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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

P.S.R. Op-Ed

It’s Still O.K. to Cheer. You’re Allowed.

You’ve resigned yourself to the following truths:

Penn State will never be the same again; what we think of Penn State will never be the same again, more correctly.

What happens from here on out takes a backseat to all that has come to light in Happy Valley.

The 2011 season has taken on an entirely different feel.

For a few of us, college football itself may never be the same again.

For all of us, the search for distractions has never been more vital.

I can tell you four things with certainty: one, it’s important to never forget what has happened at Penn State, those whose lives were changed and those who did nothing to stop the atrocities; two, I’m not sure you could forget if you tried; three, there are stories happening in college football worthy of your distraction; and four, and most importantly, it’s O.K. to cheer. You can be a fan again, even if Happy Valley remains first and foremost in your mind.

In Baton Rouge, a redshirt freshman punter from Australia is putting on weekly clinics. Brad Wing’s first punt in Saturday’s win over Alabama traveled only 37 yards, and I say only with tongue firmly in cheek. After L.S.U.’s opening drive petered out at the Alabama 42, his high, end-over-end punt fell out of bounds after that 37-yard trip, leaving Alabama facing a steep climb in the quest for points against the rowdy L.S.U. defense.

The Tide gave it their best shot, eventually missing a 50-yard field goal try, and it’s no stretch to say that Wing’s wonderful punt — the first of many he’d uncork on Saturday night — was the difference between a field goal well within and a field goal outside an Alabama kicker’s range. In just this one play, Wing showed why he may be the L.S.U. M.V.P., a series of acronyms typically saved for the quarterback, running back or cornerback, not the punter.

In Hawaii, a retired coach rapidly grew tired of retirement. After a 47-year coaching career — beginning at Miami (Ohio), spanning nine college stops — seemingly found its end at San Jose State, Dick Tomey spent one season doing television work for the WAC Sports Network before the itch returned. Tomey, 73, has nearly come full circle: after winning 63 games as Hawaii’s coach from 1977-86, he took a position this winter as Greg McMackin’s special teams coach. Some have football in their blood; Tomey simply couldn’t stay away.

In San Diego, the nation’s leading rusher plays in the shadows. In Houston, the nation’s leading passer set new records with every win. In Kalamazoo, the nation’s leading receiver plays in absolute anonymity. While Alabama and L.S.U., Stanford and Oregon and others dominate the headlines, the stars on college football’s lower levels continue to shatter the record books.

Only T.C.U. could slow Ronnie Hillman down; while the Horned Frogs held him to 55 yards on 20 carries, Hillman has rushed for at least 109 yards against each of the remaining seven teams on San Diego State’s schedule. Case Keenum sets a new N.C.A.A. record every week. Western Michigan’s Jordan White isn’t just leading the country in receiving — he’s lapping the field. White has 111 receptions, 21 more than U.S.C.’s Robert Woods, his next-closest competitor. He has 1,402 yards, 257 yards than Ryan Broyles, the nation’s second-most prolific receiver.

In South Florida, a quarterback is rewriting his legacy. Heading into 2011, you’d describe Jacory Harris with the most demeaning of quarterbacking labels: error-prone, brainless, blundering. Nine games into 2011, Harris has gone from potential-laden bust to a careful, consistent, experienced hand. His play has helped the Hurricanes not just weather the off-field turmoil but also three dreadful losses that would have derailed a weaker team.

In Houston, a freshman walk-on is showing that size only tells half the story. True freshman running Jayson Carter packs 135 pounds on his 4’9-inch frame, making him, by leaps and bounds, the smallest player in college football. Carter may be the smallest college football player ever; if Rutgers and Princeton had picked sides in 1869, Carter would have been taken last.

Carter won’t play for Rice in 2011. He may never play. But that he’s here at all, roughly two feet shorter than Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler, the tallest player in college football, decimates the idea that a football player’s worth is decided solely by 40 times and eyeball tests. “If they ever come up with a device that measures the heart and put it on top of my head, they’ll say I’m 6’9,” Carter told a Houston news station.

In Ypsilanti, Laramie, Charlottesville, Ames, Huntington and Bowling Green, programs are making unexpected runs towards bowl play. Eastern Michigan is 5-4; the Eagles won five games over the last three seasons combined. Most thought Mike London would have the Cavaliers in bowl play eventually; few thought it would be 2011. Western Kentucky might not merely reach bowl play; the Hilltoppers might win the Sun Belt.

In West Point and Annapolis, our current and future heroes are one month away from the biggest game of the year. Not just for them: for all of us, the annual meeting of the Cadets and Midshipmen is the game of the year — this year and every year. In 12 months, seniors like Navy’s Alexander Teich and Army’s Steven Erzinger will be serving our country with distinction; today, on Nov. 10, their eyes look towards FedEx Field.

In Athens, a coach left for dead is making a run. It was too easy to write Mark Richt and Georgia off after the Bulldogs opened 0-2; it was so easy, in fact, that pundits tripped all over themselves in penning their obituaries. Seven games later, the Bulldogs are 7-2, 5-1 in the SEC, and looking at a date with L.S.U. in the SEC title game. It’s time to pump the brakes on Richt’s demise — rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated.

In Palo Alto, we’re looking at the best college quarterback most of us have ever seen.

In Boise, we’re looking at the most accomplished quarterback in college football history.

In Stillwater, we’re watching a team that has never won any hardware outside of the Missouri Valley Conference make a run towards perfection.

Across college football, we’re looking at a season between the white lines that has topped every year that has come before it.

Then there’s this. A proud program built upon a bedrock of principles, ethics, humanity and the pursuit of excellence — as a student, an athlete and an individual — has seen its entire existence boiled down to one fact: while preaching the above values, the university was being torn down from the inside by a culture that allowed a Jerry Sandusky to commit his heinous acts without consequences.

It’s still O.K. to cheer. You’re allowed.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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  1. [...] Myerberg does a nice job reminding us that there’s more to college football right now than the Penn State scandal.  Including, among many other things, this: In Athens, a coach left [...]

  2. Trey says:

    Since we’re being all distracted and stuff, you could at least mention that Jayson Carter goes to Rice

  3. DMK says:

    Roll Tide!

  4. Dave says:

    Paul –
    Beautiful piece. This is why I read you every day. Thank you, and please keep it up.

    Beat Navy!

  5. Redwolves78 says:

    Come on Akansas State beat those Cajuns!

  6. [...] If you’re like me then this Northwestern-Rice game has lost some of its luster as I admit to feeling guilty about cheering this weekend.  However, all it takes is colleague Paul Myerberg of PreSnap Read to remind us that there are quite a few reasons to cheer for football and that is a good thing. Take a look here at his story and note the bit on 4 foot 9, 135 pound Rice walk-on, Jayson Carter,… [...]

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