EAST LANSING, November 19—The Nittany Lions of Penn State (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) sloppily knocked off the Michigan State Spartans (5-6, 2-6) to win half of the Big Ten championship. The final score was 31–22 in this war of attrition, in which neither team played very sharp. Drops, turnovers, a missed field goal, and penalties by the Spartans lost the game for them, rather than Penn State winning. Nevertheless, the Nittany Lions prevailed, and the t-shirts with “Big Ten Champions” on them came out before the end of the game. Michigan State fans, who had been hoping for a victory that would have rendered the Spartans bowl eligible (albeit the Motor City Bowl, not exactly an exotic holiday destination for fans from East Lansing), will have to wait for next year.
The much ballyhooed Penn State defense was sparkling in places, but overall they left Michigan State hang around for practically the entire game. The Moo U. offensive line was particularly effective against the usually awe inspiring Penn State pass rush. However, Alan Zemaitis’ three interceptions mitigated some of the deep shit in which the ineffectual pass rush could have mired the Lions. Nevertheless, Michigan State and its offensive line took this defense for a ride that could have been disastrous to the Nittany Lions’ BCS bowl hopes. The Spartans rolled up 401 total yards, 23 first downs, and they were 9-15 on third down conversions. Moo U. quarterback Drew Stanton was even able to run for 81 yards.
On the offensive side of the ball, dropped passes by the Lions allowed the Spartans to stay in the game. The Penn State performance was not a clear-cut winning one. Without the help of the defensive secondary and a blocked punt by Donnie Johnson, the game could have easily gone the other way. This was the second-lowest offensive output of the year with only 293 total yards. The recurring story on offense this year has centered on solid performances by Michael Robinson and Tony Hunt. Robinson had a respectable day, albeit flawed by several errant passes that went zinging over the heads of intended receivers, and two particularly bad drops by Dion Butler. Even so, he wound up 10-20 for 105 yards passing and one touchdown. On the ground, he rushed for 90 yards and scored one touchdown. Hunt added 89 yards on 20 carries. Austin Scott came in for one play and showed us once again why he’s got pine splinters in his ass.
And so, boys and girls, the Nittany Lions wind up with half the Big Ten championship, ’cause we ain’t got no playoff game. We share the title with the Ohio State Buckeyes, who have an identical won-loss record. The Buckeyes ground out a thrilling 25–21 win over arch-rival Michigan earlier in the day. By virtue of Penn State’s win over Ohio State earlier this season, the Nittany Lions will receive the automatic BCS bowl bid as Big Ten champs, while Ohio State will wind up either in the Capital One bowl or will possibly get an at-large BCS bid.
Even better, the Nittany Lions get to keep the Land Grant trophy, so they can hide the ugly damn thing in the basement somewhere for another year.
Well, folks, the Turkey is excited about bowl prospects! Orange Bowl scouts were conspicuous on the sidelines. Although the performance they saw didn’t generate much excitement, it is a well known fact that Penn State “travels well.” Yes, friends, that means we bring lots of fans who spend lots of money to whichever bowl venue the Nittany Lions travel. So, while the Orange Bowl scouts weren’t highly impressed with our performance on this off day, their perception was probably obscured by dollar signs. This led to some wild-ass speculation by the ESPN announcing crew of Mike Tirico and Mike Gottfried that perhaps Penn State and Florida State would compete in the All-Time Legendary Coaches’ Bowl in Miami. Fellow Geezer R.D. mentioned something about it being the all-geriatric bowl.
Speculation had originally centered on the Fiesta Bowl picking the Lions first if they were available, due to tie-ins and picking orders established by the screwed up BCS. However, there’s a possibility that they would want to grab another team that “travels well” such as Notre Dame as their first pick. In this case, there is a very high probability that Penn State would wind up in the Orange Bowl, possibly playing Miami or Virginia Tech. And yes, Florida State would be a possibility. Alas, another possibility would be South Florida or West Virginia, once again causing me to ask why the Big Least has to be included in the BCS picture. But I’ve already done enough bitching about that. BCS bids hit the fan on December 5; we’ll know for sure then.
Whew! What a season this has been! It is hard to believe that we’re already at the end of the regular season and even harder to believe the achievements of this plucky group of Lions who overcame the stigma of the past two crapola seasons to excel this year. Who would have thought at the beginning of the season that the Nittany Lions would be heading to a BCS bowl? Not this Turkey, for sure! But we’re there! A 10-1 record is for real. I castigated the perennial optimist Phil Grosz for admonishing the coaching staff that anything worse than an 8-3 record was unacceptable. Well, they sure as hell surpassed that level! So, I won’t be saying the Phil’s brain declared a White Out at birth anymore, at least this week. OK, and I don’t want to hear any of this crap about officiating in the Michigan game. Guess what? If Japan hadn’t bombed Pearl Harbor, they’d probably be speaking German in Paris and London now. The Michigan game is in the record books to stay. None of this bullshit about officiating will change that. And, hey, who’s to say that Penn State would be playing in the [still somewhat mythical] “national championship” BCS game, anyway, even if they had beaten Michigan? Any way you slice it, if there had been three undefeated teams, someone would have been left out and we would have the same crap as we have had to deal with in the past with the BCS Compromise. Geez, if the stars were right for Penn State and they wound up beating Michigan, why couldn’t Virginia Tech have beaten Miami in the same damn dream? Get da picture? Get over it. Put it behind you. Relish the performance of this team this year. None of us thought we had a snowball’s chance in hell of a national championship at the beginning of the season, and it ain’t going to happen now. So what? It’s mythical, anyway. Isn’t it great that a team that had a 7-16 record over the past two seasons mopped up the Big Ten and won all but one game this year? Isn’t it great that the Nittany Lions will play in a BCS bowl, a feat that 99% of you (Phil excluded) and this Turkey thought was impossible this season? Number Four is probably as good as it gets for the Penn State this year, regardless of how well we do in the bowl. OK, maybe #3. So what? It’s still all somewhat mythical. Hell, last year, you would have been satisfied with a trip to what Lee Corso called “a bowl somewhere near the Mexican border.” So, none of this grousing about not having a chance at the SSMNC. Be very grateful for this outstanding season. Ten win seasons do not happen all that frequently in a tough league like the Big Ten.
The Turkey (gulp!) will now wish all you readers a very Happy Thanksgiving, while hoping he escapes the butcher block yet another year. We’ll be back next week with a little more bombast about the impending bowl selections. The path should be somewhat clearer by then.