Let’s Get This Party Started, Already!

Fortified by pain-killing drugs, the Nittany Turkey returns to preview and predict the Penn State Nittany Lions’ 2014 football season.

While you don’t want to hear about my oral surgery, that’s the price that my four readers have to pay for their subscriptions. If you want my brilliant witticisms, if you want my controversial albeit highly inaccurate prognostications, and if you want a convenient forum on which to display your comprehensive knowledge of the subject at hand to the three other readers, then this spoonful of medicine won’t help the sugar go down.

Read it anyway, damnit!

Before I took my vacation in scenic Green Bay, I chomped down on a piece of hard candy and promptly broke a bicuspid — #13, to be precise. There was an old filling in there, so the tooth was compromised to begin with. The candy was its ultimate denouement. So, I let it bother me throughout my vacay, and then upon my return I saw the dentist, who excavated the old filling and made the brilliant diagnosis that it was broken. As it was broken below the gum line, it would have to come out and I’d need to restore it with an implant. Half of it came out when she manipulated it, leaving me with a monocuspid.

Yesterday’s visit to the oral surgeon was to effect the extraction and implant the socket for the dental prosthesis. The doc used bone graft material from cows to fill the empty root sockets around the implant. Now it has to wait for four months with a healing abutment capping it off, so that the graft and my non-bovine bone grow into and around the socket. Aren’t you glad you read this?

I feel a sudden urge to issue an expletive. Mooooooooooooooooooooo! There, I feel better now.

(If I turn into a cow, I might have to become a Moo U. fan, but I digress…)

Enough Dental Bullshit, Already!

Jennifer Ortega
Jennifer Ortega, D.M.D.

No, wait! Before I go any further, let me show you a picture of my dentist. She’s a hottie. Played varsity volleyball in college and has an identical twin sister who practices family law in California. And, second best of all, her daddy, Ralph Ortega, a former Florida Gator, was an NFL linebacker with the Dolphins and the Falcons. Trips to the dentist are a lot more interesting now than they were with Jennifer’s predecessor. But Ol’ Bob never got pregnant, and now that Dr. Ortega is looking like she swallowed a bowling ball, I have to wonder whether Bob will come out of retirement to cover for her when she pops out the little bundle of joy.

I know, right? But I digress…

THE SEASON, Already!

Yeah, yeah. I tell you, it’s the pain killers!

Big Al cracked me up when he posted a comment to an earlier article. At that time, he expressed his tempus fugit incredulity with the statement, “It’s hard to believe the Central Florida loss is less than 5 weeks away.” Now, that’s a helluva way to begin a season, forecasting a loss right off the bat! Meanwhile, the perpetually sanguine K. John stated, “I for one really like Penn State’s chances against the field this year, but it may not necessarily be because they are better than last year, I am just not that high on several teams they play.” Well, Sanguinarians, it’s time to start the annual debate and I’m hoping that this will once again form a convenient nexus for expressing your flowers and vitriol. 

And so, without further a-doo-doo, let us have a look at the season ahead.

First, let’s understand that with an inexperienced offensive line, a freshman punter, and a deadly dearth of depth at linebacker (say that ten times, real fast), this team does not have the makings of a contender for the Big Ten title, so let’s get that out of the way quickly. Adam Breneman is likely out for the year, but given the extant depth at tight end and the fact that he was a one-trick pony, his abscess (oops… dental humor) I mean his absence won’t have as much impact as the talent issues elsewhere. Sam Ficken is back and he’s special teams captain this year. Draw your own conclusions. Back to the offensive line, utilizing converted defensive linemen (who played defense because they loved to hit but couldn’t learn a playbook) and having a backup center named Wendy show you just how thin this group is.

Butbutbut, there are bright spots. Christian Hackenberg looks like he’s grown into his role as leader, captain, and field general. Maybe admiral and field marshall, too. (In the NFL, I’d exaggerate his role as CEO, but in college, it’s not about the bottom line. >>COUGH!<<)  The sophomore acts like a senior and he’s comfortable in his leadership role. He can also play football, in case you hadn’t noticed.  Some say he has the best arm in the Junior NFL college football. But with the loss of Allen Robinson, his favorite receiver, to the NFL, Geno Lewis better step the hell up, and there needs to be productivity from Jesse James, particularly now with Breneman likely out.

The somewhat disappointing Bill Belton has a now or never year ahead of him, and this turkey believe that he’ll shine brighter than his tandem partner Zach Zwinak this year. I have no reason to say that other than just a gut feel, and the bigger the gut, the bigger the feel.

The defense is solid, yet fragile. I don’t expect to see any great improvements in the secondary to the extent that I would predict draftable NFL starters, but they’re a wee bit better and more experienced than in recent sucky years. Let us hope that the last vestiges of the crappy Sandusky and Bradley (as well as Roof and Butler) schemes are well behind us, and that we stop playing so damn far off the ball that receivers look like they’re out there for a Sunday walk in the park. And how about an interception or two, damnit! You can’t intercept a pass if you’re playing center field 40 yards from the target zone unless the pass is way ugly errant or tipped or something. Harrumph! Bob Shoop takes over the defense this year, and thus far, he has displayed some encouraging aggressiveness in his schemata.

Back to linebacker, Mike Hull is the be-all and end-all of this unit.  Literally. Yeah, others will have to step up, now that Hull moves inside, but who? The two outside starters are mere sophomores, and there are only two backups, one a freshman. An injury to Hull and… well, it won’t be pretty.

An experienced defensive line will help, but alas and alack, serious depth issues exist there. I can see this group wearing out late in games and past mid-season. Deion Barnes and C. J. Olaniyan are solid. Expect a hefty contribution from Anthony Zettel.

Oh, yeah. Special teams. I’ve been to the mountaintop and I’ve seen the other side. This ain’t it. Seems like I’m looking back over my shoulder.

The big question mark is coaching. James Franklin — can he coach? Yeah, he was lauded as a miracle worker at Vandy, but can he coach? We don’t need miracles. Well, maybe we do if there are a few injuries. But it remains to be seen whether Franklin has the right stuff to be a Big Ten coach. Come to think of it, how about bringing some of that SEC shit to the Big Ten so we can get a real show? Big Ten football kinda bores me overall. Kinda like watching soccer.

Game by Game, Already!

Speaking of soccer, we start this illustrious 2014 season with high hopes for the UCF game in Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland. Big Al predicts a Penn State loss. Many experts regard this as a toss-up, due to inexperience at the quarterback position for UCF. George O’Leary has just named Pete DiNovo as starting quarterback to replace Blake Bortles, who is now an NFL Jacksonville Jaguar. I don’t frankly see how that guy from NCIS can possibly handle the job. Wait, what? That’s Tony DiNozzo. Oops. But seriously, the redshirt freshman has not thrown a pass in a college game heretofore. That’s an issue, but what is absolutely not an issue is that O’Leary can coach and we don’t yet know whether Franklin can. And UCF does too cheat — just ask K. John! (How the hell else could they have beaten the Nittany Lions last year?) Winners never cheat and cheaters never win. So, why do I have UCF winning this one? Big gut feel.

The Lions return to Beaver Stadium for their home opener against the Akron Zips on September 6, which is also the date of the Greater Orlando Heart Walk. Click the thermometer link on this page to make a donation in support of my efforts on behalf of the American Heart Association. I’m not kidding you. Every little bit helps and big bits help better. But I digress… On paper, the Lions win this in a walkover, but wait, what?! Not so fast. The loss in Dublin and the long, wearying road trip can take their toll on the young Lions, while the Ziplesses, just 5-7 last year, might be primed for an upset. Could this be the proverbial trap game? No matter what K. John thinks of Michigan, the Zips gave the Bluesters a tough time last year. They’re coached by a Bowden. They have a legendary history. Bold prediction: Akron wins.

As if that shouldn’t piss you off enough, being 0-2 at this point should get your juices flowing just in time for Rutgers‘ Big Ten welcome. ESPN thinks this one will be the trap game. I beg to differ. It was the previous week’s game, already. Played in New Brunswick, this will be the season’s first night game, and although the fans will have difficulty figuring out which team to root for, it should be a win as usual for the Lions over the Scarlet Knights, who were 6-7 last year.

On second thought, maybe they’ll beat the Zips and fall to the Scarlet Knights. All I know is that the Nittany Lions will be losing one of these two games. If they don’t, I’ll make an additional $100 donation to the AHA.

A week later, with all your Heart Walk donations long having been safely deposited at the American Heart Association, Penn State gets back to the business at hand when the MAC UMass Minutemen invade Beaver Stadium. Whether “Minutemen” is accented on the first or second syllable and whether the term correspondingly refers to either the Revolutionary War militia or the microscopic size of the UMass playaz’s genitalia is anyone’s conjecture. If the Nittany Lions can’t win this one, they deserve the same record as Massachusetts had last year (1-11) and it is they whose genitalia are minute. They can win, and they will, if only to avoid the lasting stigma of the Turkey disparaging their organz.

What to think of the Northwestern Wildcats? They lost Kain Colter, which is a big blow, but even with Colter, they  were a disappointing 5-7 last year, missing bowl eligibility completely. Pat Fitzgerald can coach, though; he and his boys always give Penn State a tough ride. This one is in the Beave and with a big, blowout win over UMass and a third of the season under their ample belts, the Lions might start to gain some confidence just in time to lick NWU (and I don’t mean that in the Sandusky sense). OK, so I’m saying that they will.

And now, following a bye week, we head west to the Big House. Who knows what to think of Michigan, and who knows which version of the team will show up for the Penn State game? The Wolverines’ head coach, Brady Hoke, may be in trouble if he can’t win this and a few other key games this year. Not unlike Obamaesque externalization, Hoke can’t keep blaming his lack of success on his predecessor, Rich Rodriguez. The ‘rines were 7-6 last year. Big Blue fans don’t like that shit. Besides, Brady Hoke is fat and monotonous. Understand this: They ain’t going to make the same mistake this year in their opener against App State that they made there before. Last year’s four overtime exasperation bowl wound up going PSU’s way, but all indications point to vindication for the Wolve-Rines this year. At least all of MY indications, anyway. Even with the strategically positioned bye week before this game, the Nittanistic Lions will be 3-3 upon their return from the Big House.

Following yet another strategically positioned bye week (Oy, vey, did someone pay off Delany’s computer here, already?), the Nittany Lions host the Ohio State Buckeyes at Paterno Stadium. (I made up the name of the stadium, so don’t get your hopes up, Paternoists.) The novelty of Ol’ Whatsisface being in Columbus might be wearing off, but the Bucks are loaded with talent and OWHF can coach. He can even fake a heart attack to get his Urban ass out of Gainesville, but I digress. Braxton Miller is the best all-around offensive weapon in the big ten and the Schmuckeyes have a great big ugly defensive line coached by the best defensive line coach in all the world, Larry Johnson, that promises to shut down offenses. Couple that with the obvious issues at OL for the Lions, and you have Hackenberg seeing stars most of the night while B-Mill wears down the PSU defense. It ain’t gonna be pretty. The Lions go down big in this one.

O Maryland, my Maryland, wherefore art thou? I dunno, but I can tell you that they’ll be at Beaver Stadium (note the renaming) on November 1. One of my doctors, an orthopedist, is a staunch Maryland fan. He was pissed off when the University president agreed to join the Big Ten. Said the doc, “Why? So they can get beat by Penn State every year like they used to?” Yeah, Dr. Schroeder, just like that. But not so fast! Randy Edsall’s boys went 7-6 last year in the ACC even though they lost several key players to injury for long stretches of the season. Now, they have a wide receiver who could give the PSU secondary fits and they have quite a few experienced guys coming back. If they can stay healthy, this game should be entertaining. Given the consecutive losses to Michigan and Ohio State that precede this game, the Nittany Lions could be loaded for bear. Or for terrapin. I’m predicting a Penn State win to welcome the Terps to the Big Ten and provide Fred Schroeder with the frustration he so richly deserves for not fixing my Achilles tendon!

Entering the last third of the season, the Lions will have a 4-4 record overall (3-2 in the Big Ten). Right in the damn middle of the conference, just as you would expect from them, right?

Last year, the Lions lost to Indiana in Bloomington, pissing off a lot of Penn State fans. The Hoosiers return 10 starters this year and the game will be played once again on their home turf. That PSU has to play on Indiana’s home turf two years in a row is due to division realignment. Delany’s computer giveth (bye weeks) and Delany’s computer taketh away (home field advantage). But I digress once again, as it were. The weird, two-headed quarterback scheme befounded and confuddled the Penn State defense last year, turning a winnable game into a damn rout. If the Lions win this game, they have a great chance at a winning season but if they blow it like they did last year, then they can forget the trip to the Toilet Bowl I’m predicting. They’ll be out for blood and to avenge last year’s loss back home in Indiana. Lions win this one in a squeaker.

Back to the Beave for the usual win over Temple, a team that lost to Fordham and Idaho last year and were 2-10 overall. Ho hum.

Going out to Champaign for some bottom fishing is next on the agenda. On my legendary trip to Green Bay, I stopped for a night in Champaign. I can understand why the football team has been so bad. There’s nothing much to eat there. Illinois was 4-8 last year (1-7 in the Big Ten). Even with the NCAA scholarship sanctions, Penn State has enough to beat the Illini and their deposed Chief Illiniwek all the way down the Trail of Tears. A most delightful win over that asshole Tim Beckman. No, we haven’t forgotten.

Rounding out the season, our erstwhile manufactured Land Grant rivals, the Michigan State Spartans come to town with a Rose Bowl championship under their belts. Although they lost some key players on defense, they’ll still have the best defense in the Big Ten, while their offense led by Connor Cook ain’t too shabby, either. They’ve got enough juice to win the Big Ten again, but they have a rough-ass schedule. Instead of their usual early season nemesis, Notre Dame, they have a huge game with national championship aspirant Oregon on Heart Walk Saturday. They’re in the wrong division of the Big Ten, with Michigan and OSU, and even if they get past the big guns, they could wind up in the Big Ten championship game against the likes of Wisconsin. They play Nebraska during the regular season, too. Yeah, they’ll have a tough time making it to the Final Four in this inaugural college football playoff year. However, they’re plenty good enough to beat Penn State. They’ll coast to victory, in fact. The redeeming thing about this loss is that Moo U. gets to keep that great big piece of crap known as the Land Grant Trophy right there in East Lansing for yet another year.

And so, my friends, we come to the end of the regular season with a 7-5 (5-3 Big Ten) record, which is good enough to get the Nittany Lions a bowl bid, assuming that the bowl ban is lifted in the wake of George Mitchell’s compliance report as I and many others expect. As for the Big Ten championship picture? Fuhgeddaboudit!!! So, the Lions will play in the Toilet Bowl in Kohler, Wisconsin, not far from my favored vacation spot, Green Bay. And they’ll lose it because their hearts won’t be in it and who wants to play in the Toilet Bowl, anyway? That will be a 7-6 season for the Nittany Lions in this reporter’s not-so-humble, drug addled opinion. What do YOU think?

K. John Speaks

As I mentioned at the top of this post, I got an early indication from K. John about what he thinks. I’ll publish it here so you don’t have to go searching for it. It’s good to have a Sanguinarian counterpoint against which to balance my sadly unpatriotic stance.

I for one really like Penn State’s chances against the field this year, but it may not necessarily be because they are better than last year, I am just not that high on several teams they play.

12 games. 8 Big Ten, 4 out of conference. Starting with the 4 out of league games. While I am not buying the nonstop nonsense the Penn State press has been droning on about the O-line (they are in far better shape than most think), that game is early and UCF returns its defense largely in tact. I am calling this one a toss up which the Turkey is happy to hear. Penn State should steam roll the other three.

Now to the Big Ten. They get Rutgers in week three. Yeah, I don’t think Rutgers is going to win a Big Ten game this year. Then on to Northwestern. While most expect Northwestern to turn it around, I do not. I like Penn State here. Then little blue. Personally, I think Michigan is a train wreck waiting to happen. Think Rich Rodriquez sized train wreck. Chalk this one up to Penn State. I think UM is on its way to a 3 or 4 win season.

Next up following a curious arrangement of off again on again bye weeks is Ohio State and I think Ohio State is the most over-rated team in the country and perhaps the most over-rated team since the 1999 Arizona Wildcats came to the Beav on opening day. Yeah, I think they could lose a few. With Navy, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati on the schedule early, I could see them dropping two. Call this one a toss up in the fight for second place in the East.

I fully expect Penn State to win the remaining Big Ten games until they run into the living embodiment of 300. I am not looking forward to playing Michigan State. Shalique Calhoun might be the best player in America. If they survive Oregon, look out, nobody is going to beat them, but I will say this, Penn State has the next best chance.

I like them to go 10 and 2 finishing second in the East, but not necessarily because they are that good, I just don’t think the schedule is as strong as some. I have Ohio State finishing third followed by Maryland and Indiana with Michigan and Rutgers home for the holidays. Out west, I am really starting to like Nebraska’s chances but currently have Iowa winning the division with Wisconsin finishing fourth behind Minnesota.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. BigAl says

    It’s really hard to predict what Penn State will do without seeing them play a game. There is simply to much uncertainty with the new coaching staff and the new offensive. It will take at least 3 games to an solid idea of this team’s potential. And the games against Akron and Rutgers will have a big impact on just how good the final record will be.

    If State loses both of them, a 3 and 9 record is a distinct possibility. If they win both of them, a 9 and 3 record is possible. If they one of them, then a 6 and 6 record is likely.

    If they played Akron and Rutgers in November, I have no doubt that State would win both games. But playing both of them in early September, before the inexperienced OL gets its pass protection schemes ironed out (and that’s making the generous assumption that they have Division I caliber talent) is a recipe for disaster.

    Rutgers will be more a threat than K John believes – Fat Fridge is Rutgers’ new offensive coordinator and will pull some surprises from his bag of tricks. And Rutgers’ small but quick defense will pressure State’s offense. By November, Rutgers’ defense will be worn down and Fridge will be out of tricks. But in September, they will be dangerous.

    So, if I had to predict the season before seeing State play a single game, I would predict a 6 and 6 record. They beat Akron, Massachusetts, Temple OOC. And, in the B1G, beat Illinois, Northwestern, and upset Indiana. And they’ll be upset by Rutgers. The other losses will not be upsets – UCF, Moo U, the A-holes, tOSU, and the Twerps – have equal or better starting talent and more depth (excepting MD.)

  2. Joe says

    Well it seems 8-4 or 7-5 seem to be the consensus picks (along with a few .500 season predictions thrown in for good measure.) So, I’ll embark on this fool’s errand trying to pick wins and losses for a team that has never played a live down for James Franklin and his staff, who has some significant depth issues across the OL and LB positions and has a crew of talented but unproven WR’s.

    I’m going to go with an 8-4 season (although 7-5 or 9-3 are possibilities). It’s all contingent on avoiding the injury bug at key spots, finding at least 6 or 7 O-linemen who can become semi-capable at their craft during the first third of the season, a bunch of youngsters that can become contributors very early and some blind faith that Franklin and his coaching staff can do some decent game planning/in-game adjustments once the whistle goes off.

    On a plus note, I think the secondary is deep and talented, likewise the DL. We are serviceable at LB if there are no injuries to the starters, and I like this “star” position concept they’ve thrown out there as a replacement for a LB in some situations.

    On the offense, Hack is the real deal, if he can keep his uniform clean and stay off the trainer’s table we’ll be okay. I think the OL will be serviceable by the third or fourth game, but that’s a story that will play out before our eyes and we’ll know soon enough. Besides we went through this before during BoB’s first year I believe and by the later part of the season they were doing just fine. TE’s & RB’s are probably the best talent/depth we’ve had at State in quite some time. Also remember that in 2012 after Justin Brown bolted for Oklahoma, we were left with Felder, Kersey, Kenney and some skinny kid from Michigan named Allen Robinson. I think that worked out pretty well.

    So off we go to the specifics.

    UCF–Win–If Bardarbunga doesn’t blow it’s top and we get to play the game (or maybe play the game and have to take a ship home) I see PS pulling out a close win. Bortles and Johnson killed us last year from both a talent standpoint and the PS D’s inability to tackle or contain. With both players gone, the big issue to me is the new UCF QB (DiNovo) who hasn’t taken a snap and can our defense play better than last year. Yes they have just about everyone back on their defense, but we lost last year by three even considering how we played like shit. Close game, but I feel the Lions pull this out on a Ficken FG.

    Akron–Win–Yeah there’s a Bowden coaching the Zips. But PS sleepwalks (perhaps literally) through the first half, and wakes up in the second half to win comfortably.

    Rutgers–Win–Ahh the opening of the B1G season for both schools. The State University of NJ can’t wait to get TSFP (That School From Pennsylvania as we are now affectionately referred to by tUNJ) on campus in a prime time match-up just ready to show us a thing or two about being dominated. I don’t give a shit if Ralph Friedgen is their OC it’s still Rutgers and a win for PS!

    UMass–Win–Whipple’s kid isn’t playing, ’nuff said.

    NW–Win–I originally was considering this a loss until Venric Mark announced he was transferring and we found out their leading receiver, Christian Jones is out for the season with a blown knee. Look for the labor unions to buy up all the unsold seats and hand them out for free at the game!

    Michigan–Loss–This should be a winnable game, but I found myself heading down the K-John path and thought otherwise. If Robinson doesn’t make one of those late catches last year we would have lost. As I understand this year, UM’s OL is no better than last year and they still don’t have a running game, but they’re rolling out sweet new uni’s for this matchup (and ND), it’s under the lights at the Big House and we all know how the Lions did on the road last year. Wolverines win in 7 OT’s.

    OSU–Loss (barely)–Honestly, I think this is a grossly over-rated team even if Miller had played this season. Replacing Shazier, Roby, Hyde, “Philly” Brown and now Miller is not going to be easy. And what everyone seems to forget is that they have to replace 4 multi-year OL starters, which apparently is keeping Urbz up at night. They are also moving to a new defensive scheme, which so far has received mixed reviews. This one will be close, closer than most people think, but it will be another wasted white-out.

    Maryland–Win–This is one I don’t feel good about and perhaps I’m letting the series record sway my judgement. Even when they had Esiason and “The Manster”, Randy White, they still couldn’t win. The fact that the game is at the Beav influenced my choice.

    Indiana–Loss–First off, I blame last years embarrassment on a stupid BoB game plan, no adjustments at all during the game and the definitive proof that John Butler had no clue what he was doing as a DC. I figure we’re going to lose four and this has a good possibility to be one of them.

    Temple–Win–Wayne Hardin doesn’t coach the Owls anymore, ’nuff said!

    Illinois–Win–It’s Tim Beckman, ’nuff said! Wonder if he’ll revisit all of his old recruiting haunts while in State College.

    MSU–Loss–With the Land Grant Trophy up for grabs, Sparty tries to lose the game, but in the end has to cart that monstrosity back to their trophy case (Hope it’s been fixed in the intervening period since they broke it!)

    So there you have it. I think there are some wins and losses that could be interchanged, but I think it will be an overall successful season again with the caveats that Franklin and his staff know what the hell they’re doing, we avoid injuries to key personnel and we don’t get stuck in Ireland waiting for the ash cloud to dissipate.

    I think the bowl ban goes away this year and the scholarship limits are fully restored for next season. The NCAA and CoPA will settle where the $60M goes, but PS’s wins under Joe will remain vacated until the Schultz, Curley Spanier trial is completed, pissing off the Paterno-ista’s to no end.

    So there is a good possibility that PS will go bowling at the end of the season. With the new affiliations and the bowls having some ability to put together decent match ups, and if PS finishes 5th through 7th in the B1G, I think they get invited to the Bronx to play in the Pinstripe Bowl against Pitt (if they meet the ACC criteria). I think that one would sell out.

    But even if they go to the “Toilet Bowl” as you so eloquently stated, those 15 extra practices will be critical to Franklin and his staff in bringing along the youngsters for a run in ’15 and especially ’16 (when Hackenburg wins the Heisman and PS wins the B1G championship).

    Are you going to track the results of our predictions during the season? Might be an interesting foot-note in your post game diatribes.