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2012 Closing Arguments: Penn State


I. Case History/Opening Statement

A. Case History

Penn State is coming off a nine win season. This would be a success for a lot of other teams in the Big Ten, but it rang pretty hollow in State College. The Nittany Lions fielded another top ten defense last season. The team went into a home matchup against Nebraska at 8-1, with a shot at the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game in their hands. They were painfully limited on offense, however, and the coaches were constantly rotating quartberacks without any rhyme or reason (or confidence). Of the squad’s eight wins at that point only two had come by a margin of more than ten points.

Of course, if the NCAA were recounting the season then the story would be that Penn State went 0-4. We all know the story, but just days before the Nebraska showdown the Jerry Sandusky Scandal came into the national spotlight.

The Nittany Lions would go 1-3 down the stretch, losing their last two against Wisconsin and Houston in particularly gory fashion by giving up over a third of the total points allowed the entire season in just those two games. Joe Paterno was fired. Bill O’Brien was the obscure pick resulting from a frustrating coaching search. Sandusky was guilty. Freeh Report. Unprecedented NCAA sanctions… again, I think we all know the story.

B. Opening Statement

Ladies and gentlemen, there are a lot of reasons to believe that Penn State will struggle this year. They’ve had this scandal, you may be familiar with it, and you can imagine it’s been just a little bit of a distraction. They’ve had defections, including the team’s best offensive player. This is all on top of trying to install the first new coach in half a century’s new schemes and playbook. It’s a lot to handle for a group of college kids.

What you may not be thinking, what all of this scandal talk has distracted you from, is that Penn State was aching for a change before the change came knocking on barreling down its door. We’d become used to a Penn State program that consistently fielded a top ten defense that kept it in almost every game. But we’d also become used to consistently fielding a conservative offensive system that only showed life in the rare year when it supremely out-talented it’s opponents. An offensive system that never sniffed descriptions like opportunistic, adaptive, or innovative, and simply was not clever enough to find ways to best quality opponents.

Ladies and gentlemen, the scholarship sanctions years may be coming but they are not here yet. Bill O’Brien has the 2012 season to show us what kind of results he can squeeze out of the personnel he has inherited. Ladies and gentlemen, this year he’ll show us what a Penn State offense that can audible looks like. An offense that doesn’t burn time outs to get the playcall in the second quarter, and instead runs a hurry up high-tempo all game long. What wide-ranging quarterback coaching experience can do; what proven offensive line coaching can bring to the table. And hopefully he’ll even show us how good Larry Johnson Sr. and Ron Vanderlinden can make Ted Roof look.

Try not to get caught up in all the talk about the scandal, which took place before any of these players became associated with Penn State. See the value that the recent change just might have brought to Penn State. A change that came sooner and in an uglier fashion than anyone wanted, but a change that many of us have been interested in seeing for a long time.

II. Discovery

A. What We’ve Written About Penn State This Offseason

It would be just a bit of an understatement to say that Penn State had a noteworthy offseason. Here are some of the articles we’ve published on OTE analyzing Penn State both on and off the field. I’m including some of the pieces that were written during the past season because I think they are still very relevant when you’re considering the rollercoaster the past nine months have been for the PSU faithful:

An Open Letter From a Buckeye to a Nittany Lion

Joe Paterno to the Penn State Community

Could Bill O'Brien Be a Good Fit for What Penn State Needs Right Now?

Penn State Potluck during B1G 2012

Penn State's Smartest Guys in the Room

Joe Paterno: Telling the Story of a Legacy

Penn State Scandal Potluck (January)

Bill O'Brien to Return Penn State's Offense from Antiquity

B. What We Can Learn From Pop Culture

Let’s see… we have an established, brand-name property that’s widely known for a certain set of traditions. Then the powers that be revamp it, retaining enough of the core elements so that it’s still the commodity you fell in love with, but modernizing it to make it relevant in today’s world. There are a couple pop culture examples that spring to mind, but how about rebooting James Bond in 2006 with Casino Royale?

No one is about to forget the James Bonds that came before, and we can still remember them fondly, but today’s Bond is the more realistic character that fits better in today’s world. The girls, cars, and one-liners are still there, but he’s changed in some fundamental ways. He’s less experienced, but he compensates with a greater emphasis on focus and determination.

The Paterno Era is the only Penn State any of us really know. And it’s over. The New Era, starting with Bill O’Brien, is going to still focus on many of the things that made us proud to be Penn State fans in the first place: an emphasis on educating young men, for one, and an emphasis on putting the team before the individual. But a lot of things are going to change, and we’re going to have a very different product on the field starting this year. Here’s hoping that we like what we see, and the more apt pop culture reboot reference isn’t the newer Star Wars trilogy…

III. Emotional Plea

Years of scholarship limits are coming, but they're not here yet. Tough times are looming for Penn State, but there’s hope that, for this season, things could be pretty good.

The players who have stayed with the team are united. They’ve chosen to commit themselves to the goal of competing this year through more distractions and adversity than any college athletes should ever face. You can't judge a coach before he starts competing in games, but Bill O'Brien has said everything right since he's been given the job. The best assistant coaches from the last regime have been retained. The antiquated offensive mindset of the past has been replaced. There's still a lot of talent on this roster, particularly in the defense's front seven, and we have high hopes that the new coaching staff will be able to get the most out of what they have.

We have a focused group of players and coaches that can't wait to get out on the football field. If they can put out a defense that is at all comparable to years past, and complement it with an improved offense, this Penn State team just might be pretty competitive on Saturdays this fall.

IV. Verdict

A. The Staff Calls the Games

I think the over/under on Penn State this season should be 7 wins. I have them in our poll as going 7-5, 4-4 in conference. I think they could drop the road game at Virginia, then lose to Illinois, Purdue, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, and take one from Ohio State in Beaver Stadium. Everybody had relatively similar thoughts on where PSU would come out this season…with the exception of one author. Mr. Bell is way more bearish on Penn State than the rest of us, and is predicting that they lose every single Big Ten game. We may have to get some kind of side bet going here…

babaoreally: 6-6 (3-5) losses: Virginia, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio State, Purdue, Nebraska

Jonathan Franz: 8-4 (4-4) losses: illinois, Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska

Ted Glover: 6-6 (3-5) wins: Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana

C.E. Bell: 3-9 losses: Virginia, Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa, Ohio State, Purdue, Nebraska, [deep breath] Indiana, Wisconsin

MSUlaxer27: 6-6 (4-4) losses: Navy, Temple, Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin

Jesse Collins: 7-5 (4-4) losses: Virginia, Iowa, Purdue, Nebraska, Wisconsin

Hilary Lee: 7-5 (3-5) losses: Illinois, Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin

JDMill: 7-5 (4-4) losses: Virginia, Iowa, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin

Graham Filler: 6-6 (3-5)

Brian Gillis: 6-6 (4-4) wins: Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue, Indiana

Mike Jones: 6-6 (3-5) losses: Virginia, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin