Bob Flounders of the good old Harrisburg Patriot-News wrote in today’s edition that Penn State is, at this point, a mediocre football program, as in fact it has been for several years.
Funny, this Turkey essentially wrote a similar piece back in November 2007. It was the end of the 2007 campaign and PSU had just lost to Moo U. The Nittany Lions wound up playing in the Valero Alamo Bowl that year. I think I fell asleep during the game. A mediocre bowl for a mediocre team having a mediocre year.
In that post I mentioned that aside from two anomalous years, 2002 and 2005, when some especially talented players were playing well, PSU hadn’t done much at all in the new millennium. Ironically, the following year they backed into the Rose Bowl, but they lost miserably to USC.
“It’s the five-year anniversary of the last time the Nittany Lions beat anyone worth a damn.”
Flounders asserts much the same. He leads in with the assertion that this weekend is the fifth anniversary of the last time Penn State beat anyone worthwhile. That was Ohio State, and no doubt you all remember that game. Some say it was the best game in recent history. Penn State 17, Ohio State 10 was the final score. (See my post back then, entitled “One for the Ages“).
The Buckeyes’ offense, a unit featuring future Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith and future first-round picks Nick Mangold and Ted Ginn Jr., could do little against Paterno’s defense. The sellout crowd made it difficult for the visitors to hear – and execute – and when they did, they went nowhere fast against Paul Posluszny, Tamba Hali and the guys.
PSU’s offense was efficient enough, riding touchdowns from true freshman Derrick Williams and team captain Michael Robinson.
That Paterno team had heart and featured great leadership. It played with intensity.
Most important, it was loaded with talent.
Remember what we had going for us back then? Quite a few of those guys found themselves playing on Sundays after leaving Penn State. Ah, the memories.
How many NFL caliber players can you count on the present team? Where is the senior leadership? What kind of a bowl do you think this team will play in with a 7-5 or (gulp!) 6-6 record? And more important, what will the future hold, given that recruiting has not been so great? Once again, Flounders and I are on the same channel:
Looking for reasons why the Lions may not win more than seven games this season? Those are the big ones. Lack of talent and experience. Tell me how many future NFL players you see on the starting offense and defense.
Maybe a half-dozen or so? That might be stretching it. You can make a case for wideouts Derek Moye and Justin Brown, offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski and freshman QB Rob Bolden. On defense, there’s linebacker Mike Mauti and possibly true freshman linebacker Khairi Fortt and a defensive back or two.
That’s it. That 2005 Paterno team had Robinson at quarterback, Posluszny and Connor at linebacker, Hali and Jay Alford on the defensive line, Levi Brown at offensive tackle, Tony Hunt in the backfield, Deon Butler and Williams at wideout and Calvin Lowry at safety.
And don’t forget about Alan Zemaitis – a Tampa Bay draft pick – at corner and the true freshman from western Pennsylvania, Sean Lee, who came to the rescue in the Orange Bowl when “Poz” hurt his knee. That Lion team was so good its special teams ace – gunner Ethan Kilmer – went to Cincinnati in the seventh round.
It’s going to be a long time before the Nittany Lions put a team like that on the field again. Flounders thinks so, too. It might be darkest before dawn, but I think we’re around midnight right about now.
Paterno and his players haven’t been able to duplicate that effort since. It’s been too long. And don’t look for it anytime soon. The Lions will lose to Big Ten power Ohio State in November and figure to struggle with the likes of Michigan, Northwestern, Michigan State and Saturday’s opponent, Illinois, at home.
Flounders and I are seriously on the same wavelength. The only future opponent he doesn’t mention in that litany is Indiana, which essentially got a $3 million payoff to play in our backyard at FedEx Field instead of their home field on November 20. Still, if Michigan will be a potential struggle for PSU, consider that the Wolverines just barely—albeit spectacularly, in Denard Robinson fashion—beat Indiana last week; therefore, the Lions might have trouble with the Hoosiers, too.
I do expect them to win at least one of the five games against what some of you persist in calling inferior opponents. The problem is that they’re not inferior. I expect Illinois to be no picnic in the park, and I expect losses to Michigan and Moo U. Northwestern could be tough, too.
Let’s re-evaluate that “inferior opponent” thing. It might have been true in 1994, but it is not true now. Penn State is a middle of the pack Big Ten team at best now. Just wait until Nebraska comes along next year to provide another potential top echelon foe.
As Flounders says, I’m not suggesting that these former “inferior opponents” are better than Penn State. They’re pretty much on similar levels. Flounders used the word “ordinary”; I’ll stick with mediocre.