Old dog learns a new trick

Anytime Joe Paterno does something for the first time as a coach  it is newsworthy. When he makes an announcement like he did today, it really grabs attention.

Paterno announced that freshman Robert Bolden will be the starter for No. 19 Penn State in its opener against Youngstown State on Saturday. It marks the first time in Paterno’s 45 years as a coach that true freshman will begin the season as the signal caller.

Bellow is an excerpt form the Associated Press:

Bolden barely beat out returning sophomores Matt McGloin and Kevin Newsome an impressive feat given that the touted freshman only joined the team this summer. All three quarterbacks still have a chance to earn the starting nod on a regular basis, Paterno said Wednesday night in a statement.

“Based on what we have seen to this point, Bolden has a slight edge right now, but we are confident all three quarterbacks are ready to go and hope to give them an opportunity to play until we settle on the one that gives us the best chance to win,” Paterno said.

Bolden had more than 2,000 yards passing and 14 touchdowns and rushed for over 1,000 yards and 16 scores in his final two high school seasons.

The move is certainly an interesting one, given that the Nittany Lions are expected to once again be in the thick of things in the Big 10 — though Ohio State is the clear favorite. What I am curious to see is what type of leash Paterno will give Bolden, since this is new territory for the sage coach. I’m hoping he gives Bolden a serious look and does not start making changes in the second half Saturday. I’ve never been a fan of quarterback rotation, even though some have proven successful in the past.

Today’s news sure adds some drama to what should be an easy opener for Penn State.

Temple back to first bowl since 1979

The Temple Owls conclude their 2nd best season in recent history at the Eaglebank bowl in Washington DC on 12-29 at 4:30.  After going 9-3 overall and 7-1 in the MAC, the Owls drew a really tough draw for their bowl game, facing the UCLA Bruins.  They lost to Ohio 35-17 in their last game, keeping them out of the conference championship game, so this bowl game represents thier chance to make a statement to the country.

Even though UCLA was only .500 this year and barely qualified for a bowl appearance, they play in a much tougher conference coming from the PAC-10 and are an overwhelming favorite to beat the Owls when they play in ten days time.

Temple has a few things going for them.  The game is being played less than 150 miles away from their home turf whereas the Bruins are having to travel 3000 miles cross country for the meeting, the closest thing to a home field advantage you could hope for.  They also have a good defense to help control the Bruins ability to move the ball and a top 24 rushing offense.

Another thing going for Temple is coach Al Golden on their side, a coach UCLA passed over in favor of Rick Neuhiesel two years ago.   Golden orchestrated a near total turnaround at Temple and is taking the Owls to their first bowl game in 30 years for the first ever meeting between these two teams.  1979 was the last time Temple was this good, when they went 10-2 and beat California 28-17 in the Garden State Bowl.

Golden inherited a winless 0-11 team when he arrived in Philadelphia in 2006, so the rapid improvement to a bowl game has begun getting him noticed and made him top choice for several teams seeking a new coach.  Golden insists he plans on remaining in Philadelphia as head coach at Temple.  For now !

Expect big games from Bernard Pierce, the MAC freshman of the year, who missed the game against Ohio; sidelined with a left shoulder injury.  He led the conference with 1308 rushing yards and was second with 15 touchdowns; and Matt Brown, another freshman who has really turned it on through the past six games.  Temple is ranked 23rd nationally in rushing with nearly 200 yards per game.

Also watch for sophomore Adrian Robinson, who with 12 sacks was named defensive player of the conference this year; one of a record 8 Owls to be named to the all MAC first team, to have a big day against the inconsistant UCLA offensive line.

The oddsmakers have given the Bruins 4 points early, and that number should rise, but I feel the Owls have as good a chance as any team to play spoiler in a bowl game this year by getting the win.

The Bruins have been held under 20 points six times with Kevin Prince completing 56.7 percent of his passes for 1,829 yards and six TDs and getting picked off seven times.   Temple has had their quarterbacking duties shared by Charlton and Stewart, both of whom met with mixed success.  But Temple holds the edge in defense.   If Temple gets off to a strong start running the ball, and Robinson gets a good push at Prince, he can keep the freshman QB throwing off his back foot and the put the odds in favor of the Temple squad getting their 10th win of the year for the second time in the last 30 years.

I am calling this a 24-21 Temple victory.  Villanova already came from nowhere to win a championship game, it is time for Temple to win a bowl game since they let the conference contest slip out of their grasp.  Good times for Philadelphia college football, a city known more for it’s success in college basketball and the big 5.  I hope to see Temple win the bowl game in front of a national TV audience so people out there see this town for what it is, a rapidly improving sports venue, both in college and the professional levels.

The last five years have actually seen major improvements in the stadium facilities and levels of talent being showcased.  If Golden is here to stay for a while, then we have 2 good college football teams, to add to five good or great final-four caliber college basketball teams, a good professional  football team, a champion baseball team and several other up and coming programs, all here in the City of Brotherly Love !

The best of the rest – The Villanova Wildcats

With all the attention being focused on the Division I-A and BCS approved lineup over the next three weeks, a local team came to the forefront and took home the highest honor in I-AA, the football championship subdivision title, much to the surprise of the Montana Grizzlies who may have entered tonight’s game assuming they would come out the victors.  The Colonial Athletic Conference is arguably the toughest conference in Division I-AA and after tonight, the best team in the CAA is also the owner of the FCS title.

The Villanova Wildcats football squad made it to the game against Montana with a record of 13-1.  Montana led the Big Sky going undefeated at 14-0 before running into the Philly team that kept a much lower national profile during their 2009 campaign but proved to have enough talent to pull off the victory.

At the start of the game, Montana was the only undefeated team in Division I-AA, but the Wildcats were able to hand the Big Sky conference 12 time champions their first loss and prevent their second undefeated season in the past three years.  Winning this game gives some credibility to the East Coast school’s program.

This final game was a close one but the bottom line was the Wildcats dominated the line of scrimmage and were virtually unstoppable on the ground chewing up almost 34 minutes of possession as they rushed for 352 yards and had nearly 500 total yards of offense en route to the 23-21 victory.

Villanova was a strong team all year, scoring 449 points and allowing 190 while going 7-1 in the CAA and 13-1 overall.   Their only loss came at New Hampshire, in a game they should have won, but lost 28-24; but they later made up for the loss with a shellacking of the more northern Wildcats 46-7 on December 5th when they played in Philadelphia.

These Villanova Wildcats have shown steady improvement since their low in 2005 when they went 4-7, with records of  6-5, 7-4, 10-3 until this years near perfect 13-1 campaign.

The win came in an unconventional way, with the bulk of the rushing yards being contributed by players that are not even running backs as WR Matt Szczur and QB Chris Whitney both had over 100 yards rushing for the Wildcats.    Szczur had 14 rushes for 159 yards and 2 touchdowns and Whitney added 103 yards on 14 rushes to complement his solid passing statistics of 10-13 for 142 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.   Junior Tight End Chris Farmer caught his first career touchdown pass in the third quarter to put Villanova ahead 16-14 for their first lead since an early 3-0 score in the first.

After falling behind 14-3 before the half, the Wildcats came roaring back to score 20 consecutive points before Montana managed a touchdown in the final minute when the game was a two score contest and the score meant little to the new champion Villanova Wildcats.  The first half was dominated by Montana, but the second half was entirely Villanova’s show, the final score making it seem closer than it was, but this game could have easiliy been 30-14 or more but for a key play or two.

Congratulations to the Villanova Wildcats, they have come a long way from being a sub .500 team and totally deserve the national spotlight and all the recognition this win should bring.  It is a shame that tomorrow the early division I-A bowl games start and focus will be on them and the BCS high profile lineups, but those of us local sports enthusiasts know these guys played one hell of a game and look to be good enough to make a run again at it next year !

Who is best team in Big Ten ?

Every poll has Florida way ahead of Alabama for number one in the country.   Having 6 undefeated teams in divison 1A is unprecedented in the BCS era, but closer to home there is a larger, more important controversy. Who is the best in the Big Ten ?

Iowa started strong, before losing 2 in a row, and Penn State and Ohio State were neck and neck all year.  But now that the games are all played and the three teams all finished at 10-2, Ohio State is getting the top spot in the Big Ten based on their single conference loss.  But wait a minute, if you want to rank the teams in the Big Ten strictly based on their head to head performance, it gets a little tricky.

OSU and Iowa both beat PSU this year, the Lions only two losses.  Iowa lost to Northwestern and Ohio State, with Northwestern not being ranked at the time of their victory.  Ohio State lost to Purdue and USC, with Purdue not being ranked at the time of their victory.

So according to strength of schedule, doesn’t Penn State have the best claim to the title ?  I know, they lost to both Big Ten competitors, but they swept the rest of their schedule, something neither Iowa or Ohio State was able to do.  But Ohio State beat BOTH their Big Ten competitors, and lost to #3 ranked USC, so don’t they deserve it ?  But they lost to Purdue ! The Boilermakers did not even finish .500 at 5-7 including losses to Northern Illinois and Wisconsin, so how good IS OSU if they couldn’t beat this team ? Iowa lost to Northwestern, a team that itself lost to Syracuse, a team PSU handled with ease !

If I had to pick a single team to represent this conference I couldn’t do it.  It appears the rest of the country is right there with me, as the AP ranks them 8-9-10, (Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State)  USA Today has them 7-9-10 (Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa) BCS has them 10-11-13,  (Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State) Harris poll has them 7-9-10 (Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa)   Ohio State leads all polls by virtue of its single Big Ten loss but then I come back to that 18-26 loss to Purdue and I can’t accept Ohio State as the best of the three.  No way would Iowa or PSU lose to Purdue, and if they did, it would not be by as many as 8 !!

If it is this hard to determine who the best team is in a conference that has no teams in contention for the national championship, maybe we do need to address the BCS process and have some sort of playoff.  What if all three teams had finished with a single conference loss ?    What if Penn State BEAT Iowa, and lost to Temple and Ohio State, and Iowa had lost to Penn State and Arizona instead of Ohio State and Northwestern ?  And Ohio State lost to Purdue and Iowa, instead of Purdue and USC ?  Then we would have three 10-2 teams that were all 7-1 in conference and no way to determine who was best.  You can’t have a championship playoff game between three potential contenders, and everything college football has in place to determine seedings in this case leaves something to be desired.  And what happens if Iowa and PSU crush their bowl opponents and OSU tanks in thiers ? Are they still the champions in the Big Ten ?

I know I am playing devils advocate, but I am positive a situation like this will develop again in the national picture soon, as it has already several times since the BCS format was adapted in  1998.  I know the quest for a college football playoff format is equivalent to the holy grail, but I still hope one day to see it come about.  Only then maybe a team like the 12-0 TCU Horned Frogs or Boise State Broncos will have a chance to be the #1 team in the land.  Until then, we will go with what we have but I for one refuse to accept the Buckeyes as the Big Ten Champions for 2009 given how hard these three teams played and how closely they match up.

No Big Ten title, but at large BCS bid up for grabs

With Ohio State handling Michigan late, they appear to have the Big Ten title wrapped up, which means when the Penn State Nittany Lions take the field in a few minutes to do battle with the Michigan State Spartans the most they can do is ensure eligibility for an at large BCS bowl bid.  With 10 victories and a top 14 BCS ranking and the broad fan base that follows their every move,  that should do it !!

Royster should certainly surpass the 1,000 yard mark early on, as he has 175 carries for 990 yards, a 5.7 yard per rush average and 5 touchdowns.  Daryl Clark is also due a good game, after starting last week off horribly with multiple first half interceptions against a weak Indiana defense.  Over the past two seasons the Lions are 12-0 when he goes without an interception, and have 4 losses when he throws multiple picks.   No pressure Clark, but, manage that ball !

Last year Clark had his best game against this team, throwing for five touxhdowns and 341 yards in the 49-18 rout.

Michigan State could qualify for the post season with a win, but they have their work cut out for them.  Penn State defense is currently ranked 4th among Football  Bowl Subdivision teams with 11.6 points allowed per game, and ninth in total yards allowed with 272 per game.  They do have the advantage of playing in East Lansing, where Penn State has struggled in recent years.  Paterno’s team has allowed an average of 36.5 points and 448.3 yards in losing four of six at Spartan Stadium since 1997.

Brandon Beachum is missing this game, and will be missed both in the backfield and on special teams.   Especially on special teams where the Lions rank in the bottom ten in the nation in punt and kickoff returns, and yards allowed on returns.

This game should be a 35-17 win for the Lions based on talent, coaching, and intangibles, but nothing is assured in college football, espcially in the Big Ten and especially over the past few years as upsets have become more and more common.  Michigan State has top ten punt return numbers, Penn State has top ten defensive numbers, yet JoePa, who still ranks third in Brown University history on punt returns joked before the game that maybe the Lions could take the Spartans down on a punt return for touchdown !  Stranger things have happened.

If the Lion do win and go to 10-2 they are assured a prominant national bowl berth with the at large BCS bid, and Michigna State may well be sitting at home when the season ends.

Lions hang on to BCS bowl hopes

There is a bit of a logjam in the Big Ten, with Iowa, Ohio State and Penn State all boasting 9-2 records, and ranked nationally at 10,11 and 18 prior to todays games.  The Big Ten Championship may boil down to a case of who blinks first.

PSU handled thier business today beating a better than their 4-7 record Indiana team.  But Ohio State took the lead in the conference title race by beating a very good Iowa team that is suddenly self destructing after being ranked as high as #4 at 9-0 two weeks ago.  Ohio State has a single loss in the Big Ten compared to the Lions and Hawkeyes with 2 apiece.   It took the Buckeyes 60 minutes and then some as the Hawkeyes came roaring back from a 14 point deficit, but an overtime field goal clinched the win and a Rose Bowl berth for Ohio State, their first since 1985.

The Lions, meanwhile, came close to self destructing themselves with 4 first half turnovers against Indiana, but on senior day, 2 juniors played well enough to get them the win, and keep them alive for a BCS berth themselves.  Indiana is not as bad as their record appears, this is a team that led late against Michigan, Northwestern and Iowa before giving up big plays late and taking the loss.  The Hoosiers could be 8-3 if the ball had bounced their way.

The Lions led in all scoring statistics except passing as Paterno notched his 392nd win all time.  The Lions lost to Ohio State last week and improved to 11-1 in games following a loss over the past five years.   It is remarkable they have only lost 12 games in the past five years, they possess the ninth best record in NCAA football over that span.   OSU still has to face Michigan while PSU has Michigan State in their season finale.

It is likely Penn State will not play 1/1/10 and go to the Alamo Bowl instead.  Some bloggers have PSU at 8-3, perhaps they didnt watch the second half at Indiana ??  At any rate, I will continue to watch and hope for the best, as will the 100,000+ faithful that routinely show up in Happy Valley for the Lions home games.   It is hard to argue the merits of the Lions post season hopes when they could finish as the 3rd best team in the Big Ten with losses to Ohio State and Iowa and a lackluster strength of schedule.

Paterno is being asked again about retirement, and you can tell this irks the coach as he prepares to finish the season on a winning note, and maintains the 3rd best win total in college football coaching history.  Next week the Big Ten finales should prove very interesting and you can never tell what is going to happen as these teams are almost all capable of beating one another on any given Saturday.

Wildcats start season as favorite in Big East

The Villanova Wildcats basketball team starts the season ranked #6 and goes up against FDU Friday night.   They begin the season following up a 30 win campaign, embroiled in controversy.

Mouphtaou Yarou has been cleared to play in the opener despite questions about his age.  A Sporting News report listed him as a player in the 2007  African Cup which would make him 25 as opposed to 19 but coach Jay Wright said that Yarou did not actually play in that tournament and clarified his actual age was indeed 19.

Yarou is an imposing 6 foot 9 inch 240 pound freshman forward who hails from Benin and played at Montrose Christian in 2008.   He played in the Jordan Brand all star game and was MVP of the Capitol Classic.

This years Wildcat team also features freshmen Maalik Wayns, Dominick Cheek, and Maurice Sutton along with returning starters Cunningham, Reynolds, Fisher, and Redding.

Reynolds toyed with the idea of entering the NBA draft in the off season, but returned to hopefully lead the Wildcats back to a second consecutive NCAA final four.  Expectations are high for this college team after last years strong finish.

Wright plans to play four guards occasionally with either Pena or Yarou and expects them to stick their bodies into tough situations defensively and under the boards.  Wayns and Cheek will have opportunities for playing time if they can show Wright some ability on defense. The same goes for freshman forward Isaiah Armwood, a high school teammate of Yarou’s.

Villanova is expected to follow up last years strong showing with the class of freshmen recruited by coach Wright and should be the team to beat  in the Big East this year.  Thier closest competition comes in West Virginia which starts the preseason with a #8 ranking.  Here is to an exciting year in Philadelphia college basketball.

The Owls are performing as I predicted !!

I mentioned in an earlier post how the Nittany Lions may have to share the spotlight in Pennsylvania college football this year with the Owls of local Temple University.  The Owls have indeed performed as a top level team.   The loss to the Lions in week two may have helped propel them to new heights as they have followed that loss with 7 straight wins.

Whereas last year the Owls were en route to a sub .500 season, this year shows post season promise as they raised their record to 7-2 and face Akron, Kent State and Ohio to close out their season.  Some indication of how prominant this program has become may be indicated in the 2 ESPN televised games in their final three.  If they finish the season on a ten game tear at 10-2 with the schedule they played, they will be in line for a bowl game.

2 years ago this was a 1-10 team, with a losing mentality inherited by coach Al Golden.  This  week they received 7 votes in the AP top 25 poll.   They are now 5-0 in the MAC and assured of their first winning season since 1990.   If they manage to reach the MAC title game December 4th, they well may have more national prominance than the mighty Nittany Lions, playing Big Ten (or Twelve)  second fiddle to the Iowa Hawkeyes, and are currently ranked 18th nationally with a worse record than the Owls, and in some people’s opinions playing a schedule that is not markedly more difficult.  A bowl bid would be the Owls first game of post season prominance since 1979, PSU is a perennial bowl attendee.

Consider, the teams that have faced the Owls so far or are scheduled to play are a combined 48-64, the Penn State teams competition has posted a 64-50 mark.  But the Lions played 8 of 10 teams they were supposed to easily beat including three non conference foes that offered no challenge, the likes of Akron, Temple, and Syracuse, with their only Big 12 challenges coming at Ohio State and Iowa, games they lost.  Meanwhile, Temple played PSU, Army, Navy,  and Villanova, and have held their own with a 2-2 record in those games, and a 5-0 record against the rest.

Obvviously, what Jo Pa has going on up in Happy Valley still easily trumps the local success of the Temple club, but I can forsee a time in the near future, as Paterno and his staff are phased out, if Golden sticks to his guns, where the Owls may be considered more on the Lions level.   Temple has placed a lot of confidence in their latest coach; Golden is the youngest and highest paid coach in the MAC making $575,000 a year, and at 39, he could be at the helm for years to come.

His young team has the leading MAC rusher, who is still a freshman.  Bernard Pierce has 1211 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns in 9 games thus far.   Vaughn Charlton is still improving at Quarterback, but I have a special affinity for this kid as he hails from my hometown, Landenberg, PA.  I guarantee none of you readers has heard of this town as it is  about as small as a town can get without being considered farmland !   But his 1200 yards and 9 touchdowns represent a nearly 400% improvement over his freshman years statistics.  I hope to see more of him in the final few games, even though he was recently benched in favor of Stewart before the Miami game the Owls barely won.

I look forward to seeing the Owls continue to improve and I am very impressed with coach Golden’s job in the top spot so far.  To take a team from an 0-11  laughingstock to a 7-2 potential bowl team in three years is something that is nearly impossible to do on any level of college sports.  Three months ago I endured some ridicule when I projected them to finish with 9 wins.  I hope I get some props now that they are in the process of proving me right and doing precisely that !

Former Penn State star Larry Johnson now unemployed

It has been a bad week to be a Nittany Lion.

First, Penn State went out and got beat around in Happy Valley by Ohio State on Saturday, ending its hopes of being awarded a BCS bowl, and now one of their alumni has hit a career low.

The Kansas City Chiefs cut ties with running back Larry Johnson today, releasing him after his latest off-field trouble in which he used a gay slur. He also used his Twitter account to question his coach’s competence last week.

Apparently that was the last straw.

What a fall it has been for Johnson who produced back-to-back 1,700 yard seasons with the Chiefs just a few years back. However, injuries have slowed his production on the field and sped up his mouth off of it.

While at Penn State, Johnson was a beast. In his senior season he rushed for 2,015 yards and 20 touchdowns, finishing third in the Heisman race.

Seven years later he is unemployed.

Over the next few weeks we will find out which team is willing to throw a bone Johnson’s way — and you know more than one team will. Although he is now 30, Johnson has enough appeal to make a desperate GM pick him up. The question is, can Johnson still cut it as a starting running back in the NFL? His results the last two seasons say no, but then again, who could succeed with the awful offensive line that has been put together in Kansas City.

If I had to guess, I would say Johnson will be nothing more than a backup for someone moving forward. If he is a backup with a winning team and a good line he has a chance to be a difference-maker. If a team like the Browns pick him up, 3.0 yards per carry will continue to be the trend.

It has been a hard fall for a player who was loved in his time with Penn State. We will see if he is able to pick himself up.

Lions can’t catch an undefeated team !

Penn State didn’t pick up steam until the fourth quarter, struggling through the first three quarters for a 13-13 tie with Northwestern, then scoring three times in the final period to win the game 34-13.   At the same time, Iowa was maintaining their perfect season after struggling through three quarters against Indiana by scoring 28 in their final frame to win 42-24.

Penn State with that one loss against Iowa is looking better and better, but Iowa is looking like the team from the Big Ten that deserves the shot at a potential national championship.  Until the start  of the fourth quarters respectively, Iowa looked horrible, with 5 turnovers versus 2 touchdowns, and Penn State looked sluggish with only 1 drive over 30 yards in the first half and a 10-13 halftime deficit, then redeemed themselves with 3 scores in a 5 minutes period of the fourth quarter to put the game away.

Next week Penn State plays Ohio State and the following week Iowa does.  If Penn State wins, and Iowa loses, it is anybodys guess how the final poll will play out.  Right now the strength of schedule and talent levels on these two teams indicate that Iowa should win the Big Ten and go to a major bowl, and Penn State will likely go to another Rose Bowl.

Joe Paterno and his team have nothing to be ashamed of.   They do need to get the monkey off their back and beat Iowa if they want to get attention in the BCS at a national level and be considered a top 5 team.  For now, they are a solid top ten team.  And getting their 808th team win places them at 6th all time, which ain’t too shabby.

Penn State wins, Iowa does too !

It was a turbulent weekend in college football.  But, as expected,  Daryl Clark fired 4 touchdowns to lead the Lions to an impressive win, and, in addition,  Iowa surprised many in college football by winning a critical game against Michigan State.  Right now 3 teams in the big ten are ranked in the top 25.

All Paterno and his Nittany Lions can do is win out and hope someone else falters.  It looks to me like there will be some 1 loss teams in BCS contention at the end of this college season.  If Iowa loses late, it will bolster Penn States chances at being considered, especially when you view their strength of schedule, which is increasing as the season progresses.

At the start of the season, pundits proclaimed the Lions had a creampuff schedule with the absence of their expected game against Alabama this year.  It may be a good thing the game got pushed back to the 2010 season because I don’t believe the Lions would have any chance at beating the Crimson Tide this year.

The Lions won by 25 against a good Michigan team and the Buckeyes only beat a lesser Michigan State by the slimmest of margins.   Right now Iowa is ranked 4th, while PSU is 12th and Ohio State 17th in the most recent BCS poll.   The fact that Iowa drops to 7th or 8th and the other 2 ranked Big Ten teams dont move in the other major polls shows that Iowa is playing above it’s own ability.  The computer can’t see it, but the fans can.  They know that one slip and Iowa drops ten places.

With 7 undefeated teams and 5 or more to go, the Lions need a lot of help.  But as I stated in an earlier post, it is better to have one loss early and have to fight your way up, then get beat one time late with a high ranking and see your stock plummet with no time left to recover.  If Iowa and Penn State both finish with 1 loss the BCS will certainly rank the Lions higher.

The BCS is imperfect, and this may be the year where there are 4 or more undefeated teams and someone gets left out of the title game that deserves to go.  If there is only one undefeated team left, there will be 1 loss teams that get left out that deserve to go.  But until college allows a playoff system, which is something I don’t expect to see in my lifetime, we will have inequities to discuss in the final selection process.

For now, Penn State football rolls on, and they are currently playing for at least a chance to tie for the Big Ten title.  What happens after that will be left up to the computers.  I believe they are a top ten team right now.  But when you look at Alabama, Florida, Texas, USC, Cinci, LSU, Oregon, and yes, even Iowa, it is hard to justify ranking Penn State any higher than 9, even with optimal circumstances.  Also, one could argue that both TCU and Boise State are ranked ahead of the Lions, and they do have perfect schedules, but they are simply not in the same league as the other teams I mentioned above.

Incidentally, the above list is how I would rank them, with Alabama 1st, Iowa 9th and PSU 8th.  Other than that and the two Cindarella undefeateds that will surely not finish that way, I think the BCS list is mostly a fair assessment of this year’s college talent.  Feel free to post your top ten in the comments below.    Once again, I have it

1. Alabama     2. Florida    3. Texas    4. USC    5.  Cincinnati

6. Oregon    7. LSU      8. Penn State    9.  Iowa   10  Boise State

Early loss better than 2008 late loss

Everyone agrees the Nittany Lions have an easy schedule this year.  So far they lost their one true challenge to the team that owns them recently, the dreaded Iowa Hawkeyes.

But after getting beaten for the 7th time in their last 8 meetings, Penn State is looking only one direction, and it isn’t backward.  They proved this as the defense and Daryll Clark combined to steamroll over the hapless Eastern Illinois Panthers of the FCS by a final score of 52-3.

Penn State at one point scored 28 points in under 8 minutes in the second quarter, and then coasted as usual the second half and protected the big lead.  Clark threw for three touchdowns and one interception as he completed 13 of 19 for 234 yards.

Royster and Green each only handled the ball 8 times with Green getting the rushing touchdown and Royster having an 11.5 yard per rush average as the Lions got a first down or scored at will every time any of the big name players touched the ball.

When Penn State lost to Iowa it ruined their hopes for a perfect season and seemingly dashed their hopes for a high BCS ranking at the same time.   The loss took them from being ranked as high as 4th to as low as 19th in the various AP, USA Today and other polls.

Looking back now, that loss gave this team some incentive to actually start to separate from their remaining opponents and show they are worthy of being considered a top ten team despite the fact they play only three quality opponents all year.  Unlike last year, it also happened early enough to give them time to atone for the loss and push their way back up through the rankings.

At game time they were ranked 14th, and the win coupled with several top 20 losses will likely push them back into the top 12.

The Lions left no question that they are playing the rest of the year for keeps, and the defense held EIU to 204 total yards and scored on a long  fumble return by Navorro Bowman,  as the offense rolled for 6 scores, 3 runs, and 3 passes.  The Big Ten is no joke this year with 5 teams with 1 or no losses thus far, so if Penn State can hold on with 1 loss and factor into the conference championship, after playing Iowa, Minnesota,  Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State they will have to be considered in the National Championship picture if there are no undefeated teams.

For now the Lions will savor this win and prepare for a better team in next weeks Minnesota Golden Gophers and try to keep this new momentum generated from the modest two game winning streak going.

It is looking more and more that the Nittany Lions entire season is going to come down to one game, the 11/7 matchup against Ohio State. If OSU is undefeated at that point, they will be ranked in the top 5, and if PSU beats them, Iowa still has to play Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana, Northwestern, OSU and Minnesota and the chance they remain undefeated is slim to none.

Therefore, you will have 3 or 4 1 loss teams in the Big Ten and any of them will be worthy to go to the top BCS game at the end of the year.  And Penn State will have a late season win over a top five conference foe under their belt that may help them overcome their weak strength of schedule number and get the higher ranking.

It is early enough yet that anything can happen.  Right now Penn State controls it’s own destiny.  If they keep winning and keep widening the gap between points scored and points allowed, they should be sitting pretty on 11/21 when they go to Michigan State to close out thier season.

Jo Pa needs to keep the hammer down and don’t let up one ounce between now and then, the details will work themselves out,

Iowa is no pushover, Lions work cut out for them

Tomorrows contest will likely prove one of the three true challenges to the Lions this season, at least until their bowl game.  With the exception of Michigan and Ohio State, both ranked conference foes, no other team has a better chance of beating the Lions.  Iowa is well aware of this, bringing a 6-1 record in the past seven contests into Saturdays game.  In fact, some argue that Iowa’s victory over Penn State last season may have kept the Lions out of a national championship game.

The know it alls on the radio commented again on Penn States evident lack of strength of schedule this season.  These so called experts ignore that Alabama requested a change of schedule from 2009 to 2010 and Syracuse was scheduled when they were considered a significant power.  That means the Lions scheduled 2 potential top ten opponents out of their four non conference games this year.  Alabama was scheduled as an away game, taking the rabid 100,000+ Happy Valley fans out of the equation and making it a more challenging matchup as well. It is hard to forecast the quality of your competition when these games are scheduled up to a decade in advance and then subject to change.

It is also hardly the Lions fault the Big Ten has dropped in overall prestige since they entered the conference.   Back when they were independent the knock was they were not affiliated with a nationally known conference. Indiana, Illinois and Northwestern all had fairly high performing programs.  When combined with Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State, that meant more than half the teams in the conference were  potential top ten contenders.   Now that PSU pretty much dominates the Big Ten the experts knock their conference itself.  The bottom line is Penn State is a better team then they were last year.  Last year they had the one loss to Iowa and faced 5th ranked USC in the Rose Bowl and were within a touchdown until the fourth quarter.

If they beat Iowa, and follow that with wins against Michigan and Ohio State, I don’t see how you can say they don’t deserve a national title chance, even if there are multiple undefeated teams, which rarely happens.  The only thing that will satisfy the detractors, would be to implement a playoff system; that way the top 8 or 16 teams would all face each other and leave no doubt as to who the better team is.  In a situation like that, I would put my money on Penn State as they have a history of performing especially well when the pressure is on.  And the pressure is on tomorrow when they welcome Iowa and try to avenge last years only loss.

5th ranked Lions run record to 3-0

The Nittany Lions continued to dominate all opponents with a 31-6 victory over Temple today. Detractors mention the Lions have an easy schedule this year, but there is nothing Penn State can do except go out there each week and win.  I said before Paterno is not the type to run it up as many college coaches do.  Frankly he has little to prove, and little to protect as he recently signed a 3 year contract extension to stay in happy valley until all his fans and past players are old enough to retire !

Royster came back to his previous form today, rushing for 134 yards and a touchdown and Daryl Clark had an average (for him) afternoon, throwing for 2 touchdowns and an interception. His QB rating actually dropped from 166 to 161.  Temple mounted a decent offense against the Lions, and outplayed them for the first half.  Like many other games I have watched, the Lions simply out talented the competition and slowly pulled away until the game was out of reach.  Statistically, the teams performed somewhat equally, but where it counts, the score, belonged to Penn State.

Next week is the first real test for this team. They play Iowa and will attempt to avenga a loss from last year that kept them out of national championship contention.  They have actually lost 6 of the last 7 games against this team so it should be an interesting matchup  One thing is for sure, they will have to pull out all the stops and play to win, and pour it on when they get ahead, because Iowa has a team that can come back.  After that, only Ohio State looms as a serious road block for Penn State.  They are 3-0 true, but just about everyone who follows college sports expected them to be here. Now if they go 4-0 the talk will start about their ranking, and their remaining schedule. 

From what I have seen so far, this team has the talent and coaching to do it.  now let us see if they have the will to make their dream a reality.

Penn State’s Paterno has no peers

Daryll Clark had another solid start and ran his quarterback rating to a gaudy 166.4 with a win against Syracuse.  The rebuilding  Orangemen really never stood a chance.

The Lions allowed a lone touchdown, just as they did in week 1 against Akron.  This game was a lot more lopsided than this final score represents given that Penn State had a 17 play 95 yard 9 minute drive that resulted in no points, and Syracuse’s lone score came at the end of the game on a 16 yard 1 play drive after a fumble when the game no longer was at stake.

This game could easily have been 49-0 Penn State, but again, Paterno has never been the sort of coach to run up the score, and you may argue at his age he simply does not have that killer instinct to finish a game strong.  I know the JoPa of the 1960′s and 1970′s would never have permitted a touchdown in the final minutes of a game following a turnover. He would have urged his players to step it up and limit the opponent to a field goal, just as a matter of principle.

Perhaps the winningest active coach in NCAA division I history has mellowed with age ?  And with word coming down that Bobby Bowden is about to suffer sanctions and get stripped of some victories in 2006 and 2007 it appears as if Paterno will remain number 1 in division 1 forever more.

Now the only real challenge remaining to these Lions is the #8 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. Ohio State has their hands full with a talented USC team ranked in the top five in today’s game.  It is possible, given their schedule, the Lions could lose to Ohio State and retain the Big Ten conference title.

If you just look at Daryll Clark and Evan Royster’s performances, it is hard to see how any one on the Lions schedule can beat this team.  It is far more likely that the Lions will make enough mistakes to lose a game, rather than have an opponent beat them fair and square.

Penn State improved to 23-4 against Syracuse since Paterno became coach, but even the venerable one acknowledged that his team lacks the put it away instinct more typical of his teams of yesteryear.  In typical JoPa fashion however, he did not back down,   “We’ve played well enough to win two games, period, that’s all I know,” Paterno said, “and we got to get better.”

That’s saying something. But gladly, Penn State has several more games that can be considered tune ups on their schedule this year before getting a real challenge where uneven play like they have demonstrated so far could cost them the W.  I believe Paterno will have them ready; with a preseason ranking at 8 or 9 depending on the poll you go by Penn State may be able to contend for a national title with an undefeated season.  And at his current age, this may be one of JoPa’s last serious opportunities to finish number 1.  Or at least until we see what he pulls out of his hat for next season !