I realize that this is late in coming. Oh, the best laid plans of mice and men, as “they” say. I had a month to write this game preview and here I am writing it at eight hours prior to kickoff. Yes, thank you. I will accept that master procrastinator award at the next banquet. Just let me know a few weeks in advance so I can scurry to prepare at the last possible minute.
It’s been a weird December for your Turkey, who is still under the weather. The only way to get over the weather would be in one of those neo-Soviet rockets they launch from Kazakhstan, which after the U.S. Space Shuttle program sunsets will be the only way for our astronauts to get to the International Space Station. Weird, I know, relying on the Russians for that kind of crucial stuff. But I digress. You didn’t really want to know about me, anyway.
This post is about the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day in Tampa, where the Florida Gators (7-5, 4-4 SEC) will face our Penn State Nittany Lions (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten). When I first became aware of this matchup, I began to think that our guys would have a tough time matching up with UF; however, as time has transpired, I am believing more strongly in the Lions’ abilities to prepare for a big game with Joe Paterno still firmly in control. How can you think of betting against a guy who has more bowl wins than anyone else?
There are those SEC sycophants like war1man who feel that the SEC is infallible and will always beat teams of other conferences. I think Ohio State has done the Big Ten a lot of harm by allowing cheap shots like that based on their performance in SSMNC games. Be that as it may, it will please you to know that the SEC blather is all smokescreen in PSU’s case. Here is my response to the SEC superiority rant:
“… when you look back through the years when Penn State faced the SEC, it doesn’t go the way your revisionist approach to history said it did. Last time in the Outback Bowl (four years ago), Penn State beat Tennessee. Last time in the Capital One Bowl, Penn State beat LSU. I believe that both Tennessee and LSU are SEC teams. In fact, since 1991, Penn State is 6-2 in bowl games played against SEC opponents.”
So, enough holding Warren’s armpit to the fire. It stinks enough in here already. Suffice to say that Penn State does well against the SEC in bowl games, and Joe Paterno is still the guy I’d want to be cooking up the game plan.
By the way, even after denials from Sue Paterno and the Penn State administration, there are still wonks out there who swear that they have concrete, corroborated knowledge that the Outback Bowl will be Joe’s last game as a Penn State head coach. They always claim that they know someone who is a former player who is close to the administration or to the Paternos, or someone who dropped in from Mars and drilled into Paterno’s brain to get the truth. They’re still trying to create news. If they get it right, it’s a big scoop. If they don’t, well, everybody else was saying it. I won’t get involved in any of that crap right now. Maybe later, when there’s nothing else to write about. As for now, there’s a game to play.
So, if you look at the two teams’ records, they’re identical in every respect, so we have two teams which are essentially mediocre. Florida is so mediocre that they use three quarterbacks in some kind of cockamamie rotation to confuse the defense. Junior John Brantley, along with freshmen Jordan Reed and Trey Burton will probably see action. Apparently, there were five defenses that didn’t get very confused, namely, the five ranked teams that the Gators played, to whom the lost.
Meanwhile, Penn State solved its quarterback controversy, sorta, by making a change at mid-season, replacing Rob Bolden with Matt McGloin. The latter seemed to be a more accurate passer with more poise in the pocket. He is merely adequate, nothing more. Kevin Newsome did not make the trip to Tampa and is likely to transfer out of the program. Paul Jones was red-shirted.
Penn State also lost to all its ranked opponents.
Yep, two mediocre teams.
Florida is presently in a period of uncertainty with respect to recruiting and personnel in general. While their new head coach has been hired, along with a wide receiver coach and potentially as offensive coordinator, a fat guy who used to be the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, the head coach of Notre Dame, and is currently the offensive coordinator for the surprisingly retooled Kansas City Chiefs. However, outgoing coach Urban Meyer will still coach the Outback Bowl, albeit possibly without his defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who spent recent time in the hospital with gastritis. This all leads to the question: Will the team strive for a victory for their departing coach, or will they beat their swords into plowshares and take it easy. (We all know that those who beat their swords into plowshares wind up being dominated by those who kept their swords.)
Looking at tweets on New Year’s Eve, I noted that most of the Lions seemed to be in bed before midnight, although a few longed to be out celebrating like their friends. Patience, guys. Your lives as a college football player last only so long.
Florida has five key injuries, which will hurt them on both sides of the ball. Florida will be without cornerback Janoris Jenkins in this game. Jenkins had surgery on his right shoulder recently, while right tackle Maurice Hurt (right knee) and defensive tackles Lawrence Marsh (right hip) and Terron Sanders (right shoulder) also will sit out.
The good news for Penn State is that Mike Mauti, who is the only linebacker who is a game changer, appears healthy and ready to play. The underperforming front seven will get a significant boost from Mauti.
This game might come down to special teams, where Florida has the edge. We don’t even know whether we’ll have a legitimate punter for this game, as Anthony Fera’s status is still unknown as I write this.
Penn State is 3-0 in Outback Bowls. Winning this one would give PSU four Outback wins, more than any other participating program. Meanwhile, the Gators are 1-2 in their Outback Bowl appearances.
While kickoff time is not the dreaded noon, which usually means the Nittany Lions come out flatter than the beer I left out for slug bait, it is close enough to create concerns along these lines. If they blow the first quarter in this game as they have in some other games this season, there’ll be no digging out of the hole they create for themselves. They’ve got to come out sharp, play good defense, and establish the run against a feisty, albeit wounded, Florida front four. There can be no siestas for the offense.
And now, for the last time this football season and for the first time in 2011, it is time for the Official Turkey Poop Prediction, Outback Bowl Edition. Gators are favored by a touchdown, with an over/under of 48. This suggests that the gamblers see a 27-20 win by Florida. Why, with identical records almost to the letter, do the wise guys think it will go Florida’s way? It’s the SEC superiority effect, which when one gets down to the mediocre middlin’ teams, doesn’t really mean much. That’s why this Turkey thinks the spread is an overlay and exhorts you to take Penn State and the points. Take the under. It’ll be Penn State 23, Florida 20.
Thank you all for paying attention and putting up with my Turkey foibles through 2010. I wish all of you and your families a very healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year!