With apologies to Gertrude Stein, may she not roll over in her grave, I could not come up with a better title for this Turkey’s Official Rose Bowl column, into which I shall launch myself forthwith.
(By the way, this is not Short Attention Span Theatre here. This post is long and it is comprised of a seldom used feature of the language called “paragraphs”, which, by their nature, are meant to contain more than one sentence apiece. If you can’t handle anything more than 10-second TV sound bites, there are lots of places to go for that kind of stuff.)
This is a helluva Rodney Dangerfield year for the Big Ten and the Nittany Lions. The Big Ten bowl teams are favored in but one of their matchups, that one being Iowa over South Carolina (although the visor chucking Steve Spurrier will do his best to confound the Hawkeye defense by playing each member of the Gamecock junior class at quarterback for one down, but I digress). I’m growing violently ill and quite weary of all the defensive machinations I’m reading. Why the hell do all these hacks write the same crap?
Duh. If you’re partial to USC, write that we wuz robbed, we deserve a better opponent, we shoulda been in the so-called contrived national championship game. If you’re partial to PSU, you write that nobody is giving us any respect, the Big Ten does not suck and here’s why, the commentary is biased, ESPN sucks, and yeah, maybe Ohio State went to the SSMNC twice in a row and lost big twice in a row, but we’re different because we’re Penn State and we’re not biased, we’re just right. Besides, what the hell do odds-makers in Las Vegas know about football? Enough opinionated crap is enough!
I’m not here to say whether anyone else is right or wrong. I’m here to say two things.
First, all you so-called writers out there, get off the defensive stance and start writing something! Yeah, I know. It’s a cruel world. The national sports press favors USC—I must say for some pretty damn solid reasons—and it’s we, the downtrodden Penn State bloggers against the universe. So, we get defensive and thereby graphically demonstrate our weakness. I say, ignore the bastards! Don’t take offense at them. Don’t get into macho posturing with them. Don’t write endless “tales of the tape” in lame efforts to grasp at whatever straws you think will give Nittany Lions fans a glimmer of hope. Just let this damn thing be settled on the field. Let the better team win, and don’t bitch if it isn’t Penn State. Be strong.
Second, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. The Trojans are mute testament to how playing consistently at the highest level will buy you one of the best teams in college football year after year. (Yes, I said buy. Without any cash being transacted, these NFL-capable players they get are essentially NFL annuities that pay dividends to their college beneficiaries.) The Trojans are not the creation of the sports media. They’re an excellent football team, with a storied history, few apparent weaknesses, and a lot of guys who will, indeed, play on Sundays. So, let’s give them credit where it is due and be bigger than those who purportedly don’t give us any respect.
You already know what Penn State has: an upstart team with a few excellent players, a good work ethic, some savvy coaching, and a superb bowl history. Give Paterno a month to prepare for a bowl and good things can happen. In fact, they usually do. However, weaknesses abound, and we cannot minimize them or sweep them under the proverbial rug.
On Thursday evening at 7:30 ET, all the bullshit will be meaningless, anyhow. So, for now, let’s celebrate two great teams, two storied histories, two great NFL prep programs, and the forthcoming conclusion of all the less than eloquent, formulaic hype.
Speaking of hype, the marketing folks at Disney/ABC/ESPN must be seriously worried about ratings for this Rose Bowl (presented by CITI), as they’ve been promoting the hell out of it at every opportunity, at every halftime show, at every basketball game, at every interstitial, everywhere! In one supposedly extemporaneous senile outburst, the venerable Lou Holtz actually said that if he had the choice of going to either the BCS National Championship Game or the Rose Bowl presented by CITI, he would want to see the Rose Bowl game. (Presented by CITI — lol.) It did not really sound believable, but anything that comes out of Holtz’s mouth is suspect, anyway. ESPN has had other supposedly impromptu analyst bull sessions discussing the matchup and they always seem to have been scripted in advance. It is almost funny, particularly when bon mots about Penn State are uttered by chronic PSU detractor Craig James. I hold no doubts that someone held the proverbial gun to James’ head in order to get him to recite that pro-PSU litany I heard this evening! Those marketing guys with the mouse ears clearly are not Penn State believers, but they are only interested in creating some interest in what they perceive to be a poor audience draw.
Let me give you this Turkey’s concerns about the Nittany Lions. It makes more sense to talk about things Penn State can do to not beat themselves than it does to talk about how to “exploit” USC’s weaknesses. (USC doesn’t really have weaknesses, except maybe their punting game. Of course, they don’t have to use that weapon very much.)
The Lions MUST come out swinging from the git-go—no ifs, ands, or buttheads. If they play their typical 2008 road game (or Temple game) in which they come out with their thumbs up their asses for much of the first half, they’re going down in flames. This has been a source of excruciating frustration during the year and it must end now!
The Lions MUST take care of the ball on offense and force turnovers on defense. Do you get that same queasy feeling that I do when Clark is running with the ball, the feeling that the play might not have a happy ending? We’re conditioned by some of his past exploits. It’s a legitimate fear. He can’t afford to fumble or throw dumb picks in this game.
The Lions MUST be aggressive on defense and must put pressure on Trojan quarterback Mark Sanchez. If given time, Sanchez will pick apart the Penn State secondary. There are just too many offensive weapons on this USC team, including a triumvirate of excellent running backs and a quartet of NFL receivers. Sanchez is no Carson Palmer or Matt Leinart, you say? You’re right. He’s Mark Sanchez, and he’s pretty damn good.
The Lions MUST avoid slow-developing plays. Please, Galen, please get rid of that Williams end-around that rarely succeeds. (You say, “Yahbut, when it does, it can go for a big gain!” I say, “This is USC, dolt!” Mr. Williams, meet Mr. Maualuga.) Those Samoans are going to be playing in the Penn State backfield all day. The play selection must take that into account and the execution must be flawless. On passing downs, face the fact that Clark will be sacked at least a few times, and he better know how to get rid of the ball and, if he can’t, how to eat it and take the loss instead of doint something stupid.
The Lions MUST do what got them there. Using their very good wide receivers and including some Daryll Clark runs in the mix was a winning formula. When they played sphincterball, they were vulnerable. When do they play sphincterball? When Clark is hurt, for one. When it’s an away game, for another. This is an away game for all intents and purposes. (USC has a 40-minute bus ride to Pasadena and practices at home.) Clark isn’t hurt, but his primary backup, Pat Devlin, bolted to FCS Delaware so he could get himself some playing time, so the coaches might be tempted to be cautious about exposing Clark’s soft underbelly. They better not be! Those running plays have to happen to keep an extremely good defense guessing.
I’ve caught wind that Derrick Williams is taking snaps as a potential backup for Clark. I have mixed feelings about that. Paul Cianciolo is around, and although he’s had damn little playing time, what is this, an NFL Championship game? Shouldn’t Cianciolo be the backup now?
There are some distractions, aside from the babes on Santa Monica beach. Red-shirt sophomore All-America Aaron Maybin has asked the NFL Draft advisory board for evaluation, as has junior Jared Odrick. Both have expressed their intention of returning to Penn State next year. However, it is this Turkey’s opinion that in Maybin’s case, that’s a load of crap. Maybin has been projected to go as high as #5 overall if he declares—and that’s a lot of money to put on the line behind another unpaid college season where there is no greater reward and the downside risk is a career-ending injury. Maybin would be a damn fool to stay. School spirit? Pshaw. It’s a money business. You’ve got your head up your ass if you don’t know that.
Speaking of that, once in a while, I have to rant about what college football has become—at least big-time FDS (Female Deodorant Spray) college football, also known as FBS, formerly known as Division I-A, and functionally acting as the NFL farm system. Yea, verily, FBS football is football’s equivalent of the Minor Leagues in baseball. As much as the NCAA has been hyping student athletes and their academic accomplishments of late, you and I know what it’s all about. Show me the money! Anyhow, along these lines, I want to share with you a quote from a good friend of many years whom I shall call Toejam, who was a contemporary of mine at Penn State. Through the years, he’s been a great supporter of the program and has had season seats as long as I can remember, and club seats now that they exist. His feelings echo those of many others with whom I’ve spoken and corresponded, so I thought I would include them here.
Everyone is asking are we going to the Rose Bowl. Even though we were there once, I always thought I’d like to go back. I think I am getting tired of Penn State. It is just not the same. Sometimes, I wish I would have gone to Lehigh or Lafayette. That is real scholar athlete football. PSU football has gotten too big for its britches. It is almost like professional sports, which I abhor, even though I do watch Eagles and Steelers football. When my Club Seat contract expires, I probably won’t renew. I can save money by going through “Rick the Scalper” and only go to the better match-up Big Ten and other games. Even though we did not stay over, it cost me $492 to see Coastal Carolina, and I left at the middle of the third quarter. Perhaps if they go to a playoff, where you can play Alabama, Texas, Georgia and LSU and lose, but still make the playoff by winning you conference it will be worth $500 per game.
I agree that it has become something that it was originally not, and it certainly is all about the money. However, let’s end this commentary on a more positive note. The state of the game is one thing, but the people who comprise it are something else.
I don’t buy into the crap that seems to pervade our society these days where if you’re not number one, you’re a piece of total shit, or you were robbed, or you don’t get no respect, or whatever the hell. Accordingly, my hat is off to this team, particularly the seniors. It is a damn fine distinction to get into the Rose Bowl and have even a piece of the Big Ten Championship. These guys deserve all the credit in the world, and then some. Derrick Williams took a particularly big chance on Penn State, the team coming off a 4-7 season when he committed. He and the rest of the seniors you’ll see on the field are the creme de la creme of Penn State football, guys who have stuck with it through thick and thin, through injury and health, through media and fan scorn and plaudits, and who have surmounted allegations of a program in decline to focus on what they do best: excel on the football field. They have brought off the great feat of taking a 4-7 team to two BCS bowls and two other good bowl games. No matter what happens on the field on Thursday, these guys are all winners and they deserve your respect and admiration. They certainly have mine. No Rodney Dangerfield moments there.
Moreover, big kudos to Joe Paterno and his coaching staff for another fine season. Given all the crap that has been slung at Joe, lesser men would have folded, um, 60 years ago. Let’s give Joe and his accomplishments credit where it is due, too. Would you want the team to be in anybody else’s hands on the cusp of a big bowl game? If Penn State loses, it won’t be because of coaching. All you LazyBoy coaches out there just shut your incompetent mouths for a while and watch a master at work. Someday, if you’re lucky, you might use a few tricks you learned from Joe when you coach your Pop Warner team, which, incidentally, is where you’ll top out as a football coach, unless you never transcend just writing about it. Come on, folks, let’s give Joe some props, whatever the hell “props” are. (Um, I feel a rant coming on about Ebonic street lingo, but that’s another post for another time.)
On that note, we come to that for which you have been waiting all season: The Sure-Handed Infallible Turkey Poop Instant Score Seance (SHITPISS), Rose Bowl edition. As for the gambling line, USC is favored by 9, with an over/under of 45. That’s what has led to all the pseudo-wonks bitching that “Vegas doesn’t know football.”
Before I get to my prediction, however, I’ll tell you a damn story. Why? Because that’s what I do. You know, the aforementioned anti-PSU national press reminds me of the similar situation surrounding the 1994 Citrus Bowl, in which the Nittany Lions were very lightly regarded against hugely favored Tennessee. I live in the Orlando area, so I was there. On the way to the game, I parked my car at a Park-and-Ride location that happened to be a multi-level parking garage, where I seemed to be surrounded by large masses of orange-clad Volunteer fans humming Rocky Top to each other and smiling knowingly (albeit toothlessly) at each other. On the elevator, they were bitching and moaning, wishing they could have had “a better quality opponent” and other such demeaning, ignorant blue tick coonhound bullshit while I just smiled at them, knowing something they didn’t know. The most prolific offense in NCAA history to that point was forming up in the PSU locker room and this Citrus Bowl game would be its coming out party. The game was essentially over at halftime, when in the final seconds of the half Ki-Jana Carter scored on a draw play on third-and-goal from the 10. Better opponent, indeed! On the way back, there were lots of orange clad, non Rocky Top singing heads hanging low from the 31-10 beat down as well as the moonshine hangovers they were about to have to endure.
OK, OK! Enough stalling. This Rose Bowl game will not go the way of that Citrus Bowl, alas. Penn State has a very good, but not great team this year. They’ve been known to have lapses. If they do that in this Rose Bowl (presented by CITI) game, they’ll be torched big time, with USC scoring 45 or more points. I happen to be a Nittany Lion fan and I also know how Coach Paterno prepares these young guys for big bowl games, so I don’t think that will happen, but just the same, I don’t think they can pull this off. They’ll all play their hearts out, but they’ll come up short. USC 27, Penn State 16.
This Turkey will be serving Tequila Sunrises during the game as a salute to USC’s colors. After the game, those who remain in The Cave will become absintheurs to soothe our collective wounds.
I wish all you readers out there a very happy, healthy, and prosperous 2009. Those of you who have stuck with me through thick and thin and all my silliness and obstreperousness deserve my respect and admiration. Thanks for being you!