It’s that time again, readers, and both of you should pay rapt attention to that which is about to follow, for The Nittany Turkey has never failed to predict how a season will go, regardless of whether he gets the wins and losses right. You can read other blogs to get quasi-analytical breakdowns of team strengths and weaknesses, pseudo-scientific statistical formulae, and pretentiously pedantic punditry. Here, we make no such pretenses. The Turkey slings his own brand of irreverent turkey poop, based on what he would do if you were sitting next to him at a sports bar and didn’t ask his opinion. (Remember: opinions are like assholes—we all get to have one and they all stink!)
So, with that having been said, the one of you who is still reading might be interested in how we did last year. For the past few years, as you might recall, the Turkey has been playing statistical games with the Sports Illustrated pre-season rankings to determine relative strengths of opponents vis-a-vis our own Nittany Lions. While this is a totally bogus form of analytical pedantry, it served as a launching pad for some meaningful barroom diatribe that led to some fairly decent predictions. Last year, the Turkey predicted a 9–3 regular season record and a trip to either the Capital One or Outback Bowl. (Of course, I ain’t going to mention that I thought the Lions could beat Michigan at Beaver Stadium last year. Oops, I just did.)
This year, we toss Sports Illustrated out the window—literally. I dumped my subscription to the venerable sports rag because they kept sending me crap I didn’t want and billing me for it, no less. Hell, and I’m a Time-Warner shareholder, too. Thus, there will be no quasi-scientific statistical analysis this year. Just the usual bullshit.
First, I’ve got to give you my concerns about this team, which if accurate, are the best predictor of its potential success or failure this season. The biggest issue is a green offensive line. Losing Robert Price was the only “plus” I can find here. Cadogan is a Levi Brown wannabe, and he’ll get his chance at left tackle. Shipley is barely adequate at center. Ohrnberger isn’t going to get any better by moving. The rest of the line—well, go no farther than to realize that when you have to go after junior college transfers, you’re in deep shit. This isn’t a Big Ten offensive line, and that’s what I’m worried about. Even to become a mediocre Big Ten line, they’ll have to play together for a third of a season to understand what real game pressure and speed is all about. You can’t freelance on the offensive line. It takes time and game experience to function as a unit. This group will have its hands full protecting Morelli and providing running lanes for the perennially almost ready for prime time Austin Scott.
The venerable Phil Grosz, editor and publisher of Blue White Illustrated, likens this offensive line to the no-namer unit in 1982. Phil is always reaching back for non-sequitur comparisons to prior, successful teams. So, in this case, he went for a national championship year. Phil, as usual, is overoptimistic, looking at the world through blue & white colored glasses, and completely full of shit. This year’s offensive line is the team’s weakest point, and they’ll flat out suck for the first three or four games. After that, they’ll be fair-to-middlin’.
The defensive line is of somewhat less concern, but it is still pretty green. I cannot just wave this off by saying that our defense is always good or some such platitude. Yes, we have some damn good linebackers, and our defensive secondary is going to be very good, give or take a felony conviction or two, but if we can’t stop ’em at the line, we’re going to lose close games. Nevertheless, I think we’ll be pretty solid on defense, particularly at MLB and in the secondary.
Do we have a running game? Who knows? Certainly, Austin Scott has yet to prove anything to anybody. Behind a crappy offensive line, he’s not about to prove much. I hope that both he and the line are better than I think they will be, but that’s just a pipe dream.
Morelli and his receivers—how much have we all been hoping that they would suddenly start clicking? Do you think this is the year? Is that famous Morelli arm going to be able to throw bombs to distant receivers like Butler, Williams, and Norwood? Will there be more plays to involve the tight end in the passing offense? Well, if the offensive line cannot protect the less than fleet-footed Morelli, we’re going to see the same old quick outs to the sidelines that we’ve grown tired of. Never mind that Derrick Williams can get loose deep if Morelli doesn’t have time to throw to him or just plain can’t see him. And if Austin Scott can’t balance the offense behind that same line, the passing game will suffer further. It all comes back to the offensive line.
Special teams have been a problem. This year will be no exception. After a halfway decent first season, place kicker Kevin Kelly screwed up big time in the Orange Bowl and sucked all year last year. We lost a good punter, Jeremy Kapinos, to graduation. I am concerned about special teams’ performance this year.
I’ve seen all kindza predictions for the team this year, but I launch into this year’s predictions with a tabula rasa.
Our first game and home opener is an embarrassment. Florida International, who finished last season ranked #117 in total offense and #87 in total defense, with an 0-12 record and, obviously, no bowl game. These Sun Belt Conference titans are probably best remembered for their midfield brawl with the homeys from da U last season. In any case, don’t worry if Scirrotto misses this particular brawl, it’s still a guaranteed win.
Notre Dame is next and after this, we won’t be seeing them for a while. Having lost most of their team to graduation, the Irish aren’t nearly as formidable as they were last year. Still, if we let them get some easy points like we did last year and we have to dig out of a deep hole, this one will not go our way. That would be a crying shame, because our guys could use a confidence builder. This one is at Beaver Stadium. This is our year. The Irish will be crying in their green beer.
How can a team be worse than Florida International and still be in Division I-A? Beats me. I guess being in a city that emerges from the snow cover for only seven months out of the year helps ensure a lack of visibility to the NCAA powers that be. In any case, Buffalo is coming off a 2-10 season, and those two wins (over Temple and Kent State) save them from being total zeros, I guess. But they ranked—and I do mean rank!—#109 and #100 in NCAA Division I-A total offense and total defense, respectively. Frailty, thy name is Buffalo! Why do we schedule such drek? Another automatic win.
Next, with this aforementioned dubious win under our voluminous belt, we travel to Ann Arbor to face Michigan in the Big House. (Why do people say MEEE-chi-gan? Where did that bullshit come from?) First of all, Buffalo is no “tune-up” for the best team in the Big Ten. It might be counterproductive to have all the starters sitting out the second half with the score 55–0, so those guys will be “fresh” for this game. After all, the only real game experience they will have had at this point this season will have been Notre Dame. Henne, Manningham, Hart—they’re all back, along with a tough defense and a seasoned offensive line anchored by left tackle Jake Long, who blew off the NFL to stay in school one more year. However, the Wolverines’ deep pass defense can be exploited, if only our offensive line could give Morelli some time. That’s just plain old wishful thinking and it has no place in these predictions. Michigan’s win streak over PSU will not be broken this year. We gonna come back from da Big House dragging and sore, with our first loss of the season.
Then, we get to see Illinois, who a few sportswriters are actually picking in this game. You won’t see that happening here. Hell, I don’t even know what the hell the team is calling itself this year or who is their mascot. The NCAA political correctness police have come down on Chief Illiniwek repeatedly as an icon of poor taste. Ron Zook? Well, he was chased out of Florida so violently that you could see the flames shooting out his ass from Miami to Pensacola. Is he the genius it will take to turn this perennial Big Ten whipping boy team around? I think the middle of the Big Ten pack is the best they can hope for right now. They’re not going to beat our boys, even in Urbana, from whence the Lions will emerge victoriously, drinking Champaign (get it?).
The Hawkeyes of Iowa come to Happy Valley next, and this could be a tough one. After all, the Hawkeyes wear Steelers uniforms. Iowa is a contender for the Big Ten title this year, if only because they don’t have to face either Michigan or Ohio State. (They share that quirky scheduling benefit with Indiana, which has no chance of winning the Big Ten title anytime soon.) Thus, things could get interesting ’round ’bout late October, with PSU, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and possibly Ohio State still in the hunt for Big Ten bragging rights. No one at Iowa is taking the potential Big Ten championship lightly. Fortunately, by the time the Hawkeyes land in Beaver Stadium, the Nittany Lions will have had enough games under their belts to handle this tenacious bunch. I ain’t worried. After all, it’s a home game and all.
Wisconsin is a home game and I’m worried. They won’t have John Stocco at quarterback and stalwart protector of everything, Joe Thomas, at left tackle. On the other hand, P.J. Hill can only get better at running back, given that he has trimmed down in the off-season. Behind a typically Wisconsin, veteran offensive line, Hill looks formidable. Passing is another story. Which of the two contenders for the QB job will emerge is not known, but what is known is that tight-end Travis Beckum will be the favored receiver. With our green defensive line, this game is probably a loss, especially if it is close and it comes down to a battle of place kickers. Wisconsin actually has one. I see a sad Homecoming loss.
After crying in our Homecoming beer, we head back home to Indiana, where the sycamore trees will turn into weeping willows for their poor Hoosiers, who will play one good quarter and then wilt.
Coming back home to face the Buckeyes of Ohio State, our boys will be a seasoned, 6–2 team. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, lost most of their team and are rebuilding this year. No more Troy Smith. No more Ted Ginn, Jr. No more Antonio Pittman. No more Tony Gonzalez. However, still a decent offensive line. And one decent linebacker. Not enough to beat the Lions in Beaver Stadium, though. Sorry, OSU. This ain’t your year. Finally, you live up to the promise of your mascot having been named after a nut. Lions take this round.
We stay at home for Purdue, and Drew Brees is safely in New Orleans. Or maybe not so safely—it’s hurricane season. But I digress. If Purdue wins in Beaver Stadium, I’ll kiss your ass in the Corner Room window. It’s all Nittany Lions.
The last time we played Temple on the road, it was at Franklin Field and we had difficulty getting TV coverage. We wound up with a raw video feed with no announcers. This is a laugher and it is a ludicrous situation that Penn State should schedule three such crappy opponents in a single season. The Owls managed to beat Bowling Green last year, but how? Their overall stats are worse than both Buffalo and Florida International, although they wound up with a 1–11 record. Whyzat? Well, they insist on scheduling decent teams. I guess that’s one approach to pumping up athletic department revenues. I won’t bore you anymore with this. We’ll have no problem winning this “away” game in Philadelphia.
That leaves us with our season-ending road trip to the laughable pastures of East Lansing, where Michigan State will host our defense of the vaunted Land Grant Trophy. (Why the hell don’t people say MEEE-chi-gan State? I guess because they say Moo U.) The trophy comes back to Happy Valley, where it should be locked away under Beaver Stadium, incarcerated under the Eyesore Trophy Act. Lions, easily.
So, where’s that leave us? That leaves us 10-2. Not a bad season if it comes to pass. We should be in contention with Wisconsin and Iowa for second place in the Big Ten. That could mean a potential BCS bid, or at worst, a Capital One Bowl bid. We got a break from Northwestern and Minnesota this year, but if the vagaries of scheduling had happened to substitute those two fine institutions for Michigan and Wisconsin (i.e., pulled “an Iowa”), we might well be looking at the Big Ten championship and a guaranteed BCS slot. I miss the Rose Bowl. We haven’t been there since January 1, 1995.
The Turkey has used his neck surgery as an excuse to get a brand-new 50″ plasma TV for the coming season. This should be a fun one to watch during turkey convalescence, particularly the win over Notre Dame. (They’ll be replaced on our schedule by Coastal Carolina next year, the associated TV coverage being supplanted by Cherokee smoke signals.) No excuses, though. The Nittany Turkey will be back here every week of the season (unless I have something better to do) with recaps and previews, so hang on. The season is about to begin and it’s about damn time!