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The Countdown

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

The Countdown

No. 51: Penn State

According to Robert Caro, rationalizing the unscrupulous methods that governed Lyndon Johnson’s political life required an unorthodox mindset: accepting a “morality that was amorality.” In short, Caro’s theory was that Johnson validated his lies and deceit – a “morality in which nothing matters but victory” – by claiming that the ends justified the means; to Johnson, there was nothing wrong with saying one thing and doing another, as long as the end result validated the methods used to reach one’s goal. For Johnson, the deceitful tactics he used to rob Coke Stevenson of a Senate seat in 1948, the clear theft of votes in South Texas and ensuing cover-up, prolonged a political career that would later lead to the White House. This is the duality of public life: There’s the public persona and the private person, what one says and what one does, and rarely do the two occupy the same zip code. The ends justified the means – to Johnson, and his supporters, and those that believed in the legend, and those that, to the day they died, believed that Lyndon Johnson was the man he made himself out to be. The truth? Johnson was a braggart, a liar, a cheat and a coward. He was a human. The only thing that made him special was his willingness to make the amoral moral, if only for his own benefit.

Conference
Big Ten, Leaders

Location
University Park, Pa.

Nickname
Nittany Lions

Returning starters
10 (5 offense, 5 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 20

2011 record
(9-4, 6-2)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 28

2012 schedule

  • Sept. 1
    Ohio
  • Sept. 8
    at Virginia
  • Sept. 15
    Navy
  • Sept. 22
    Temple
  • Sept. 29
    at Illinois
  • Oct. 6
    Northwestern
  • Oct. 20
    at Iowa
  • Oct. 27
    Ohio St.
  • Nov. 3
    at Purdue
  • Nov. 10
    at Nebraska
  • Nov. 17
    Indiana
  • Nov. 24
    Wisconsin

Last year’s prediction

In the big picture, you have to consider Penn State a contender for the Big Ten crown. Getting Wisconsin on the road sets back those Rose Bowl hopes quite a bit, and the three-game stretch to end the year is going to prevent the Nittany Lions from getting back to 10 wins. But in my mind, this is a team with nine-win potential. That resume would include a loss to Alabama and losses in two of three against Nebraska, Ohio State and the Badgers — and means no slip-ups against Iowa, Illinois or Northwestern. The ceiling is high, like B.C.S. high, if everything falls into place. But others teams do have fewer question marks, to be fair, so placing Penn State inside the top 20 and alongside the Buckeyes for second place in the Leaders division is a logical spot.

2011 recap

In a nutshell Penn State was 8-1 leaving October, having lost only to Alabama, 27-11, in September. Then came the scandal, which led the university to dismiss Joe Paterno, and the season ran off the rails. We’ll never know whether Penn State would have survived a difficult November schedule even had everything remained the status quo; the defense was superb, but their offensive deficiencies kept the Nittany Lions from ever being considered a true B.C.S. contender. Under such a tremendously dark cloud, it’s not surprising that Penn State lost three of its last four, including an embarrassing 38-point loss at Wisconsin. After carrying the team through much of the regular season, the defense seemed to run out of steam.

High point The Nittany Lions put the clamps down on Iowa on Oct. 8, holding the Hawkeyes to only 253 yards of total offense and a field goal. A little more than a month later, Penn State beat Ohio State in Columbus for — believe it or not — only the second time since joining the Big Ten in 1993.

Low point A 45-7 loss to Wisconsin in the regular season finale was joined by a 30-14 loss to Houston in the TicketCity Bowl. Penn State’s performance against the Cougars in one word: listless. Another: disinterested. A third: pitiful.

Tidbit Penn State is 18-4 in games following a loss since the start of the 2005 season, if you include the first win of a season following a bowl loss. The four losses: Illinois following Michigan in 2007, Illinois following Iowa in 2010, Florida following Michigan State in 2010 and Houston following Wisconsin last fall. The latter two losses came during the postseason, meaning that P.S.U. is 18-2 in regular season games following a loss over the last six years.

Tidbit (10 points or less edition) Penn State went 7-1 last fall in games decided by 10 points or less, the program’s most such victories in a single season since 1985. Amazingly, each of the Nittany Lions’ first seven Big Ten games were decided by this margin; that was one shy of the league’s previous record, set by Illinois in 1992 – the Illini went 4-3-1 in Big Ten play that fall, by the way. The Nittany Lions would set one Big Ten record, however: P.S.U. would win five straight league games by 10 points or less, which was a first in the conference’s 124-year history.

Tidbit (defense edition) The Nittany Lions have ranked in the top eight nationally in total defense in four of the last five years: seventh in 2007 (17.5 points per game), eighth in 2008 (14.4), third in 2009 (12.2) and fifth (16.8) a season ago. What makes last year’s defense so amazing is the fact that it allowed 34.4 percent of its total points over the season’s final two games, the 45-7 loss to Wisconsin and the 30-14 bowl loss to Houston. To that point, P.S.U. had allowed an average of 13.0 points per game – allowing only two teams, Alabama and Northwestern, to score more than 18 points.

Former players in the N.F.L.

41 LB NaVorro Bowman (San Francisco), TE Brett Brackett (Philadelphia), OT Levi Brown (Arizona), WR Deon Butler (Seattle), LB Dan Connor (Dallas), DE Jack Crawford (Oakland), K Robbie Gould (Chicago), RB Stephfon Green (Detroit), LB Tamba Hali (Kansas City), LB Josh Hull (St. Louis), P Jeremy Kapinos (Pittsburgh), CB Justin King (Indianapolis), OT Dennis Landolt (New York Jets), DE Eric Latimore (Minnesota), LB Sean Lee (Dallas), CB D’Anton Lynn (New York Jets), LB Aaron Maybin (New York Jets), WR Derek Moye (New Orleans), WR Jordan Norwood (Cleveland), DE Jared Odrick (Miami), DT Ollie Ogbu (Indianapolis), OG Rich Ohrnberger (New England), OT DeOn’tae Pannell (New Orleans), DT Scott Paxson (Cleveland), LB Paul Posluszny (Jacksonville), CB Chaz Powell (Oakland), TE Andrew Quarless (Green Bay), RB Michael Robinson (Seattle), RB Evan Royster (Washington), S Bryan Scott (Buffalo), LB Tim Shaw (Tennessee), C A.Q. Shipley (Indianapolis), TE Mickey Shuler (Minnesota), DT Devon Still (Cincinnati), LB Nathan Stupar (Oakland), S Nick Sukay (Buffalo), TE Andrew Szczerba (Dallas), OG Johnnie Troutman (San Diego), LB Cameron Wake (Miami), WR Derrick Williams (Pittsburgh), C Stefan Wisniewski (Oakland).

Arbitrary top five list

Left-handed hitters born in Pennsylvania
1. OF Stan Musial.
2. OF Ken Griffey, Jr.
3. OF Reggie Jackson.
4. 2B Nellie Fox.
5. 1B Jake Daubert.

Coaching

Bill O’Brien (Brown ’92), entering his first season. No first-year coach in the history of college football – in the history of sports, perhaps – has ever inherited a more difficult situation. Today, O’Brien’s focus remains on the task at hand: retooling a program hearing a new voice for the first time in nearly a half-century while doing his best to ignore all those factors outside of his control. It’s hard to find fault with anything he has done since replacing Paterno in January: O’Brien has comported himself well amid the storm, giving this football program some steady leadership over the last six months. O’Brien was hired in early January but remained in his position as the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator through the Super Bowl, cobbling together a fairly strong initial recruiting class despite the obvious impediments in his path. He’s shown even greater recruiting acumen since taking on the job permanently, reeling in one of the Big Ten’s best classes as we reach the midway point of this current cycle. O’Brien spent the last five years with the Patriots, starting as an offensive assistant in 2007, becoming the wide receivers coach in 2008 and the quarterbacks coach in 2009 before adding coordinator duties over the last two seasons. While it’s in New England that O’Brien first landed national exposure, the heart of his coaching career has taking place on the college level. He started at his alma mater, Brown, coaching the tight ends and linebackers from 1993-94. He then moved to Georgia Tech (1995-97), where he spent three seasons as a graduate assistant. His first break came a year later, in 1998, when George O’Leary and then-offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen promoted O’Brien to running backs coach. That began the first of nine seasons as an assistant in the A.C.C., from Georgia Tech to Maryland to Duke. He was the coordinator Tech for two years, from 2001-2; he rejoined Friedgen at Maryland from 2003-4, serving as the team’s running backs coach; and then went to Duke, where he spent two seasons as the Blue Devils’ coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Then came his time with the Patriots, and five years alongside Bill Belichick and Tom Brady is enough to boost any coach’s stock.

Tidbit (coaching edition) O’Brien is one of two new hires to serve as his own offensive coordinator, joining Charlie Weis at Kansas. His offensive staff includes two assistants off the N.F.L. ranks in wide receivers coach Stan Hixon and running backs coach Charles London. Another pair come from the MAC: quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher spent last season in the same capacity at Miami (Ohio), while tight ends coach John Strollo was previously Pete Lembo’s offensive line coach at Ball State. O’Brien tabbed former Texas assistant Mac McWhorter to be his line coach; once the national assistant of the year – back in 2008 – McWhorter was relieved of his duties during Mack Brown’s coaching shakeup following the 2010 season.

O’Brien retained two assistants from the previous staff: Ron Vanderlinden as linebackers coach and Larry Johnson with the defensive line. Penn State’s defensive coordinator is Ted Roof, who was the head coach at Duke when O’Brien served as the Blue Devils’ coordinator. Rounding out the staff is John Butler, the former South Carolina special teams coordinator and assistant linebackers coach. On paper, this is not one of the best new staffs in the country. One piece of good news, because I know the name stands out: Roof’s turn at Auburn didn’t go well, but he did do a nice job with Minnesota’s defense in 2008. That sort of Big Ten experience will come in handy.

Players to watch

Far too many rookie head coaches – and even veteran coaches, to be honest – drag out quarterback competitions deep into fall camp. Using Penn State as an example, consider one significant drawback to holding off on naming a starter until the week prior to the season opener: O’Brien is implementing a new offense, and it’s probably safe to say that the Nittany Lions’ two-deep on this side of the ball couldn’t really move forward until the new head coach named his first starting quarterback. In my opinion, O’Brien had to name his starter as early as possible – if not during the spring, then shortly thereafter, or at the very least far in advance of the start of fall drills.

So in early June, O’Brien anointed senior Matt McGloin as Penn State’s starting quarterback. This speaks to three factors: one, that McGloin outplayed his competition during the spring, if not to an overwhelming degree; two, that he’s the best fit on this roster for the Nittany Lion’s new pro-style attack; and three, this program continues to encounter tremendous difficulty in recruiting and developing top-tier quarterbacks – though through no fault of O’Brien’s, of course.

McGloin, who is 5-5 as Penn State’s starter, has been the poster child for the Nittany Lions’ offensive deficiencies. He came under an even brighter spotlight over the second half of last season; over the last four games of the regular season, McGloin completed 44 of 93 attempts for 476 yards and a touchdown, contributing heavily to the Lions’ late-season collapse – and then was unavailable for the bowl loss after being injured during an altercation with a teammate. Any hopes that McGloin can turn his career around hinge on O’Brien’s ability to translate his N.F.L. success working with the position – Tom Brady, if you remember – into his work with a physically limited but capable Big Ten quarterback.

Another factor to consider is that McGloin is starting fresh, as is the rest of this roster, and he is one player in particular who needed a clean slate. And not only is O’Brien going to devote hours to working with McGloin, but you can’t underestimate how important the preseason vote of confidence can be to McGloin’s outlook heading into September. He’s not going to be an all-conference quarterback. He’s going to be the last former walk-on to start at P.S.U. under O’Brien – you hope. But McGloin will be improved. Another personnel move of note: Paul Jones, not Rob Bolden, will enter the fall as McGloin’s backup. Jones, who has struggled academically, seems next in line at the position.

The offense will continue to roll heavily through junior running back Silas Redd (1,241 yards and 7 touchdowns), who went from being a backup in 2010 – a backup who shuffled in and out of the previous staff’s doghouse – to the fourth-leading rusher in a back-heavy Big Ten. When combined with last year’s defense, the Nittany Lions were tough to beat when Redd got his touches: P.S.U. went 5-1 when Redd had 18 or more carries, and he averaged 111.9 yards per game in the team’s nine wins and 59.3 yards in its four losses. One nice thing about O’Brien’s offense is that while different, it will retain the run-first feel that has defined Penn State’s attack for generations. That should lead to another banner year for Redd, a solidly-built runner who can be a real weapon in the second half of games.

P.S.U. does need to find a backup, a quest that was hampered during the spring due to the absence of junior Curtis Dukes (237 yards) for academic reasons. Dukes’ absence did allow sophomore Zach Zwinak, a converted fullback, to make a push for a role as the Nittany Lions’ big back. In addition, sophomore Bill Belton took well to the position after being moved over from wide receiver. Redd’s going to carry the water, but P.S.U. will need to find a complementary option in August. Fullback Michael Zordich won’t get many carries, but he’ll be a key figure as the lead blocker for the Nittany Lions’ running game.

Penn State lost Derek Moye to graduation, as expected, but must also replace would-be senior Devon Smith, who was dismissed from the program following an offseason arrest on charges of drug possession. That leaves senior Justin Brown (35 receptions for 517 yards) as the Nittany Lions’ lone returning receiver with any extensive game experience, which in turn leaves O’Brien searching for answers at the position. It’s clear that P.S.U. lacks the depth it has had at receiver in recent years; the numbers are low, not to mention slanted towards youth. Outside of Brown, there are three receivers who must step up and fill the void: junior Shawney Kersey and sophomores Alex Kenney and Allen Robinson – a combined nine career receptions from the trio.

Kenney is expected to move into Smith’s former starting spot. Kersey and Robinson are embroiled in a battle for the third receiver position. Behind this top group lie a handful of even more unproven options, like redshirt freshman Matt Zanellato, true freshman Eugene Lewis and juniors Brandon Moseby-Felder and Christian Kuntz. It’s clear that the Nittany Lions are going to need vastly increased production out of their tight ends, a position that will take on added emphasis in O’Brien’s system. P.S.U. will utilize two tight ends fairly regularly, just as O’Brien did with the Patriots: one blocker, one receiver.

At 277 pounds, junior Garry Gilliam looks like a great fit as the Nittany Lions’ blocking tight end; he’ll be lined up in various ways, sometimes in motion, and will lend a hand in the running game. While redshirt freshman Kyle Carter leads the way as Penn State’s pass-catching tight end, look for junior Kevin Haplea to maintain a strong role in the offense. Another player to watch is true freshman Jesse James, who is big enough to be a weapon in the red zone.

Penn State will run the same defense as Roof implemented at Auburn, merely without the ugly results – hopefully. When Auburn took home the national title in 2010, it did so in spite of, not because of, a defense that ranked eighth in the SEC in scoring; that total sandwiched a last-place finish in 2009 and an 11th-place finish last fall, which in turn led Gene Chizik to relieve Roof of his duties shortly after the end of the regular season.

The defense is aggressive and multiple – two labels used to define Roof’s system since his days as the coordinator at Duke, prior to his being promoted to the head job in 2005. To Roof, aggressive doesn’t simply mean bringing the blitz, though that will be a strong part of Penn State’s defensive plans. The more defining aspect of his defense is its multiplicity of looks: P.S.U. will typically run out of the same coverage in the secondary, but what Roof does along the front seven – three-linemen fronts, four-linemen fronts, seven men in the box, eight, even nine – may vary from series to series, if not from snap to snap.

So it’ll mark a distinct change from the program’s recent past on defense. What won’t change, however, is the Nittany Lions’ mentality: Roof will still stress stopping the run, will still place tremendous responsibility on his front seven, and will still rely heavily on line play to dictate tempo and control the point of attack. It’ll just look different, that’s all.

There’s a hole missing at tackle, where P.S.U. must replace an all-American in Devon Still, but this front seven again ranks among the best in the Big Ten. The end pairing in particular is outstanding – with one caveat. After two knee injuries, senior Pete Massaro must prove that he’s recovered the burst that made him one of the conference’s up-and-coming rush ends back in 2010. Massaro made 37 tackles (8.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks) that fall, clearly making him a lineman on the rise both in the Big Ten and nationally, but tore his A.C.L. in the spring of 2011.

If he’s healthy, Massaro combines havoc-causing speed off the edge with the size to anchor the outside of Penn State’s run defense – many can do one or the other, but Massaro would be a select class of ends who can contribute at an all-conference from first through third down. P.S.U. needs him desperately: Still’s departure robs this defense of a penetrating presence on the inside, but Massaro can offset that loss by bringing pressure of the edge. He’s joined at end by Sean Stanley (30 tackles, 4.5 sacks), an athletic, slightly undersized senior who can make plays in space.

Senior Jordan Hill (59 tackles, 8.0 for loss) won’t match what Still brought to the table, but he’s still a clear all-conference candidate ready to demand double-teams along the interior of the Nittany Lions’ defensive line. And that’s really all Roof needs: he just needs Hill to do enough to take attention away from his ends and linebackers – not to say that Hill won’t bring much more than that. Joining Hill inside is junior DaQuan Jones, with senior James Terry likely the first tackle off the bench. Much is riding on Hill’s projected improvement, since that would give freer rein to the Nittany Lions’ two strong ends, but I don’t doubt that he’s up for the challenge.

Penn State’s linebacker play isn’t going to match what Michigan State brings to the table – all three linebackers in East Lansing earned all-Big Ten honors last fall – but this group should be the conference’s second-best, especially if senior Michael Mauti (21 tackles) can remain healthy for an entire season. I called Mauti the backbone of Penn State’s back seven heading into last season, in some part due to the way the defense collapsed in a 2010 loss to Illinois with Mauti sidelined due to injuries. Due to the way senior Gerald Hodges (106 tackles, 10.0 for loss) and junior Glenn Carson (74 tackles) played last fall, however, it’s probably safe to say that Mauti is no longer the most vital cog in this defense, let alone the most important part of this linebacker corps.

Hodges and Carson stepped up last fall: Hodges was a first-team all-Big Ten pick after showing flashes of upper-tier talent over the second half of the 2010 season. If Mauti does return to 100 percent – he’s had two A.C.L. tears since 2009 – he’ll team with Hodges to flank Carson in the middle, giving P.S.U. three very proven starting linebackers. But whether Mauti can regain his prior form is an issue, as is the fact that he’s had his fair share of injury concerns thus far in his career. If he misses more time, P.S.U. can either promote redshirt freshman Ben Kline or move sophomore Mike Hull, a special teams standout last fall, over from the other side.

Is this defense going to be great, good, mediocre, bad – or all of the above? It’s pretty clear that while talented along the front seven, there are going to be moments where this defense seems lost playing in less cut-and-dry system. The biggest worry is the secondary, where P.S.U. breaks in four new starters in addition to utilizing different coverage schemes. There’s enough talent to remain among the top half of the Big Ten, of course, but can a new-look defense help keep P.S.U. in games while O’Brien searches for answers on offense? The answer will decide Penn State’s season.

Position battle(s) to watch

Secondary Already needing to replace all four of last season’s starters, Penn State’s secondary depth took another hit when cornerbacks Derrick Thomas and Curtis Drake left the program earlier this summer. With both gone, P.S.U. will place even greater pressure upon senior Stephon Morris and sophomore Adrian Amos, the only two returning cornerbacks with any extensive game experience. Morris in particular must become a stopper: he’s started in the past, including 10 starts in 2010, but lost his grasp on the starting role due to some inconsistent play and was used as the team’s third cornerback a year ago. Morris has been through the fire – even playing significant snaps as a true freshman – but he still has to prove himself as he heads into his final season.

Even if Morris and Amos stand up well in the starting lineup, the Nittany Lions do need junior Mike Wallace and sophomores Devin Pryor, Jesse Della Valle and Patrick Flanagan to step into larger roles to provide depth at the position. Each is an unknown, to put it mildly. The next-most experienced defensive back on the roster is junior free safety Malcolm Willis (33 tackles), a six-game starter in 2010. Joining Willis at strong safety are senior Jake Fagnano, a special teams contributor thus far in his career, and junior Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, who backed up Drew Astorino a season ago.

I don’t think that the issue is the starting foursome. Morris and Amos are fine replacements at cornerback; likewise with Willis and Obeng-Agyapong, albeit to a slightly lesser degree – because of the way Astorino and Nick Sukay played last fall. What looms larger is the lack of proven depth. But what lies in this group’s favor is this strong front seven, which should get enough pressure on passing downs and be strong enough against the run to at least partially offset a decline in production from the secondary.

Offensive line As in the secondary, Penn State must replace four starters along the offensive line. Unlike in the secondary, however, where both Morris and Amos earned at least one start last fall, the Nittany Lions’ offensive front went with the same starting lineup all season: the same five started all 13 games, making P.S.U. one of a select few teams in the country to trot out the same starting lineup in every single game of last season.

O’Brien and McWhorter will rebuild around senior center Matt Stankiewitch, the line’s lone returning starter. Clearly, the team’s low total of career starts – 17, with most coming from Stankiewitch – is cause for concern. However, it’s obvious that despite the coaching change, the program has a transition plan in place. At left tackle, redshirt freshman Donovan Smith – a major recruit who has added 30 pounds since stepping on campus – steps in for Quinn Barham after serving as the backup last fall. Likewise for junior Adam Gress, who replaces Chima Okoli at right tackle. The same with right guard John Urschel, the backup to DeOn’tae Parnell a season ago. The only player who has changed positions since last season is sophomore Miles Dieffenbach, who moved from center to left guard; he’s one of two contenders for the starting job, joining junior Mark Arcidiacono.

The line will take a step back: youth and inexperience will meet a new system and a new blocking scheme, so there’s going to a learning curve. But I do think that the line’s demise has been exaggerated, to a degree. The vast majority of the projected two-deep has spent at least two full seasons with the program. The line is also fairly big, albeit slightly smaller than a year go, so the Nittany Lions shouldn’t struggle opening up holes in the running game. The bigger issue will be in pass protection, where the team is moving forward with a redshirt freshman – even one with potential like Smith – on the blind side.

Game(s) to watch

There’s no Alabama on this year’s non-conference schedule, but the Nittany Lions’ opening month includes four very tough opponents. The first is Ohio, the best team in the MAC, followed by Virginia, a team on the rise in the A.C.C., followed by Navy, followed by Temple, which gave Penn State all it could handle in last year’s 14-10 loss. The Big Ten slate is roughly the same, with Ohio State and Wisconsin coming to Happy Valley and Nebraska and Iowa playing host. The key for P.S.U. will be surviving early, as O’Brien and this staff work out the kinks, and beating the less-talented teams during Big Ten play: Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue and Indiana. I could see the Nittany Lions getting the better of Iowa on the road, could even imagine them sneaking past Ohio State, but I don’t see P.S.U. winning in Lincoln or at home against Wisconsin.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Let’s begin with the elephant in the room. How does Penn State handle Sunday to Friday? Come Saturday, the Nittany Lions will be itching to get a three-hour respite from life outside the white lines. However, it’s going to be very hard for this team to ignore all the distractions that will remain part of the program’s day-to-day life for the foreseeable future. Handling the task of keeping this team focused to a first-year coach is in many ways a recipe for disaster: O’Brien might have a plan for how to keep the Nittany Lions on point, but there’s no way of predicting just how this program retains its composure – let alone remains focused on the task at hand – while dealing with the continued fallout from the Sandusky scandal.

That alone is cause for concern. But it’s not the only reason why P.S.U. is going to take a step back from last season’s nine-win finish. For starters, the Nittany Lions are dealing with the scheme changes underway on both sides of the ball; it might not be so drastic on offense – in fact, the Nittany Lions can only improve in this area – but I do think that despite a strong front seven, this defense is going to have a few ugly moments transitioning into Roof’s new system. This schedule will test the Nittany Lions early, with three different offenses in as many weeks – spread, pro-style, option – before turning to conference play in October.

When it comes to the Big Ten, it’s hard, based on all the developments over the last few months – personnel, coaching and otherwise – to see P.S.U. challenge either Ohio State or Wisconsin in the Leaders division. Just a few of the issues, beyond the new systems: quarterback play, the offensive line, depth at receiver and running back, the secondary and the return game, where the Nittany Lions will miss Chaz Powell. This isn’t a rebuilding year per se – not in the idea that P.S.U. is going to drop off the map and win four games, for example. But in every way, this program is rebuilding: under a new coach, a new voice, new systems and, perhaps, a new outlook on the program’s place in the Penn State community. While the Nittany Lions get into bowl play, probably winning seven games, I can’t think of any reason to consider this team a major Big Ten contender in O’Brien’s debut season.

Dream season Penn State earns some confidence early in sweeping the non-conference quartet, and opens Big Ten play with three straight wins before losing a heartbreaker at home to Ohio State. But the Nittany Lions right the ship, winning another three straight before a loss to Wisconsin in the regular season finale. Those losses cost P.S.U. the Leaders division, but this team lands one of the top non-B.C.S. bowls following a 10-2 regular season.

Nightmare season Well, the nightmare would be that the N.C.A.A. cracks down and shuts down the program altogether.

In case you were wondering

Where do Penn State fans congregate? Penn State has way too many options to name in this space, but here are a few. The primary message boards can be found at Blue White Illustrated and Fight On State, though NittanyFootball.com is a solid independent option. If you’re interested in a Penn State blog, check out Black Shoe Diaries – yes, it is absolutely one of the best blogs out there — and Nittany Whiteout.

Penn State’s all-name nominee P Alex Butterworth.

Word Count

Through 74 teams 290,614.

Up Next

Who is No. 50? Take the last name of tomorrow’s program’s head coach and make it a first name. Take a punctuation mark, spoken aloud, and make it a last name. Then combine the first name and last name. You should get a legendary explorer and navigator.

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Comments

  1. Burnt Orange says:

    FIU is next.

  2. Vic says:

    Burnt Orange
    July 19, 2012 at 12:34 am

    FIU is next.

    …Molto Bene…

  3. Bobak says:

    Dang, Paul! That election was over 60 years ago. Time to let it go.

  4. Burnt Orange says:

    Grazie Vic. Only on Pre Snap Read can one ponder the jarring comparison between Penn State football and LBJ, review explorers, and learn a little Italian while talking football.

  5. Quijote says:

    FIU is next…

    PANTHERS.
    ON.
    THE.
    RISE.

  6. Stephen Johnson says:

    For all of LBJ’s failings he did implement the equal rights laws in the 1960′s and a war on poverty that helped bring millions of people out of deepest poverty to a better life with college education for anyone that had the capability to succeed in school. The same negatives could be said of every Republican in the last 50 years. The last honest Republican was IKE. People need to remember that the part of Penn State that was rotten was limited to 10 people or less. The players and Fans are honorable people who are horrified by what happened at Penn State. Don’t white wash everyone associated with Penn State with a single sweep of the brush.

  7. 39-79 Overall says:

    Florida International and its 39-79 overall record is next.

  8. Qui-JOTO says:

    On.
    The.
    Rise

    Like.
    A.
    Street-Walker.
    From.
    Her.
    Knees.

  9. Chief says:

    A older gentleman down here who was the election judge during the ballot box 13 scandal told us that he went down to investigate the delay at the Nayer Elementary polling place. He got arrested when he arrived, thrown in Jim Wells County jail by a Duval County Sheriff who had no jurisdiction at the polling place. He was never charged with anything, just spent the night in jail so he wouldn’t interfere with the George Parr political machine.

    Paul: Amazing. The Duke of Duval — Parr ran the county with an iron fist. One of the indelible moments in Texas history: Coke Stevenson and Frank Hamer, the legendary Texas Ranger, walking through the town square, past armed deputized sheriffs, and into the town bank to ask to see the ballot results.

  10. BobJ says:

    Certainly the oddest collection of comments I’ve ever read on this blog . . .

  11. Snowedin'Bama says:

    BSD is not just a blog, but one of the best out there. Give them bigger props!! Oh, and your link for them goes to Linebacker-U.com.

    All in all, no matter how the year turns out for PSU, we’ll have to give O’Brien, the kids, and coaches credit when no one knows what off-field sanctions (if any) are coming. Without PSU having not violated any actual NCAA rules, I don’t see how the death penalty or severe sanction can come about, but PSU is so far deep in uncharted waters, Emmert has got to be thinking creatively at this point about what to do.

  12. Burnt Orange says:

    @SJ -Comparing Gerald Ford or Ronald Reagan to LBJ in terms of dishonesty or ruthlessness is like comparing former Texas running backs Jimmy Walker and Phil Brown to Earl Campbell. All three would knock the dog out of you but one was operating at an entirely different level. I do agree with your statement that you should not paint every member of a group with a single brush – whether that group is Nittany Lions or Republicans.

  13. NTXCoog says:

    Listless, disinterested, and pitiful may be used to describe PSU’s bowl performance, but you should also add dominated.

    Don’t discount UH’s performance in that game.

  14. BH says:

    Nuke it from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

  15. Dave says:

    Come on, let’s keep politics off of PSR! Next thing you know, we’ll be debating religion!

    PS what’s with the all-name nominee? I’d call it a typo, but you can’t assume anything with parents these days…

    Paul: Second day in a row where I’ve left a part blank. There will come a day when every possible first name has been chosen, and when that day comes, TKTKTK Smith will be brought into the world.

  16. DotBone89 says:

    Air Force can’t be this far ahead of Navy!

  17. rick shirley says:

    How can you predict that Penn State will be 10-2 and rank them 51st?

  18. NTXCoog says:

    @rick shirley: “How can you predict that Penn State will be 10-2 and rank them 51st?”

    He didn’t predict Penn State would go 10-2. That’s his prediction of a dream season if PSU overachieves as high as the possibly can.

    The nightmare season gives a prediction where everything goes wrong, opposite of the dream season.

    The truth is generally in between. So go ahead and guess the middle ground between 10 wins and no program.

    If you read the #50 prediction for FIU, their dream season is 11-1 and nightmare season of 5-7. Elsewhere he states that FIU is the 1st team on the countdown that he’s predicting to win at least 8 games. So I’m guessing that 8 wins is his middle ground between 5 and 11 wins.

    And since FIU is the 1st team he’s predicting at least 8 wins, he’s predicting 7 or less wins for PSU.

  19. Post-Sanctions Rank? says:

    If there is an exodus of student-athletes from Penn State due to the sanctions levied against the program, this predicted rank has to take a hit, right?

    I’d say #58ish. They would likely still finish ahead of Northwestern in the Big Ten. Although, #59 for Northwestern is probably too high.

  20. Robert says:

    51 this year, low one-twenties the next several years.

  21. jimmyd says:

    And Redd is gone to USC. Will change some things I suppose.

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