About time we started looking at Penn State football around here, eh? Having been mired in Freeh report, NCAA, BoT, and laser focus crap, I have a weird headache, but I am anxious to get the season underway. The show must go on!
The Penn State Athletic Compliance Office has cranked up its activities in a conspicuous place on the Official Penn State Sports website as an earnest show of perhaps a bit dated effort, representing some window dressing I’d never noticed before, but I digress.
Let’s talk about Penn State football! The Saturday, high noon showdown with the Ohio Bobcats looms large on the horizon.
And now, the starting lineup, sorta
Today Bill O’Brien released his depth chart for the Ohio U. game. My first observation is that several positions are still up for grabs as indicated by the big OR, among them wide receiver, right tackle, third string running back, and second string quarterback on offense; defensive end, defensive tackle, and safety on defense.
Sophomore Allen Robinson is the only non-OR starting wide receiver. The other two positions are a battle between junior Shawnee Kersey and freshman Trevor Williams and sophomore Alex Kenney and senior Evan Lewis.
Starting running back sophomore Bill Belton is backed by body-double senior Derek Day, with a trio of potential third stringers, including freshman Akeel Lynch, sophomore Zach Zwinak, and junior Curtis Dukes.
Tight ends are set in stone. Junior Garry Gilliam will start at the Y tight end, backed up by the freshman 6′-7″ outlaw Jesse James. At the F tight end, Kyle Carter is backed by Brian Irvin and Brent Wilkerson. And then, there’s the Y/F swing position, occupied by 6-6 junior Matt Lehman. Those of you who aren’t familiar with the Bill O’Brien Patriots offensive system should read the explanation of what Y and F tight ends are.
Fifth year senior Michael Zordich mans the starting fullback slot.
The offensive line, from left to right is a lot of meat: red-shirt freshman Donovan Smith, sophomore Miles Dieffenbach, senior Matt Stankiewicz, junior (in terms of football eligibility) John Urschel (graduated with 4.0 in math, Peetz told me to say it), and senior Mike Farrell OR junior Adam Gress. That’s a beefy offensive line, averaging 306 lbs. The left side of the line lacks experience, particularly Donovan Smith at LT. Nate Cadogan is his backup.
It is interesting to note that the third-string center is Wendy Laurent, a 6-2, 278 pound freshman from Hamilton, N.J, representing the first “Wendy” Penn State has ever listed at the position. Wendy attended The Hun School of Princeton University as his preparatory academy. Let us hope that Wendy is not majoring in Women’s Studies at Penn State — he’s already going to take a significant pounding in the locker room. Now that the sainted Joe Paterno has joined the classical philosophers in heaven, the team needs a classical scholar to quote Plato at team meetings. Instead of making the natural hop to Princeton for his college career, Wendy came to Penn State. Joe would have regarded that as fate.
Finally, fifth year senior quarterback Matt McGloin rounds out the starting offense. With Rob Bolden safely off the squad at LSU, McGloin’s backup is either sophomore Paul Jones or freshman Steven Bench. Shane McGregor is listed fourth .
On defense, there is a depth problem that might bite us in the butt as the season wears on. Senior Sean Stanley is solidly ensconced at one end, while the other is a competition between redshirt freshman Deion Barnes and fifth-year senior Pete Massaro. Jordan Hill mans one DT position; the other is between junior DaQuan Jones and fifth-year senior James Terry. Backers are fifth-year senior Michael Mauti, junior Glenn Carson, and senior Gerald Hodges, a solid linebacking corps, but again, without significant depth.
The secondary also is hurt by the depth issue as well as inexperience, with undersized senior Stephon Morris and sophomore Adrian Amos at the corners, junior Malcolm Willis at one safety, and either junior Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (who got himself a new pair of shoes, according to Twitter) or senior Jake Fagnano at the other.
On special teams, junior Alex Butterworth will be the punter and the apparently improved sophomore Sam Ficken will be the place kicker. Fifth year senior Evan Lewis is listed as the holder. He is listed nowhere else on the chart, so I guess O’Brien has some good reason for setting aside a position for a holder. Perhaps Lewis was on scholarship anyway, so he wasn’t going to be dead weight. Lewis is listed on the roster as a wide receiver.
The long snapper will be junior Emery Etter.
Kick returners are to be advised. I suppose we’ll find out on Saturday, hopefully sooner. I suppose this area will be dependent upon who eventually wins out at wide receiver and safety.
Thirteen freshmen are listed on the depth chart. That’s a lot of youth and inexperience, not to mention deficient strength and size.
Turkey predicts the season ahead
This motley crew, with minor adjustments along the way is what Penn State has to do the work of the season. I’m going to sneak in my season prediction because I don’t think I have enough of an idea about these guys to write a whole column of B.S. and then pull a prediction out of the air. As the wise administration decides on complex, serious issues such as not allowing the Blue Band to play the sing-along “Sweet Caroline” during breaks for fear that some perverts might make a connection between “touching me, touching you” to Jerry Sandusky or alternatively, mockingly grope each other in the stands, this Turkey will get down to the serious business of what actually occurs on the field. Phil Grosz, publisher of Blue White Illustrated has made his prediction of 9-3; we typically have to deduct at least three wins from Mr. Pie-in-the-Sky in order to establish a reasonable upper bound on any season he predicts.
I do think that the team will get a bigger than usual boost from the home crowd this year. Although their numbers might be fewer, their voices will be louder, as these are the true fans and supporters of the program, as well as those who were disgruntled with the previous coaching regime. Even without “Sweet Caroline”, this should win some home games for the Nittany Lions. I’m looking for the team to be more energized than at any time in recent memory. If the come out as flat as they were in prior campaigns, there is no hope whatsoever, as the team will be attempting to best big-time opponents while operating with a dearth of talent. Spunk, motivation, drive, chutzpah — whatever you want to call it — will have to spur them to victory.
And so, as I look at the schedule, I’m going to look at a tight win over Ohio U. to start the season. The odds-makers have installed Penn State as a nine-point favorite. I’ll write more about that game later, but I think it is important to note here that if they don’t win it, anything goes with the rest of the season. This is a tough one to call, as Ohio U. is a good football team. (Not in the Paterno vernacular, but really a good football team.) Penn State is going to have a difficult time finding any offense. I’m looking for a loss at Charlottesville to Virginia, another good football team but an away game nooner, followed by a home win against Navy, and then a sacrilege loss against Temple at home. (Sorry, Turkey fans, but I had to see it that way, even with Golden in Miami.) The player stealing rat-bastards of Illinois can beat the boys with good defense on their home turf but the Lions will bounce back against Northwestern for homecoming and then regain some strength with a bye week.
In the second half of the season, our Lions start with a prime-time loss to the Hawkeyes out in the Iowa corn fields, followed by a loss to the Buckeyes at the Beave. A road win at Purdue, just to make everyone feel better, will precede the Nebraska game, a disheartening loss at Lincoln. In the home stretch, if the Nits can’t beat the Hoosiers, they have no business stepping onto the field, so I believe they will redeem themselves before a big loss at home against the mighty Badgers.
So, what does that come to? A fairly lousy 5-7, and 3-5 in the B1G. I hope they do better, but I think that even to win five games would be stretch, having lost the talent core of the team. It would be great to see some young guys stepping up and some old guys having renewed energy. I think the Ohio, Virginia, and, Illinois, and Iowa games could go either way, so my upper bound is 8-4, but the probability of all those being wins is slim, in my humble estimation. Wouldn’t you love to see the boys upset Nebraska in Lincoln? I don’t think that’s an impossibility, but I’m trying to restrain myself from becoming overenthusiastic. It just wouldn’t be Turkeyesque to be optimistic at the outset of a season burdened by the mess left by the previous administration. (I’m already planning for my reelection in four years.)
I’ll be back with my take on the Ohio U. game later in the week.