In case you didn’t read yesterday’s Part One, I’ll sum it up by saying I touched on several questionable areas that could conspire to knock the petals off some of the rosy forecasts for the Nittany Lions currently being bandied about by the sportsweenies and blogwonks. This Turkey, never known for his unbridled optimism at the beginning of a season, doesn’t understand all of the hubbub about a largely untried team. There are too many question marks here, my fellow Penn State fans.
My fears about this team are exacerbated by the appearance of Daryll Clark and Stefan Wisniewski on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Yes, the cover jinx is once again upon us. However, that could be counterbalanced by the Turkey Paradox: when I say they’ll suck, they’re usually not too shabby.
If you didn’t read yesterday’s diatribe, go ahead and do so now. It will get you riled up and ready for more of the same.
I want to spend a little time talking about the defensive line. It’s been pretty well decimated, given the loss of Maybin, Gaines, and Evans at ends, and the sudden pre-season kicked-offedness of Abe Koroma at tackle. (Koroma will be plying his wares at Western Illinois this year, musing about “what might have been” at PSU.) I don’t think tackle will be a serious problem, as Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu are still around, along with some promising underclassmen. Tom McEowen had shoulder surgery in the spring, but he is said to have recovered well from it. However, at the edges, things look a little shaky to this Turkey, with only six defensive ends on the roster, four of whom are freshmen and sophomores. Tom Bradley, knowing that he’d be facing some depth problems could potentially move Bani Gbdayu from linebacker. Another great name, Kevion Latham will battle for some game time with Eric Latimore, while oft injured Jerome Hayes will return for one more season. Sophomore Jack Crawford shows considerable promise and if he stays healthy will get lots of playing time.
I mentioned special teams in passing yesterday, but I’m going to take a closer look today. Kevin Kelly’s absence will be felt, even though he was another guy who was much maligned by fans. That was probably because of his crappy performance in the 2006 Orange Bowl, but hell, he was a damn freshman then. Now, his departure leaves the field wide open to some untried entities: Collin Wagner, a junior from State College and Anthony Fera, a 6’2″, 212 lb freshman from Texas who apparently has a helluva leg. Neither has any meaningful game experience. So, yeah, I’m worried about place kicking and kickoffs. Meanwhile, Jeremy Boone returns as the punter. On the receiving end, coaches have been using Drew Astorino for the punt/safe sets, replacing the departed Anthony Scirrotto, and they’ve been trying out several returners such as doghouse bound A.J. Wallace and even Evan Royster, for punt and kickoff returns.
To sum up all of the above in a brief phrase, I will label this as a rebuilding year, tempered by a relatively easy schedule and a relatively easy conference.
Now, let’s get down to the so-called “creampuff” schedule. Yeah, we start off with a few non-conference laughers just for tune-ups, but the roughshod defensive secondary might get a good workout against the Akron Zips. The Orangemen of Syracuse, who descend on State College to wrap up the home-and-home series started last year, should be dispatched by the Lions in short order. The Temple Owls have improved measurably under Al Golden (PSU ’91), and will have 15 returning starters. This Turkey is thinking they’ll bat at least .500 this year after a somewhat disappointing 5-7 season in 2008. Nevertheless, this one’s in the win column for the Nittany Lions.
The creaminess and puffery should have a respite on September 26, when last year’s nemesis, the Iowa Hawkeyes, come to Beaver Stadium for a nationally televised night game. Iowa, by the way, was one of the only Big Ten teams that performed well in the post-season last year, beating Steve Superior’s South Carolina Gamecocks in the Outback Bowl. I’m going out on a limb when I predict that State will handle the Hawkeyes this year, but revenge is sweet and Beaver Stadium offers a significant home field advantage.
The unfortunate thing is that Kirk Ferentz’ loss is Ron Zook’s gain. After playing a close game with Iowa, the Lions will have to travel to Illinois. The Juicester will be waiting there, and the Fighting Illini are thinking Rose Bowl again. Juice Williams has given Penn State secondaries a hard time in the past – and that was when we had some fast and experienced hands back there, along with a couple of great pass rushers. Williams can run, too. His stats are amazing, and there is a good chance he could break Drew Brees’ Big Ten total career offense record. The good thing is that Penn State is sandwiched in between Ohio State and Michigan State in Illinois’ schedule. Nevertheless, I don’t like this road test early in our rebuilding year. I’m going to call it the first loss of the season.
Following the loss, the boys will be able to put away Panther Nation of Eastern Illinois back at Beaver Stadium fairly quickly. If they can’t beat an Ohio Valley Conference FCS team, then they might just as well go home and knit.
Homecoming, man! Golden Gophers. No problem. One more for the Lions.
A two game road trip takes the Nits to Michigan and Northwestern. At various times in the past, this would have struck a note of fear in our blue and white hearts. Not this year. Not by a longshot. Two more wins for the boys.
The big game of the year will follow, on November 7, at Beaver Stadium, versus the Ohio State Buckeyes, who should also have one loss by that time, at the behest of USC, whom they play on September 12. This is a tough one for me to call. Beanie Wells is gone, but Terrelle Pryor is looking pretty doggone good in all respects. Last year, he made some rookie mistakes. Look for him to clean up his act this year. It pains me to say this, but I don’t think our defense will be quite up to the challenge. No huge microanalysis – just my gut feel. I’m going to count this one as a big “L”.
The following week, if the Lions don’t pout too much, Indiana should be an easy win. They’ve even lost Kellen Lewis, who got into trouble with the law.
And then, our so-called rivalry game, the battle for the abominable Land Grant Trophy. This year’s edition will be in East Lansing. It will be cold. It will mean the difference between a crappy bowl and a half-assed decent bowl for both teams. Moo U. wound up 9-4 last year and they should be contenders in the Big Ten again this year, along with PSU, OSU, and Illinois. So, who gets the crappier bowl this year? I think defense wins ball games, and I think that by that point in the season, the Nittany Lions should actually have some. Thus, I’m going to stick my neck out and lament that the lads in blue and white will carry that ugly piece of shit back to University Park, where we’ll be subjected to the onerous task of shielding our eyes from its trophy case demeaning ugliness for yet another year.
With a regular season record of 10-2, the Nittany Lions should get themselves that aforementioned half-assed decent bowl bid. While it might be good enough for a BCS Bowl, I believe that the Capital One or the Outback would be more likely. This Turkey doesn’t have the foggiest notion of who the opponent might be, and therefore, I will not make a prediction for the bowl game.
To sum it all up, a 10-2 regular season ain’t bad, given that I have characterized this as a rebuilding year. Yeah, the cushy schedule helps a lot, but it won’t propel the Lions into the stratosphere of the FBS, where they wouldn’t stand a chance in a BCS Bowl, let alone the SSMNC game. In fact, I won’t be disappointed at all if they can pull off that record.