Rank Rankings and the Return to Respectability
The USA Today coaches’ poll positions Penn State at #25, so whoop-dee-doo, we’re back in business after whipping #19 Wisconsin. What does it mean? The Turkey hasn’t had his coffee yet, and it’s Monday morning, so prepare for a fustian, stream-of-consciousness harangue. Clearly, the Wisconsin win gives us hope, some of which is well founded and some of which is road apples. Accordingly, before I launch my orotund rant, I wish to congratulate the Nittany Lions on surmounting their off-field woes and conducting a focused, well orchestrated, nose-to-the-grindstone effort against Wisconsin. Well done, boys!
This Turkey never ascribes much significance to any college football ranking south of #10. Alas, the obsessive-compulsive American sports-viewing public insists on attempting to impose order on chaos. Absent the bottom 15 segment of the top 25, I suppose some folks would lament the dearth of barroom expostulation over whether #25 can really beat #24. For example, this week the AP poll places Michigan at #24 while Penn State is the top vote getter in “others receiving votes,” whereas the coaches’ poll puts Penn State at #25 and Michigan is top vote getter among the unranked. But Michigan beat Penn State, and and and— WHO CARES!! This vacuous ranking of the vast unwashed makes for great, drunken, wistful, meaningless soliloquys by the pretenders’ well lubricated partisans in a veritable plethora of taverns from Pittsfield to Petaluma, while the ebullient patrons at bars in Columbus, Tampa, and Boston expound on their legitimate dreams of the Still Somewhat Mythical National Championship (SSMNC)—for this week, anyhow. Visions of sugar plums dance in their heads, but I digress bombastically, as it were.
Climbing out of a self-imposed shithole is the totality of what the rank recognition truly signifies for Penn State—nothing more, nothing less. The Nittany Lions screwed up two big games. Concomitant with those screw-ups, they dashed our hopes of a decent bowl game and a SSMNC (which people including press pundits actually believed was possible immediately subsequent to Notre Dame’s denouement). To some, those with perennial expectations of nothing less than the SSMNC, the season is shot, but to the rest of us normal folks, there is still football to be played. Now, the consolation prize will be a trip to a lesser bowl. With two Big Ten losses, the best of circumstances would be a trip to Orlando for the Capital One Bowl, which is a major stretch, as it would probably mean that the Nittany Lions would have to beat Ohio State, presently #1, as well as all three of the other Big Ten teams on its remaining schedule. More likely is another trip to Tampa, or peradventure, San Antonio. Yet I still hear people proffering postulates by which PSU could wind up in the Rose Bowl. Ain’t gonna happen, folks. Either Michigan or Ohio State will be going to Pasadena, and if that doesn’t happen, I’ll eat my shorts. We should be happy that we’re still in contention for a lesser New Year’s Day bowl after we screwed up big time against Michigan and Illinois. How soon we forget! At the nadir of our despair, immediately after the Illinois game, we Penn State fans, this Turkey included, feared that we would finish with a losing record or, at best, nominal bowl eligibility.
A fickle bunch of hangers-on we football fans are. Abetted by the popular punditry of the legitimate media and the freakish flagellation of the illegitimate blogosphere (whose penchant for grammatical atrocities is exceeded only by its rampant coprolalia), our emotions maintain a firm grasp on the reins of our expectations. Rationality takes a back seat to mental masturbation. We flap like a flag in an ever changing breeze, like a rudderless ship on a tempestuous sea of alternately high and low expectations. This season typifies that tendency toward extreme emotional vasillancy. Three wins over patsies and we euphorically looked ahead to playing in the so-called national championship commercial extravaganza. One loss and we throttled our pipe dreams toward more pragmatic aspirations. Two straight losses and we descended to the aforementioned nadir of our despair, crashing precipitously from our previous emotional zenith, taking dreams of the Rose Bowl with us to a place where even the Toilet Bowl in Kohler, Wisconsin seemed a stretch. Then, a win over a weak Iowa team and some of us were once again dreaming megalomaniacal dreams. Now, the ponderous pendulum of pellucidity having pivoted to a perilous point, the Wisconsin blowout has produced such a prolific abundance of euphoric optimism that I have to believe that the weekend Tostitos were laced with hashish. Ohmigod, dude, we’re #25!
In an earlier rant, I likened Joe Paterno’s press conference perfidiousness to former Federal Reserve Bank chairman Alan Greenspan’s testimonies before Congress. Greenspan was a master of obfuscation who coined the term irrational exuberance to explain the perilously flimsy underpinnings of a parabolic rise in stock prices in the 1990s. This Turkey thinks that Greenspan’s terminology applies equally to football fans’ elatedness at times. Let’s temper our irrational exuberance, folks. One win over Wisconsin does not make the Nittany Lions invincible.
The road forward is not paved with yellow bricks and there is no Oz for the Nittany Lions. It ain’t gonna be all sunshine and lollipops. A thinning defensive line, due to injuries and players being relegated to Paterno’s doghouse, coupled with some tough challenges on the schedule and the continual question mark of which version of Morelli will show up on any given Saturday (more thoughts on this below), all exacerbate the uncertainty. Nevertheless, with the mitigation provided by the big win over Bucky and Company, there is some reasonable cause for tempered optimism toward the remaining schedule. In particular, our offense appears to have made a quantum leap, given the steady improvement of the offensive line and with Morelli appearing confident, albeit stationary, in the pocket. Furthermore, the game plan noticeably loosened up against Wisconsin, giving us hope that we might actually try to win some games instead of trying not to lose them.
As a parenthetical aside relating to which version of Morelli we’ll see in the future, this Turkey believes that there is strong correlation between Morelli’s higher than usual comfort level in Saturday’s successful stomping of Wisconsin and that game’s strategic plan being much better suited to his mindset than were the game plans in his worst efforts. The conservative game plans seen heretofore in the Michigan and Illinois games doubtlessly drove young Anthony to distraction. Give him a situation in which he can throw the ball down-field all day to win the game and he becomes focused on the job at hand; otherwise, his head is not in the game. This Turkey’s psychological assessment implicates both the coaches’ ability to construct decent game plans that take advantage of the talent level, capabilities, and psyche of the players they have to work with as well as Morelli’s immaturity. Regarding the latter, I think Morelli’s lack of focus in some of the games he has played poorly was a subconscious protest against doing things he didn’t want to do—a child’s I don’t wanna. Coaches who at other times play guardian to Morelli’s hypersensitive ego by shielding him from the press and otherwise coddling him should also consider the pernicious effects of their 1985 game plan on his mindset. In summation, Morelli needs to grow up and the coaches need to untighten their asses.
Don’t stop me now. I’ve finished my coffee and I’m on a roll.
Looking ahead, we have five games left and all must be played on the field, not on paper or whatever passes for paper in the blogosphere and in the mainstream media. Indiana has an identical record to PSU’s at 5-2, 2-2, yet they are unranked. (I believe inertia has a lot to do with rankings as they’re done at present, but that’s another subject for some future b.s.) Indiana is a road game. We cannot commit the same, screwed-up errors as we did at Ann Arbor and Urbana-Champaign if we want to win at Bloomington. This starts with the all-important game plan, which had better not be thematically what David Jones of the Patriot-News aptly termed full sphincter mode. A win over the Hoosiers on the road will set the stage for a tough game with the Buckeyes the following week at home. I will not trivialize Purdue or Michigan State. Those are winnable games, only if the Lions can play as they did against Wisconsin. And yes, Jenny, we should have no problem beating Temple.
I shall wrap this up by stating that the restoration of respectability has nothing to do with a number in those screwed-up polls. Aside from the all-important BCS ranking, polls are just for bragging rights and barroom debates. Setting the rankings aside, the Wisconsin win is a stepping stone in pursuit of the true return to respectability, toward which a similar effort each week coupled with an abatement of off-field crapola will bring us marginally closer.
You done well, Lions! Keep up the good work! Go State!
(Has anyone actually finished reading this harangue? If so, I applaud your patience!)