alumni in Chicago....even much smaller but geographically closer Northwestern has more Chicago-area alums than Penn State.) Absent that "Midwest identity," Penn State is something of an outlier -- the B1G's cousin out East, who is a part of the family, but not in on all the family secrets/jokes/traditions in the way that the rest of us are.
Still, I'll give Penn State an 8 out of 10. Their fans represent (see the large number of comments on this week's posts), they've won a share of 3 B1G championships since joining the conference (tied with Northwestern for 4th over that time period behind Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin), and Joe Paterno's program is nothing but class....that has to count for something. PSU will eventually fully integrate in every sense....it just may take another 20 years or so.
3. Potato/rice dish: Without a doubt, the B1G's biggest QB controversy/question marks are in Happy Valley. Matt McGloin brought the Nittany Lions some glorious wins....but has a weak arm, made tons of mistakes and arguably cost them the Gator Bowl. Robert Bolden came in a highly regarded QB prospect and flashed some talent against a fierce Alabama defense....and ended the season having to be talked into staying at Penn State rather than transferring. Throw in Kevin Newsome and Paul Jones, and you have 4 potential options at the QB position. Old people have trouble making decisions (yep...went for the easy joke), so make one for JoePa -- which QB offers Penn State the best chance to win in 2011 (and/or beyond, realizing that who might win in 2011 may not be Penn State's best long-term option)?
If either of these guys is the answer, the question may be terrifying... (AP Photo - Gene J. Pusker)
Paterno Ave: "Arguably cost them the Gator Bowl?" When your FOURTH F-ING INTERCEPTION was the one that put the nail in the coffin, and then you go and throw a FIFTH just to cement your place in the record book for all time, you COST US THE GAME.
McGloin also probably won us the game against Michigan, which was one of only two redeeming results of last season (Joe getting 400 being the other), so I don't think you can entirely exile the kid. It's not impossible that he can take the experience he got in 2010, learn some more intelligent risk-taking in the offseason, and be considerable improved next year.
But you don't start him, Joe. This site used to be a little more legal oriented, and I'll channel that here: Robert Bolden is the "CYA" Clause in this quarterback controversy. Right now, there are two things that no rational, reasonable Penn State fan (I've probably eliminated everyone right there when it comes to this subject) can argue with. 1) Robert Bolden has the higher ceiling - no one can say McGloin is clearly the better option in the long term. 2) Matt McGloin, at the very best, outplayed Bolden to a hard-to-quantify, minor degree. If you play Bolden and he doesn't make a (common) second-year improvement, some people will be mad. Everyone will be frustrated, but some people will get really vocal and mad at the coaches (this will happen if PSU only beats Indiana State by 3 touchdowns in opener).
What happens if you play McGloin over the former Elite 11 sophomore, and it doesn't work out? Apoplexy. Intermittent Explosive Disorder. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These are just some of the medical terms that will be misdiagnosed for the kind of vitriolic outbursts that will be melting the internet every Saturday evening next fall. Both of these players can progress, both may not; Bolden is the one that has the better pedigree, evokes former stars Robinson and Clark, and is undeniable the best move from a PR perspective... because he's the better bet from a football "perspective."
Those other two guys: I really like Newsome, but the best QB-related bet of all is that he never throws another pass in non-garbage time for Penn State. And I am very excited for the day that Paul Jones starts a game, but we sunk a lot of last season into getting the other guys some time with the bullets flying, and I'm not looking to sink another season into that just yet.
4. Meat dish/Hot Dish: I'm not a hater (I love Joe Paterno, Penn State fans are awesome, I dig the traditional/rarely changing uniforms, Penn State players play tough and clean football and graduate, etc.), but I look at 2011 Penn State and I see disaster/disappointment on the horizon -- unsettled QB position, they've already lost DE Pete Massero and TE Garry Gilliam to ACL injuries, they have a potential if not likely non-conference loss against Alabama, and a back-loaded schedule in 2011 that features 5 straight games against 2010 bowl teams (at Northwestern, Illinois, Nebraska, at Ohio State, at Wisconsin). All this, off a Penn State season that (for PSU, at least) screamed mediocrity: 7-6 record, 52nd nationally in passing yards per game, 74th in rushing yards per game, 81st in points per game scored, 50th in points per game allowed. Talent obviously continues to flow into Happy Valley via recruiting, but is Penn State poised for a losing 2011 campaign? Why or why not?
Bama Hawkeye: No. Penn State is not poised for a losing season.
I realize that there is risk in saying this. In May 2000, if you would have asked the same question, the unanimous answer would have been "No." Penn State had rolled off 11 straight winning seasons, with 10 of them including at least 9 wins. 1999 saw Penn State as a national title contender until the bottom dropped out in the final three games. Then, the dark days fell. Four losing seasons in five years - a bowl loss in their only appearance. So, it is possible that Penn State can fall down.
I just don't see it happening this year. The schedule is hard, but not impossible. This is not a National Championship schedule. It's closer to a bowl eligible schedule. Let me explain the difference.
If you are looking at your team as a national championship contender, you want your toughest games at home. You want the edge against the best teams, knowing that you can beat the middle and light-weights on the road. If you are looking at your team, and just hoping that you can scrape out six wins, you want your toughest games on the road - chalk them up as losses. You can get to six wins by taking care of business against the lesser and mid-level foes at home. Penn State has enough mid-level games at home that their fans can rest easy right now.
Let's assume that Penn State goes 3-1 during the non-con, beating Indiana State, Temple, and Eastern Michigan, while losing to Alabama. The Lions will need to finish 3-5 in the Big Ten to reach a 6-6 record. Penn State travels to Indiana (and this year, Indiana is not located in Maryland). Penn State has never lost to the Hoosiers - even during the dark years. That's a win. Illinois comes to Happy Valley. With the personnel losses that the Illini have suffered, I don't see them as a bowl team this year. I also don't see them upsetting Penn State for a second year in a row. That's five wins.
Now, if we're having this conversation, it means that Penn State is not a great team. If that's the case, they'll likely go 0-3 in their closing death march (Nebraska, @ Ohio State, @ Wisconsin). However, there are three other Big Ten games on the schedule that are much more manageable - Purdue, Iowa, and @ Northwestern. I'm betting that they win 2 of 3 and finish at 7-5. But one win gets them to 6-6. I believe it is safe to presume at least one win.
Six wins will get Penn State to a bowl game near the bottom of the Big Ten's pecking order. I'm guessing 6-6 Penn State would play in the TicketCity Bowl against a C-USA team or in the Pizza Bowl against a MAC team. A victory there gets Joe Pa to 7-6, and Penn State to another winning record. I believe that this is the floor for the Lions this season. They will not have a losing record
5. Dessert: There's been a lot of discussion about renewing an annual rivalry between Pitt and Penn State, a so-called battle for Pennsylvania. Personally, I love this idea -- it just seems to make sense that Pitt and Penn State should play every year, given that they're BCS conference teams (well, if you can call the Big East a "BCS"-level conference) in close proximity to each other with tons of animosity. Penn State fans -- what do you think about Pitt-Penn State becoming an annual game? And for everyone, what annual B1G vs. BCS conference team rivalry between school of similar geography/cultures/traditions/academics would you like to see become an annual non-conference game?
Paterno Ave: I've already touched on the fact that Penn State doesn't have any rivalries in the Big Ten. I want a rivalry. I've hated Michigan with a passion since 2005, but it's not the same.
Pitt is not that rival. They used to be; they have not been for over a decade (at least). I grew up in NJ, attending Penn State from 2002-2006. The only thing I ever heard of Pitt was a few times when somebody from Pittsburgh brought up the fact that when they go home, some Pitt people give them a hard time. Myself and the majority of other people at the school didn't get it then, and I'm sure it's the same way now.
The guys at Black Shoe Diaries have talked about this plenty of times. It comes down to the fact that, these days, Pitt has a lot more to gain from playing Penn State than PSU does playing them. We have national marquee television games. Our 100,000+ person stadium is always sold out. Everyone in Pennsylvania is paying attention to us. We don't get any more exposure playing them. The rivalry was fun while it lasted, but now we have 10 years of alumni that either don't really care or don't care at all. Penn State fans want a non-conference schedule that includes a national marquee game and another game in our traditional recruiting grounds that we need exposure in & Northeast-based alumni can more easily attend. Then, unfortunately, we need our tomato cans. Pitt doesn't fit in that occasion, no matter how nostalgic some fans may be.
Ricardo Efendi: Potential series for every school in the Big Ten, based on anything from academics to geography to whatever variable I feel like bringing in:
- Already exist: Illinois-Missouri, Iowa-Iowa State
- The Public Ivy Showdown: Wisconsin-UCLA, Michigan-Cal
- The "We're Much Better At Academics Than You Realize But Will Always Be Known For Football" Rodeo: Ohio State-Texas
- The Hardcourt Series: Indiana-Kentucky
- The Old Habits Die Hard Throwdown: Nebraska-Colorado (Congress should pass a law requiring these two continue their rivalry)
- Revenge of the Nerds: Northwestern-Stanford (home-and-home series is already booked, so let's just go ahead and make it an annual thing)
- Engineer Rumble: Purdue-Texas A&M
- Tastes Better Than Keystone Light: Penn State-Pitt
- We Once Played in a Rose Bowl But Won't For Another 50 Years: Minnesota-Washington State
300: Michigan State-USC
Who You Callin' Little Sister?: Michigan State-Oklahoma State