Clever headline, ain’t it? In case you have been playing ostrich for the past six months or so, I’m referring to Jay Paterno’s brainchild offense, which he has dubbed the “Spread HD.” Of course, this Turkey could not leave it at just that. Instead, it was important to give it a more salacious bent.
I’ve spent far too much time explaining the headline, so let’s move on to a discussion of the season ahead, which includes that great annual feature, The Nittany Turkey’s Infallible Season Prediction.
The first prediction I will make is that this is Joseph Vincent Paterno’s final campaign. While I firmly believe that Joe should leave on his own terms, I think that the reality of the situation is that Penn State President Graham Spanier and the Board of Trustees will at last have the juice to retire Joe. Unlike the Spanier/Curley fiasco four years ago, no one is going to back down this time. Not giving Paterno another contract has set the stage for his denouement. Recruiting issues, Joe’s irascible counterpoint with the media, and the plethora of off-field incidents involving the team will add fuel to the fire. Thus, after this season Joe is gone, no matter what kind of record he racks up. A mediocre record, which this Turkey believes will be the case, should grease the skids.
This Turkey does not believe that we are looking at a 2005 situation this year by any means. The defensive secondary, having lost Justin King, is barely adequate. Uncertainty at quarterback, the loss of Sean Lee for the season, the dismissal of Baker and Taylor, a difficult road schedule, and a lame-ass Jay Paterno offense will all conspire to produce a fair-to-middlin’ season.
The bright spots on this team will be the offensive line, which finally jelled midway through last season and at this point is very mature and cohesive, the running backs (Royster and Green), and three good (but not great), experienced wide receivers (Butler, Norwood, and Williams). The loss of Chris Bell was no loss and my grandmother could have played quarterback better than Morelli, even though she’s been dead for 10 years. This Turkey was glad to see those two depart. Even with a quasi-quarterback controversy this year between Clark and Devlin, we should manage to do better than Morelli.
What the hell is the Spread HD? Jay himself seems unsure of that, but he describes it as a take-off on the wishbone. OK, so let’s flash back to the old Southwest Conference circa 1980, or perhaps a Bear Bryant Alabama team of the same vintage. However, Jay says he’s going to spread the field. So, it will be a rush-dominated offense (no surprise) with some short sideline passes sprinkled in. Yeah, right: five-yard wide receiver routes. Harrumph! Having two good wishbone backs in Evan Royster and Stephfon Green behind a very good offensive line portends well for this scheme, but Jay better not forget that he has three decent receivers who can get loose deep in enemy territory. Hell, with an inexperienced quarterback, you can expect a slew of interceptions, and better to be intercepted deep than close to the LOS, where you’re more likely to put the enemy in scoring position. You cannot trust Jay to air it out deep, though. He is a chip off the old block and his old man is more conservative than John Birch, especially as involves inexperienced quarterbacks.
This brings us to the quasi-quarterback controversy. Clark got a few reps last year, but not in critical situations. We just don’t prepare quarterbacks at Penn State. Last year, JJPa felt that Morelli earned his stripes and should get all the reps, so to hell with next year. Well, next year is this year and here we are with two inexperienced quarterbacks. All appearances suggest that Clark has won the starting job, but this Turkey thinks you’re going to see him used like Michael Robinson was used. Yeah, let’s get him beat up running the wishbone. He’s a work in progress. We do not know how he’ll perform in big games until one actually comes up. He’s bound to screw up at first. I think the fans will be screaming for Devlin by the time the Wisconsin game rolls around—it’s just their nature. Remember back in 2005 when all the genius fans were wanting to play Morelli? Real geniuses. We want Hostetler! But I digress.
For the forthcoming football season, we have a new feature here at The Nittany Turkey. Instead of my sophomoric analyses and lame recaps, we will have a collection of notable guest writers from opponents’ home areas filing the reports. As we present our overview of each of the season’s games below, we’ll mention who the respective guest reporter will be. (We have not yet secured writers for all slots, but we will work hard to ensure that the dream team is in place and ready to rock and roll as the season kicks off.)
And so, without further ado, we present The Nittany Turkey’s Infallible Season Forecast, 2008 Edition.
Coastal Carolina. I’m not sure what a Chanticleer is, but that’s what we’re facing here. One thing I know is that this is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back with respect to friend Joe’s 30+ year season tickethood. He’s giving them up when his contract expires because of the plethora of crap games like this one that have crept into the schedule in the past decade. It seems that three or four games a year are non-competitive and not worth the big bucks it costs for a football weekend in State College, all things considered. Joe will get tickets for big games only; even paying scalper prices, he will come out ahead. Back to this pseudo-game. A Big South Conference member, Division I-AA Coastal Carolina had a 5-6 record last year. Have you ever heard of the Big South Conference? I didn’t think so. This will be nothing mofd than a tune-up game, and I hope the resulting injuries are minor, because a win here (which it will be) is meaningless. Guest reporter will be Caitlin Upton, last year’s Miss Teen South Carolina.
Oregon State. This is the best of the non-conference opponents Penn State will face during the regular season. The Beavers had a 9-4 record last year (sound familiar?) but they have lost their entire defensive front seven as well as their workhorse running back. Nevertheless, we here at the Turkey have a great amount of respect for Mike Riley and we fear a potential upset here if this game is taken too lightly. I think the Nittany Lions can split the Beavers, so I’ll put this one in the win column. Guest reporter TBA.
@ Syracuse. Ahhh, déjà vu. Back when this Turkey was an undergraduate at Penn State, the annual Syracuse game was a special event. First of all, the Nittany Lions usually got their asses kicked on the field. This was back in the days of Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Floyd Little, Larry Csonka, Jim Nance, etc. If it was a home game, marauding legions of students from the north of the border would conduct a sneak attack on the lion shrine, painting it orange if the raid succeeded. Syracuse was a force to be feared. Even the coach, Ben Schwartzwalder, had a formidable name. That was then and this is now. The Orangemen were 2-10 last year and look to suck again this year. Syracuse has sunk to great depths since last meeting Penn State in 1990. This being the first road game of the year, I’m glad it is against these pussies. This will be an ass-kicking, but this time the Lions will be administering it. Guest reporter: Former Governor Elliot Spitzer.
Temple. The Temple game has been an annual laugher but let me just say that things are improving at Temple under the Al Golden regime. Last year’s record for the Mid-America Conference Owls was 4-8; look for Temple to do better than that this year—not much better, but better. There’s no sense belaboring the issue. This is another PSU win. Guest reporter: Dr. William Henry Cosby, Jr.
Illinois. The first Big Ten game of the year will be played at Beaver Stadium, fortunately. The Native Americans from Urbana-Champaign have lost their major weapon, Rashard Mendenhall, and their major tackler, J Lehman, since beating the Lions 27-20 last year at Champaign and then turning around and being totally outclassed in the Rose Bowl. At home this year, the Nittany Lions will prevail. Guest reporter: TBA.
The schedule starts getting interesting in October, with Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State all on the menu. This will be a very tough stretch for the Nittany Lions. By Election Day, we’ll be crying in our beer.
@ Purdue. Every year, Purdue seems to underachieve. However, this year is head coach Joe Tiller’s last year, and that will give the Boilermakers something to play for. (I guess playing for a bowl slot isn’t enough.) Anyhow, this perennial middle-of-the-pack Big Ten finisher wound up with an 8-5 record last year, including a 26-19 loss at Penn State. Hotshot quarterback Curtis Painter has had one more year of seasoning and this one is being played in West Lafayette. JJPa’s conservative road game plan comes back to bite us here in this one. You don’t think so? Too bad. Just don’t say I didn’t tell you so. Guest reporter: The McCabe Sisters.
@ Wisconsin. Another underachiever that screwed up a few times last year on the way to a 9-4 record. The Badgers are solid all over the field except in one place: quarterback. There is no John Stocco anymore and until an appropriate replacement emerges, there will be a big question mark there. However, PJ Hill and Travis Beckum are still there, as is Jonathan Casillas on D. This is a good team, perhaps second best in the Big Ten. At Camp Randall, this is a pivotal game for the Badgers, and we believe they’ll be up to the challenge. Put this one in Badgerland (and yes, we’ll do BadgerBadgerBadger again). Guest reporter: TBA.
Michigan. Homecoming. Can the Nittany Lions beat Michigan again, ever??? This might be the best opportunity since, um, 2005 minus two seconds. Rich Rodriguez takes over for Lloyd Carr as head coach, and no one can predict how that will work out. Last year, Carr’s record was 9-4, including a shocking loss to Appalachian State and a great swan song win in the Capital One Bowl. One thing is for certain—under Rodriguez there will be some serious changes this year and henceforth. One big question mark this season is at quarterback, where the only experienced player in the aftermath of Chad Henne’s departure, Ryan Mallett, transferred to Arkansas. Mike Hart and Mario Manningham are gone. Rodriguez’s messy West Virginia situation has been a distraction. Will his west coast offense work for Big Blue? Time will tell. However, this year can be described best by that odious cliche: Rebuilding Year. You know what I mean? Sure you do! Happy Homecoming! This one’s in the bag and this Turkey will be there to enjoy it. Guest reporter: Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
@ Ohio State. The Buckeyes are the class act of the Big Ten once again this year, and winner of the Terrelle Pryor sweepstakes, just to add insult to injury. The Buckeyes finished 11-2 last year and played in the SSMNC game for the second straight year. They beat the Nittany Lions 37-17 at University Park last year. There is no reason why the Buckeyes won’t be as good as they were last year. This game is played at the hostile Horseshoe. Even though the Lions don’t have Morelli to throw the game away this year, it is not possible for this Turkey to predict a win here. The Buckeyes are too talented and, whether you like Jim Tressell’s sweaters or not, too well coached. They will win this one, and it might be ugly. Guest Writer: TBA.
After the Ohio State game, the Nittany Lions have a week off to bind their wounds. If you’ve been counting, you’ll know that we see them as 6-3 at this point, with some easier opposition yet to come in November. But first, a road loss appears in the Turkey’s crystal ball. Don’t complain. If you break my ball, it shatters.
@ Iowa. On Tuesday of the week prior to this game we’ll know who the president-elect is and who will lead us for the next four years. But I digress. The Hawkeyes were 6-6 last year, as injuries and other crap conspired against them. Speaking of crap, head coach Kirk Ferentz is in a heap of it in the wake of some significant off-field transgressions by so-called student-athletes. Aside from that crap, this year, for the second year in a row, they have a pussy schedule, which lacks both Michigan and Ohio State. We kicked the crap out of them last year in Beaver Stadium 27-7. However, I still can’t get that damn 2004 6-4 loss out of my mind. You remember it, too, no doubt. It was disgusting. I can’t stand the Paterno conservative road game strategy. In fact, I think it sucks the big one. After the Nittany Lions have been beaten down and humiliated by Ohio State two weeks beforehand, that brand of conservatism will lose this one for them as well. Buncha shit! Guest writer: TBA.
Indiana. What can I say about the Hoosiers? They’re not playing back home in Indiana; they’re at Big Beave. This perennial bottom-of-the-barrel Big Ten team finished with an amazingly good 7-6 record in 2007, which included a trip to the Insight Bowl. Quarterback Kellen Lewis, who was suspended for the entire spring, is back but he lacks last year’s prime target, James Hardy, who is famous for beating the crap out of Justin King on fly routes. The Hoosiers’ bowl finish was great (even though they got their asses kicked) and they fiercely battled PSU to a 36-31 loss at home last year, but I don’t think they have the juice to beat the Nittany Lions on their home turf this year. Give this one to the Lions. Guest writer: Jim Nabors.
Michigan State. The annual battle for the vaunted Land Grant Trophy. Moo U. has been weirdly unpredictable. It seems they lose the ones they should win and vice versa. They won at home last year, 35-31, on their way to a 7-6 record, replete with a trip to the Champ’s Sports Bowl. Mark D’Antonio is an up-and-comer who has already put his stamp on this team, and will steadily improve it in the future. The Spartans have an off week before this game, so they should be healed and rested. However, this is not their year. This game is at Beaver Stadium and the allure of the Land Grant Trophy—in all its homeliness—is just too damn strong. This is Penn State’s game to lose, but this Turkey thinks they’ll win. Guest writer: Jimmy Hoffa, Sr.
So, we wind up at 8-4 and Joe Paterno gets to coach his final bowl game at age 82. The best guess for the post-season would be the Outback Bowl. Finishing third or fourth in the Big Ten once again ought to add fuel to the Joe Must Go bonfire. Fans of many teams would be happy with this situation, but we’re used to better. At least we used to be. Save for the fluke year of 2005, Penn State hasn’t been competitive at the highest level (viz. OSU) in the 21st Century. Unquestionably, recruiting credibility (street cred?) has been damaged by the Paterno morass, and Penn State’s football decline has been exacerbated by the offensive coaching mediocrity wrought by Joe’s stubborn insistence that his son Jay be its chief engineer. But today’s column is not for bitching about the obvious. We’ll have enough of that as the season progresses.
In a forthcoming column, we’ll look at former Penn State players in the NFL and perhaps some who are in jail. Did you know that Justin King is out for the year due to a big toe tendon issue? That Rod Kinlaw was signed by the Jets? That LaVon Chisley is serving a life sentence? We’ll bring you tidbits like those and we’ll even let you know where Anthony Morelli is (if we can find him).
We’ll also take an occasional side trip to bitch about the presidential candidates, their so-called (untenable) plans and their criticism of the other’s untenable plans. They tell you what they think you want to hear; we tell you what you, as an intelligent human being, already knew before you swallowed these politicians’ lines in a moment of hopeful gullibility. We might even grouse about the health care morass and bash some silly candidate proposals for medical entitlements.
We’re here to have fun and to be a pain in the ass. Whether you agree with our positions or not, I appreciate your readership and your comments.