Scratch the last one; that would be Utopia. Rather, here in this space, the goal is to deal with reality and the facts that accompany it (unfortunately for a talent such as Malcolm Willis).
When Jay Paterno, Galen Hall and any combination thereof collectively (or perhaps the younger Paterno solely, as Fran Ganter silently chuckled) called four consecutive pass plays at the conclusion of Penn State’s 2007 regular-season finale against Michigan State in the now-defunct and never imitated Land Grant Trophy battle, the stage was set for an upcoming quarterback battle the following spring.
Aside from the fact that Brent Carter had shredded the Spartans’ front seven with several strong carries down the stretch, it was ultimately the offensive brain trust – let’s be kind and consider it one entity – along with Anthony Morelli which led to the Nittany Lions’ demise on that late November day. Those were the last meaningless throws Morelli made as a Nittany Lion. The ensuing
In the spring which followed, Pat Devlin was all the rage and slated to take over the reins under center.
Three years later, another disappointing fourth-quarter loss to the Spartans once again left the future uncertain behind Matt Stankiewitch’s derriere.
No, Matt McGloin is not Clark, but you get the point. Devlin and Rob Bolden are on a somewhat similar plane in terms of pedigree (but not accuracy – at least not yet). Despite the bulging disc Penn State fans – those who remained interested in his collegiate career post transfer – suffered while being forced to watch Devlin play out his days with the FCS version of the winged helmet (this is Special Agent Johnson, no relation), the argument can be made that PSU was no worse off than it might’ve been had Devlin won the starting nod. Consecutive 11-win seasons with Clark at the helm were nothing to neither sneeze at nor minimize.
There is no question that Bolden gives State the better chance to win every game. McGloin is the quintessential backup. Nobody can deny the grit and leadership on display when he engineered a 35- unanswered point surge against Pat Fitzgerald last season and helped Joe Paterno to his 400th win. That was McGloin’s day. That day.
But let’s not get carried away. Matt Seneca moonlighted for an injured Zack Mills against Indiana in 2001 and garnered a win. In these curious cases, though, simply tip your cap to the guy and shove the clipboard back into his chest. Unfortunately for Bolden last season, he was not awarded such treatment. Whether or not the coaches were trying to protect his noggin from a head injury he suffered two weeks prior, Bolden should not have lost his job to injury nor to a smattering of shoddy play. He is the better football player, the better quarterback and clearly the better choice under center.
And although the quarterback battle is the centerpiece of mainstream attraction, as it is on any football team on any level, it will not be the only reason or even the main reason that Penn State will accumulate double-digit wins this season and most likely represent its division in the inaugural Big Ten title game. Luke Fickell is Ohio State’s problem, not Paterno’s.
Speaking of centerpieces, the main dish on the home schedule is of course Nick Saban’s latest Southeastern Conference powerhouse. When Alabama rolls into town in two weeks, it will mark the fourth time over the last decade that a top 15 all-time program will have visited State College. Strangely, one of those teams is now a league foe and its induction has made this conference incredibly stronger.
The reason that a win against Alabama is absolutely within reach, most definitely realistic and in fact even probable is certainly not the home crowd, which, at this point, five-plus years after it became the darling of the sport, is now back to its normal level. Make no mistake – that level is very, very good. But be honest with yourself. The Beaver Stadium faithful was revived in the most prodigious way on an early October night in 2005 due to a period of time that preceded it unlike any other in the Paterno era. Releasing oceans of pent-up energy from those awful seasons in the early 2000s created a firestorm that can never be duplicated.
And if you think the Crimson Tide will be intimated one iota by sheer numbers, you’re obviously not familiar with the SEC. Beaver Stadium is probably a touch louder than Sanford, Tiger and Neyland, but the difference is so minimal that it won’t matter.
Instead, the reason to be optimistic about Penn State entering the month of November with a perfect record can be found very simply by looking carefully at this roster.
This is a solid football team, Christina.
Forget the ridiculous preseason polls and look to the group which truly understands how cycles operate in college football. There are currently 22 teams, the Nittany Lions included, listed above the field bet of 50/1 on the books in Las Vegas to win the BCS title game. In the Big Ten, Penn State is among the top four in a group favored to capture the conference crown.
No, it’s not because the largest schools compliment the largest fan bases and will therefore bet on a larger volume basis. It’s because there are about 15 programs – the same 15 since time immemorial – which annually recruit so strongly that in any given season can win a national championship. Penn State is of course included on that list, and this year is no different.
When the elder Paterno received that infamous visit from a “group of guys” in late 2004 and was asked to tender his resignation (as the spit flows from laughing while drinking), a major mistake was made. This man was insulted and underestimated; he’s old as dirt, but he’s proud as hell. He’s accomplished more than any other person in his position has ever or will ever at the highest level.
That’s not the issue.
The issue, rather, is how he responds when he feels threatened and challenged. If you were paying attention to the head coach interviews at Big Ten Media day several weeks ago, you should’ve noticed that elbow Paterno gave to Dr. Spanier, et al. When asked if he has given or will give any thought to the fact that this coming season is the final year on his current contract, Paterno wondered aloud about his knowledge of whether or not he even has a contract.
That is a very scary response for many people and on every level of the program’s spectrum.