Old farts like to tell stories. They were there. At least 182,000,000 old farts claim to have attended the Woodstock Music Festival. Before I get carried away, though, let me state that this post will be the official Nittany Turkey Penn State vs. Syracuse game preview and prediction. I didn’t want you to get too damn bored to read the terminal paragraph, in which I actually get around to making the prediction. Oops! Now you’re going to skip over the rest of the drivel and go right there. That’s okay, if you want to miss out of the opportunity to brag about having known this turkey before he became an international superstar of blogatry. Or not. Those of you who have dealt with me in years past know exactly how to navigate through the troubled terrain of turkey trivia.
Yeah, I’m an old fart. Back in the 1960s when I was a student at PSU, Syracuse was a formidable opponent, a veritable running back factory, having produced such memorable backs as Ernie Davis, Floyd Little, Jim Nance, Larry Csonka, and the great Jim Brown. The rivalry was intense and they always kicked the Nittany Lions asses up and down the field.
Along came the 1970s and Penn State got even, winning 16 straight from 1971 to 1986. Syracuse really sucked in the 1970s after the legendary Ben Schwartzwalder retired. After trading victories for four or five years, the two teams played only a few more times. Syracuse was doing pretty well in the Big Least while PSU joined the B1G. Now, Syracuse resurfaces with a new coach in Scott Shafer and a new conference, the ACC. Shafer moves up from defensive coordinator after the hapless Buffalo Bills made his ex-boss, Doug Marrone, an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Penn State leads the series 41-23-5.
Yes, Syracuse has sucked for a long time and Penn State optimism being what it is, this one is already in the bag, right? Not so fast, white boy! This ain’t as easy as it looks. If you recall my earlier posts about the season ahead, this and UCF (who beat Akron 38-7 last night) are two pivotal games. These two so-called cupcake opponents have to be taken seriously, and so does Kent State. But I digress. First things first. This turkey thinks the Lions will have their paws full with the Orangemen.
Last year I made the mistake of unbridled optimism at the outset. Sure, no problem. It was just Ohio, right? And this is just Syracuse, right? Right?
If you read any of the comment thread for my previous predictions post, you know what’s on my mind. Lots of things. I can’t know what to make of this team until it steps onto the field and actually plays. The nonsense about who is ahead of whom in practice is just that — nonsense. Coaches make decisions based on that kind of stuff, but games are won or lost by what happens on the field. So you can’t just blow off about “raw talent” or who’s better than whom in practice. Sure, it’s an indication of whether they’re worth a shit, but the proof is in the proverbial pudding. With that in mind, you will understand that I ain’t seen no indications that will tell me how these untried players — particularly two rookie quarterbacks — will do when it counts.
Coach O’Brien softened up the practice schedule because he wanted to avoid injuries. Of course he wants to avoid injuries. There is already enough of an externally imposed talent drain on this team. However, if you lessen the intensity of practice, you’re expecting players to get their practice reps during actual games. A lot of these kids — particularly two rookie quarterbacks — haven’t played a game at this level, with the kind of player speed and huge crowds we see in Division I FBS. Don’t minimize the effect of limited practice and early season rookiehood.
Hackie and Fergy are listed in O’Brien’s depth chart as co-starters, but only one of the two will line up under center. (I take license there, for if they come out in the single wing, no one will be under the damn center.) We won’t know who that will be until game time. I suspect that rumors will abound tomorrow morning, but who cares? We’ll know soon enough. No matter which one it is, the Fork U. Kid or the Surfer, he’ll be playing his first big-time college football game. There will be mistakes.
“Skill Positions” LMAO
Fortunately, both the Christian and the Tyler have an impressive array of offensive weaponry, assuming that the retooled offensive line can do its job effectively (which is a biiiiiiiig ass-umption). This team had so many tight ends that they had to move one to tackle! And you know that O’Brien likes tight ends. (We all do, but get your mind out of the damn gutter, will you?) Allen Robinson is back with the potential to stretch the field. And the “Zach Attack” is also back from last season’s 1000 yards and a cloud of dust. The wealth of experienced talent at the so-called skill positions (as if they’re the only positions that require skill) should provide some comfort to either the 18 year-old or the 19 year-old who takes the snaps.
Since when isn’t offensive lineman a skill position? But I digress.
I’ve expressed concerns about depth on defense before, particularly in the comment thread for the season prediction post, so I won’t regurgitate it here. Suffice to say that it is a concern, but probably not this early in the season. I do think that Larry Johnson’s rotating front four will suffer later on, and I predict that the inevitable linebacker injuries will expose the youthful inexperience behind the starters. So, the usually solid front seven pose some dilemmas for me at this early juncture when I have no idea what the hell will happen as the season moves ahead.
And the secondary ain’t giving me great, warm vibes, either. They just better create some turnovers this year. Last year, the linebackers led them in INTs. That shouldn’t be.
PSU Special Teams Suuuuuuuuugggg
Close games are won or lost on the backs of special teams. The fact that PSU’s special teams have sucked for many years is not lost on this turkey, but it seems to fly right past the perennial optimists among us who think PSU will wind up 12-0 with every game a blowout. I read crap like “I hope Ficken continues to make the progress he made through last season” . Y’know? I guess no one watched the Blue-White game. They keep making excuses for this kid. I feel bad for him every time he steps in there to kick. It’s like the late Seve Ballesteros when he stepped up to the tee — never a dull moment — one never knows which direction the ball will go. And Ficken made none, zero, zilch, nada from outside 40 yards last year. You can’t tell me that some game this year is not going to hinge on kicking a long field goal. Oops. There goes the 12-0! And if Butterworth isn’t the worst punter in the B1G, who the hell is? Again, the hyperoptimists don’t think punters are necessary, but when the offense sputters, the team is on their backs. And who do you play on special teams if you’re O’Brien, with a thin talent pool? You sure as hell don’t want to play your regulars and risk injury. Penn State special teams worry me.
Then, you have the biased analysts who blindly give the coaching edge to Bill O’Brien because he works for Penn State. LOL. He’s great, why? Because he had an 8-4 record last year? Yeah, not bad, but it doesn’t exactly make him the John Wooden of college football. (Note that I avoided comparison to St. Joe.) It was an extraordinary year and passions ran high. Let’s see what he can do with a decreasing talent pool before we anoint him, shall we? If he goes 5-7 this year, you all will be wanting to fire him. So, do we give the coaching edge for this game to BoB, or not? After all, Scott Shafer is a first year head coach, so he can probably do as well as O’Brien his first year, too, right? Ahhh, but O’Brien has one more year of experience and he’s automatically better because he works for Penn State. I know how that logic works. Truth be known, the jury is still out on both of these guys and emotional favorites don’t mean squat when it comes down to the cold, hard science of winning football games. Or picking them, because I’m obviously scientific about pulling this stuff out of my ass.
Let’s face it. I love to piss people off by writing stuff like the above paragraph, but think about it. Would O’Brien be so great in your minds if he pulled off an 8-4 season coaching at Michigan? Huh? Huh? Nahhhh, you’d think that he sucked. You wouldn’t apply all the mitigating circumstances that we use to justify his losses. You’d just call them losses. Officiating? Baaaaaaaah! Just an excuse. Let’s be fair and look at this objectively. (But I bet you can’t.)
To this Turkey, the inexperience at Penn State quarterback suggests that we’ll be seeing a lot of running plays interspersed with some safe sideline pass routes routes. (You want to keep those tight ends well lubricated.) Syracuse has lost some of its defensive talent up front, which will make them susceptible to taking a pounding from the Zwinster and maybe Belton, if he has his act together. Akeel Lynch has to scare the crap out of them.
Meanwhile, the guessing game about who will start at QB for Sy-RACK-is all show and no blow. No matter which one they play, the PSU secondary is exploitable. But Syracuse is balanced with a decent running attack featuring the commoner Smith and the prince Gully. I’m thinking that this group can score some points on the PSU defense.
The weather for this supposedly neutral site game is going to favor neither team. It’s going to be hot, 86 degrees, which means that the big guys will be sucking wind. But unlike perceived officiating errors, that affects both teams. Why I say supposedly neutral, though, is that PSU has over 40,000 alumnae and alumni (new feminist Latin requires that the feminine plural not be implied by the masculine plural and must be listed first) in the New York metropolitan area. Even though Syracuse is a New York state university, probably fewer of their alumnuses and alumnapusses will show up. So, it’s a home game for Penn State.
Official Turkey Poop Prediction
That, of course, brings us to the feature that has caused you either to get pissed off at all that I’ve written above or skip right down here to my inimitable prediction section. Here at The Nittany Turkey, we call it the Official Turkey Poop Prediction, because that’s about what it’s worth. For those of you who are unacquainted with this turkey’s prolific prescience, I’ll tell you that we look at what Las Vegas has to say and then advise you send me your money instead of betting on the game. So, without further adoo-doo, Penn State is favored by 8.5 with an over/under of 51.5. That suggests that gamblers are expecting something like a 30-21 Penn State win. Sounds pretty reasonable to me, but I think opening day jitters might keep the scoring down a little I’m going with PSU 26, Syracuse 24, with a Sam Ficken field goal miss nearly giving us all a myocardial infarction. I don’t know whether the old maxim about never going broke betting that Penn State won’t cover the spread still applies in general, but it will for this game.