I almost forgot. I owe you all an Turkey’s Infallible Season Forecast. I’m giving it to you late on the evening before the season starts just in case anyone wants to call me stupid — this way, you might miss it because you’re distracted by an actual game being played starting at the pre-dawn hour of noon. On the other hand, those of you who think I am pretty sharp — and that means something other than the point at the top of my head — yes, those of you who have been clamoring for some sort of prognostication from the Turkey Sage (or is that roast turkey with sage stuffing?), wait no more. It’s that time again!
Just to give you the idea that I might have some credibility, I have to tell you that last year I gave the Lions a little bit too much credit, calling them 7-5. That means this year I’m liable to underestimate their efficaciousness. There are some similar question marks next to a whole bunch of positions this year, but for different reasons. Last year, we had a quarterback controversy; this year, the same. Last year, we had questions about the offensive line; this year, Paterno questions its depth. Last year, we thought the defensive line would be better than it was. This year, it looks like they might be better than we think. So, too are the linebackers in better shape this year than last due to some interesting roster moves that might put Penn State back on the map as Linebacker U again. The receivers were and are solid, but with no game breakers speedwise. Silas Redd is better than Evan Royster at running back. There are still muchas preguntas in the kicking game due to the immaturity and selfishness of one Anthony Fera, who is benched due to an underage drinking issue. That’s your one paragraph analysis. Anyone who gives you three paragraphs on each position is pulling this out of their ass just as surely as I am. However, mine comes out quicker and you don’t have to taste it as long.
This, of course, suggests that I’m pulling my forecast out of the same place. Well, I am!
One little novelty we’ll have to contend with this year is a plethora of 12:00 noon starts. This is what happens when a Big Ten team sucks the previous year. ABC/ESPN tells them to take a hike over to ESPNU at noon, which no one gets and if they do, they don’t watch. Our players have found this to be a problematical issue. They don’t really wake up by noon, it seems, and for home games, the student section doesn’t fill up with hung-over students until halftime. (This year the student seats are moving, so maybe the “Noon Effect” will be somewhat less visible to the cameras; but it sure as hell is visible to the players.)
Depth is an issue all over the field, except perhaps at running back. The biggest game of the year being Alabama in Week 2 is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there won’t have been enough time for injuries to add up; on the other, the team won’t have had enough real playing time to face a premier opponent who many pundits predict will win the SSMNC this year. Although there is about as much chance for this team to beat Alabama this year as there is for an earthquake to shake Beaver Stadium (oops — done deal), we fans can really get a good idea about how well this edition of the Nittany Lions is put together based on their performance in this game.
While Alabama can provide inspiration if the Lions play well, even if they lose, a poor effort there will mean that the team once again lacks leadership, motivation, and fire in the belly, which collectively were a huge problem last year. Should they fall into that trap, kiss the season goodbye. I mean a real 5-7 goodbye. That would suck. Shades of the fabled Dark Years. But I think this team is more mature (with the exception of Anthony Fera) and better prepared for adversity than last year’s. Again, it’s just a feel, and it won’t mean that we’re going to see a 10-2 season or anything. Forget about BCS bowls. This team is not quite there yet.
Here’s how this Turkey sees it:
Indiana State: Penn State could win this one if they played Anthony Fera at quarterback after a night at the Phyrst. Even a noon start won’t get in anyone’s way. We’ll see two quarterbacks, maybe three. Silas Redd will finally be unleashed for the Lion’s share of a game, and will impress even you doubters.
Alabama: No doubt it will be a white-out and the joint will be rocking as it hasn’t done since the earthquake. You wanna talk decibels, I’m thinking in terms of 140 dbA. (That’s about the sound pressure level of a jet aircraft 50 meters away.) It will be a fun game to watch. We had better give the rock to one quarterback by then; whichever it is must get into a rhythm, which Alabama’s defense is going to try to render impossible. I’d like to think there might be a flukey chance of winning this game, but there is no way I can do that. Between the Tide’s D and the Lions’ shaky punting situation, we’re liable to see some turnover opportunities turned golden by the bullies in Crimson. They’re playing King of the Hill this year and they’ll still be king after week two. However, the Nittany Lions better leave nothing in the locker room, for the sake of the season and future recruiting.
at Temple: The quintessential trap game, a week after the team exits the Alabama game beaten and battered, mentally and physically. Another noon start. This is where the team character thing comes in. I’m betting that they do not succumb to the trap. Al Golden is gone to Miami and Penn State should take it to Temple while Al is busy sorting out his players’ sentences. (Not the kind of sentences you learned about in grammar school — student-athletes at “The U” don’t know about that kind yet.)
Eastern Michigan: This was scheduled just in case the Lions needed another tune-up game to piss off the season ticket holders. That whooshing sound you hear is a bunch of them making paper airplanes out of their seat contracts because of the new pricing and Nittany Lion Club points schedule coupled with a veritable plethora of games as dull and uninteresting as NBA pre-season games. We don’t know what time this kickoff will be, but a good guess would be noon. In addition to what I’ve already said about noon starts, the season ticket holders will be pissed off because they will variously have to wind up staying in State College with the jacked up hotel prices for two nights, get up too damn early on Saturday only to fight traffic and cut their tailgate short, or fight traffic on the afternoon of the game. There’s just no winning, any way you slice it. They’re screwed. But at least they get to see their team win, we hope. They will. The Eagles are flying on one engine, having gone 2-10 last year. Don’t expect much more from them this year.
at Indiana: The Big Ten conference play begins. Last year, the promise of a couple of million bucks induced the Hoosiers to schedule this game at FedEx field, which made it all but a home game for Penn State. So, after two Penn State home games in a row, this tilt moves back home to Indiana. The Hoosiers have never beaten the Nittany Lions, and they still won’t, home or no home. (But none of us who were around in 1995 will forget how letting them hang around and score a few times cost us the #1 national ranking.) Screw the Hoos!
Iowa: Kirk Ferentz seems to have Penn State figured out, although some will say that if Rob Bolden hadn’t played with a concussion last year, the results would have been different. Dream on. This one is at home, in hospitable Beaver Stadium, where only one small wedge will be wearing gold and black. I really like the Hawkeyes because they wear Steelers uniforms; however, they have lost a lot of lettermen to graduation. This is an intriguing game. If, as I said before, the Lions play their asses off against Alabama and keep a positive attitude even if they lose, they might be able to steal this one. I’m going to say they do. What do you say?
Purdue: Homecoming. Too bad the Lions don’t play Notre Dame this year. Then, upon beating all four FBS Indiana schools they could claim the Indiana Sweep. Purdue is another team in transition. Curtis Painter now backs up Peyton Manning with the Colts, so the Boilermakers, too, will be playing two quarterbacks. That’s really one too many. Sadly, the one who was to have been Number One, Rob Henry, tore an ACL in practice. Talk about bad luck! But the tragedy is good for the Lions, as they complete a sweep of the three Indiana institutions they play this year.
at Northwestern: This one will be trouble. The fact that it is a prime-time game on the Big Ten network tells you that. How can you subsist on Ro-Tel and Velveeta at 7:00 PM? As luck would have it, we don’t have to see these tricksters every year, as they are in the “Legends Division” of the Big Ten. That is good, because they’re mighty dangerous, especially on their home turf. They’re loaded this year, enough so that they can beat Penn State. Sorry fans, but dat’s da way I sees it.
Illinois: Fageddaboudit! The Illini wound up with an identical record to the Lions in 2010 (7-6, 4-4 Big Ten). It was excruciatingly painful last year to have to think of Penn State’s football mediocrity landing them in the middle of the Big Ten pack with the likes of the Formerly Fighting Illini. It will be a little better this year, but not enough to elevate Penn State very far past the middle of the pack — in their own Big Ten Division. It might be easy for the boys to look past this game to the very difficult November ahead of them, but that’s what the damn bye week is for, so they better play this one and win. They will do just that because, damnit, I demand it!
Nebraska: Senior Day. This Legends Division powerhouse comes to Beaver Stadium after a tough stretch of their own. Their Big Ten schedule is by no means an easy one, with Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Northwestern playing them on four of the five preceding week. Minnesota is their only rest stop. One could hope that they’re softened up by then. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions are coming off a bye week. A well rested Penn State might be able to steal one from the battle weary Cornhuskers, but this Turkey is going to remain conservative. The Lions will come mighty close, but in the end, they’ll fall short.
at Ohio State: The Tresselless Buckeyes are still a formidable, deep team. Yeah, they lose a lot of talent in Pryor, but many times his presence was a liability. What about Tressell? Well, like Kirk Ferentz, he seemed to have Penn State all figured out. (Tressell is now with the Baltimore Colts, so it is ironic that he is now wearing blue and white! Check out his new sweater here.) Going to the Horseshoe in mid-November is a crap shoot weatherwise, but it is their home turf and I’m going with the autograph sellers.
at Wisconsin: Oy! This we need after the Buckeyes? I’m picking Wisconsin to win the Big Ten this year. ‘Nuff said. Camp Randall. Badgers RUTS. Penn State :(. So sad.
Now, then. Let’s tally them up. What we have here is (7-5, 4-4) for the regular season. While Wisconsin and Northwestern compete in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title, the Nittany Lions will be licking their wounds and awaiting a minor bowl bid. I won’t pick the bowl game, because I have no idea who the opponent will be, but even if I did, I wouldn’t know.
Not a great season. I think the defense will be pretty solid. Aside from a presently healthy front four with a slimmed down Devon Still, the linebackers look good, and the secondary is experienced and healthy, for a change. Jack Crawford was absent last year in spirit, if not in body. The pass rush will depend on him and Eric Latimore bring it this year. My offense concerns are, as usual, the O-line, but the uncertainty at quarterback isn’t going to go away quickly, either. There are some talented receivers with some size, but the ball has to get to them, and the quarterback has to be protected long enough to do so. If Silas Redd has to make his own holes without the aid of the big beef, as was the case for Royster last year, the running game will not be adequate. I like Redd and I hope that he has a great year, which will mean that the Nittany Lions have a competent offensive line. Last but not least, the kicking game will suffer for Fera’s stupidity, and that’s liable to lose some close games.
I am hoping to see some life in this team inside the 30s. We’ve been missing that for a while. However, a new twist might make things even more interesting this year, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Herr Kommandant Paterno has made noise about taking some of the reins back from his assistants. That is both good and bad. It is good if Joe makes up his stubborn mind in a hurry and gets the play in (as opposed to having Galen and Jay discuss it, agree on it, call it in to McQueary, and then have Joe butt in with his idea, which winds most of the time off the play clock); it is bad if — well, if it doesn’t work. (I’m being kind here, uncharacteristically.)
Let me leave you with a laugh: Phil Grosz. (He picked the Lions to go 11-2 this year. That includes a bowl victory, one loss to Alabama, and a loss to either Ohio State or Wisconsin. Now, wouldn’t you think that they would also be playing in the Big Ten Championship game if they had only one Big Ten loss? Is someone capable of going undefeated in the Big Ten this year? Aside from that, are you clazy round eye? Maybe you ought to take off that white Beatle toupee to let some air into your brain. What’s da deal, Phil?)
That’s it for this edition of the Turkey’s Infallible Prognostication for 2011. If you missed my prediction for the Indiana State game, which you very well might have done with all the drivel I’ve put out today, it can be found wedged into one of my posts about the quarterback morass.
Have a great season, everybody. Go State!