Pregame Predictor: Michigan
It all began during the dreaded "dark ages" of Penn State Football. In 2004, a desperate attempt was made to breathe some life and fire into a season that was quickly slipping away. Then marketing director and Joe Paterno confidant, Guido D'Elia, put out a call for all students to wear white as the Nittany Lions took on 9th ranked Purdue. The students obliged, despite some initial fears that it would not go as planned. Penn State lost that day 20-13, but a new tradition and perhaps one of our finest was born. The WhiteOut.
The following year saw a rebirth of domination as the Nittany Lions sent No.6, Ohio State and its Heisman Trophy winning QB, Troy Smith, home with a massive headache, thanks to Tamba Hali. The ringing in their ears was thanks to us. What had become known only a few years prior as one of the quietest 100,000 seat stadiums in the country, was suddenly being hailed by Kirk Herbstreit as having the best and loudest student in the land. It was not until a prime time game with Notre Dame in 2007 that the rest of us were included to make it an official stadium-wide WhiteOut. Again, on national television, Beaver Stadium was cloaked in White and her old steel beams buckled with every big play under the weight of our passion and Penn State Pride. A tradition like no other had clearly taken root.
Overall, Penn State has a 5-6 record in WhiteOut games, a stat attributed to the level of competition as much as anything. Included in those highlights was the four overtime thriller against Michigan in 2013 and last season's double overtime loss to Ohio State. As the years have passed, others have tried to duplicate us. There have been RedOuts, BlackOuts, OrangeOuts, and YellowOuts but none have reached the level of enthusiasm and coordination between the students, alumni, and fans as the Penn State WhiteOut. This Saturday at noon, the WhiteOut comes once again and the Nittany Lions carry their destiny in the "paws" of their hand. This all happens on Senior Day no less, which leads us to the second level of home field advantage in Happy Valley…
There are 19 seniors in all that will make their final steps onto that Beaver Stadium grass this weekend. A mixed bag of both potential All-Americans and a group of unsung Lions. Men that spent their days in the spotlight and men who came to Penn State's aid when it was needed most. Six scholarship seniors were the last class recruited by Joe. The only ones left standing out of an initial class of 16 in 2011. They were able to celebrate #409 with no names on their jerseys and were there to hear Joe's final speech. They could have left with zero repercussions. They chose to stay. Four coaching changes later, this class represents The Last of the Mohicans, as referred to by Jay Paterno earlier this week. Anthony Zettel, Angelo Mangiro, Ben Kline, Kyle Carter, Matt Zanellato, and Carl Nassib. Trevor Williams, Anthony Smith and Jordan Lucas came in 2012 and have exhausted their eligibility as well. Just as we've been grateful over the past three Senior Days, these are names that will never be forgotten or taken for granted.
By their side and as important to the current stability of the Penn State program, are eight walk-ons and two transfers. A group itself that proved vital to our success. Men who passed up scholarships and opportunity of their own on a quest to keep the Nittany Lions relevant. Local guys from State College like Matt Baney and Jack Haffner and guys from the region like Dominic Salamone, Jordan Dudas, Colin Harrop, Brandon Johnson, Charles Idemudia and Albert Hall. Tarow Barney was a JUCO transfer in 2014 and Kevin Reihner came over as a grad student from Stanford in the summer. These are names that may not be as recognizable, but ones that were no less important than those on scholarship. Everyone played a part. Everyone made a sacrifice. Every one of these 19 seniors deserves a full house standing ovation as they take that field to be dully recognized.
At noon on Saturday, Jim Harbaugh will bring his 14th ranked Michigan Wolverines into the Lion’s Den. They stand at 8-2 and are led on offense by Iowa-transfer Jake Ruddock at QB and running back DeVonte Smith. Freshman Safety Jabrill Peppers mans the nations #2 ranked defense like a seasoned vet, but it's a defense that has shown signs of wear and tear in recent weeks. Penn State is 7-3, well rested and hungry to atone for that last second loss in Chicago two weeks ago. The team is eager to send their seniors off on a winning note. Mathematically, despite falling to Northwestern, the Nittany Lions still have an outside shot at the Big Ten Championship.
Earlier this week when it was announced that the game would start at noon you could hear a collective groan rock the foundation of Nittany Nation. The thought being, you cannot have a true WhiteOut unless it's under the lights. After giving it some thought, I came up with a counter, especially under the circumstances of it also being Senior Day. In 2011, those seniors walked into darkness, unafraid and with a renewed commitment to Dear Old State. It is only fitting that they walk away under the light of day with this program headed in the right direction. The one-two punch of a Happy Valley home field advantage will prove too much. Our seniors ring that victory bell one last time. Penn State 27 Michigan 24 in an old-fashioned Big Ten slugfest.