Road gets tougher for Penn State
Notes: LSU looks to avoid upset against Washington
It took longer for Joe Paterno’s statue to come down than Penn State’s season.
The NCAA’s medicine – the $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban, the loss of 40 scholarships during the same period – was designed to cure the ills of entitlement, secrecy and evil that plagued the campus. This was no death penalty – it would trigger a long, tedious slide back down to earth for one of football’s most storied programs. But that medicine has taken effect on the field more hastily than many anticipated – certainly quicker than I dared guess. It’s already coursing through the Nittany Lions’ bloodstream.
The unexpected home loss to Ohio in Week 1 was just the beginning. It’s understandable that new head coach Bill O’Brien couldn’t draw up a scheme that could contain the New York Giants’ vaunted defensive line when he was overseeing the offense in New England last year. That his team couldn’t exploit the Bobcats’ weaknesses last week suggests that personnel issues are already taking effect, and that the holes may be too big to fill. The most glaring example? Gerald Hodges, a 237-pound linebacker, was asked to return punts last week. Gone are ten players – including six upperclassmen – who once wore navy and white; they fled the besieged campus without penalty. And numerous recruits who’d once pledged their allegiance to the Nittany Lions signed elsewhere.
One of them, a 2013 three-star wide receiver/linebacker Zach Bradshaw, will likely be watching this week when Penn State travels to Charlottesville to take on Virginia – the team with whom he has since verbally committed. He’ll watch one program continue its surge forward from obscurity under the stead of an energetic head coach. Across the sidelines, he’ll see the players who stayed behind, who, by putting on that navy uniform and iconic white helmet, are carrying a load heavier than any they’ve lifted in a weight room. Bradshaw will see that burden etched into the face of the coach he spurned. The crowd in Charlottesville, unaccustomed to seeing their team knock off one of the nation’s giants, will stir itself into a ravenous frenzy.
A loss to Virginia would only be the second step into the hole that Penn State dug for itself.
No one is sure how deep it goes.
Fightin’ Words: The new kids in the SEC have no intentions of taking a beating with multimillion-dollar smiles on their faces this weekend. Quite the contrary, in fact. Missouri junior defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson told the Columbia Daily Tribune this week that he turned Georgia’s 45-23 win against Buffalo off early because, “It’s like watching Big Ten football. It’s old man football.”
Then this gem: “If we execute, nobody in this league can touch us. Period.”
That’s likely not the greeting Missouri’s new SEC brethren had in mind when they welcomed the Tigers into their exclusive club. While Richardson’s boasts drip with hubris, he’s right that his high-scoring Tigers might be able to push No. 7 Georgia in this one despite a perceived gulf in overall athleticism and talent.
What could hamper an athletic SEC team against an inferior opponent? Lack of speed? Certainly not. Lackadaisical play? Not likely in this conference. Suspensions? Of course! It’s the SEC, after all. Georgia head coach Mark Richt hasn’t said whether two key cogs in his starting defense – safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree – will suit up for Saturday’s trip to Columbia.
Both sat out Week 1.
Cornerback Sanders Commings and linebacker Chase Vasser are both out for a second consecutive week thanks to offseason domestic battery and DUI charges, respectively. Missouri’s strength is its fast-paced offense – it hung 62 on Southeast Louisiana last week. If the Tigers hope to knock off a superior team in their new conference this year, this week might be their best shot.
Is the other SEC newcomer taking shots at the college football overlords too? No, but it seems an overconfident fan has. Less than a week before Florida travels to College Station, a billboard went up in Gainesville this week that reads, “Howdy, Gainesville: You’ve been annexed by Aggie Nation. The Best Academics and Cleanest Program in the SEC. WHOOP! Real Football. Real Tradition.”
For its part, Texas A&M has distanced itself from the billboard, claiming they weren’t responsible. Aside from the blatant disrespect, I’ve got a few problems with this sign: Best academics in the SEC? I believe a few folks at Vanderbilt wearing corduroy blazers with chocolate-brown elbow pads just spit out their brandy. And the unnecessary, all caps, “WHOOP!” just rubs me the wrong way. Next time you can only afford five more letters, just save your money. For me, “WHOOP” translates to, “Yes, I graduated with a 2.3 from the community college near Texas A&M.”
And “Real tradition”? I’m pretty sure they keep three national championship trophies in the same town where you erected that sign, Aggie fan. And why boast when A&M is already a favorite? Florida is having an identity crisis at quarterback and players are still acclimating to Will Muschamp’s system. I wouldn’t be shocked if A&M started its new life in the SEC with a win.
That said, it’s unwise to poke a sleeping Gator…WHOOP!
Big Least: Thursday marks the beginning of my favorite Thursday night tradition – the nationally televised Big East game that everyone has on in the background while they skim a magazine or take Instagram photos of the chair in the corner of the room. However, this one might be worth watching with the sound on (not too loud, of course).
Pitt travels to Cincinnati as a desperate team. They were abandoned by Todd Graham after only one season. (He fled to Arizona State – nothing more fun than getting demolished by Southern California every year.) Star running back Ray Graham (no relation) blew out his ACL last season and mustered only 14 carries in the Panthers’ Week 1 loss to Youngtown State. They’ll need him to shoulder a heavier workload if they don’t want to start 0-2.
And yes, I did just mention that they lost to Youngtown State. I missed that one; must’ve been a nail-biter. That’s perfectly understandable with a new coach and an injured star…Wait, they lost by two touchdowns? Oh, no.
A little on Youngstown State for the uninitiated (from Wikipedia, so this is likely 13 percent accurate) – the Ward Beecher Planetarium recently underwent a $750,000 renovation. International students, hailing from 45 countries, make up 1.5 percent of the student body. The Williamson College of Business Administration’s new building is LEED certified. Good for them. Sorry, couldn’t find anything on the football team other than that they BEAT PITT BY TWO TOUCHDOWNS ON THE ROAD.
Cincy, certainly no juggernaut, beat Pitt last year and will be fresh for this one given that they were off last week. Conversely, Pitt has had only four days to prepare. Things aren’t looking good early for this once-proud program. And they could get worse Thursday night in front of a national audience engrossed by the several other things they’re doing as the game flickers nearby.
Shhh … the game is on: After a fun opening week, this weekend will be marred by a slew of quality teams having their way with the Youngstown States of the world (no offense – the planetarium sounds great). But there’s hope; Miami (Fla.)-Kansas State should be a dandy. “Dandy?” Ugh, I sound like I was born in 1937.
Unlike Thursday’s game, you’ll watch this one with the volume up and you have the right to ignore your significant other up to four times. K-State is ranked, more experienced and has superior talent, but Miami looked better Week 1 than many anticipated – particularly on offense. Canes’ freshman running back Duke Johnson tore up Boston College for 135 yards and two touchdowns on only seven carries. Kansas State, meanwhile, piled up 324 rushing yards against FCS Missouri state (only slightly worse than Boston College).
Wildcat quarterback Collin Klein (a fitting double-entendre) was a preseason Heisman candidate, though he didn’t dazzle in Week 1. He’ll need a good showing against his team’s toughest out-of-conference opponent to bolster his case. Kansas State may not be threatened, but I can at least foresee some fireworks with two potent offenses on the field. It could prove to be the most exciting game of the weekend.
UPSET ALERT: Taylor Martinez thrust himself into the way-to-early-to-converse-Heisman-conversation last weekend when he shredded Southern Miss for 354 yards and five scores. And don’t forget that Nebraska amassed 278 rushing yards. They’re the No. 16 team in the country, yet they’re not even a five-point favorite against a UCLA team that lost eight games last year. Why? Senior stud running back Rex Burkhead tweaked his MCL in the romp over Southern Miss after only three carries (for 68 yards, by the way).
He’s questionable this weekend. UCLA gets to play this one in the Rose Bowl – it’s a terrific chance for Jim Mora to build on last week’s dominant showing over Rice. UCLA had the most sacks – seven – in the FBS last week. That’s bad news for Nebraska, which will have Martinez drop back more frequently than they’d like if Burkhead can’t go. Good news for Nebraska? They converted on 12 of their 15 third-down attempts last week – best in FBS. And UCLA amassed 107 penalty yards – sixth worst in the nation.
Don’t forget your hat(ter): Is there such thing as a disappointing 41-14 win? Indeed, there is; we saw it last week. LSU thumped North Texas by that score in the bayou on Saturday. But it was North Texas, after all. New LSU starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger didn’t impress. He lost 25 yards on two sacks, tossed a pick and threw for a mere 192 yards. Added insult? Alabama took it upon themselves that very evening to beat Michigan by the exact same score. 41-14 on national TV against Michigan carries a lot more weight than 41-14 against the “Mean Green”. (Yes, that’s what North Texas has chosen to call itself.).
Now the spotlight – and the No. 1 ranking – belong to Bama, which plays Western Kentucky this week. But Les Miles can take some of it back. He has two options – eat every blade of grass on LSU’s practice field, which would create a few national headlines until Tim Tebow sneezes in Mark Sanchez’s vicinity at practice, or leave Washington begging for their cramped four-hour flight home midway through the second quarter.
This one has gotten some early buzz. Some are even saying that Washington might compete for a quarter or two. If LSU – which purportedly boasts the nation’s best defensive line – truly is on Alabama’s level, they’ll need to make this one ugly fast. This is arguably the “toughest” game any in the nation’s top-5 will be playing this weekend. LSU needs to put on a show to steer some of the voters’ attention away from their rivals in Tuscaloosa.
Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young missed last week’s 84-0 throttling of Savannah State. The zero -- not the 84 -- is the most important number here. Young underwent an undisclosed medical procedure and is likely to miss this week’s road game against Arizona.
Cowboys defenders, though they were up big, said they wanted to show their support for their ailing coach by pitching a shutout. They did. His absence may provide more inspiration when they square off against Rich Rodriguez’s Arizona squad that snuck past Toledo in overtime. We know OK State’s offense will show up this year, but if their D – which was ranked 107th in the nation last year -- continues to be inspired by their coach’s plight, they could overachieve this season.
The aforementioned Savannah State can boast that its strength of schedule is best in the nation through the year’s first two games. They got demolished by the Cowboys in Stillwater and must head to Tallahassee this week to face one of the nation’s top defensive units in Florida State.
The two games will earn the school $860,000, or 17 percent of the school’s athletics budget for the year, according to the New York Times. A decent haul, yes, but the FCS team, which went 1-10 last year, is badly overmatched. The biggest fear is that players wind up hurt by playing two consecutive weeks against much faster, stronger opponents. I wish good luck, and, more importantly, good health, to the Savannah State players this week.
This team spent 62 consecutive weeks ranked in the AP poll. The streak began with the poll released on Sept. 21, 2008, after subduing a ranked Oregon team. In the interim, they’ve gone 47-4. They outscored opponents 2,148 to 784. (That’s an average score of 42-15.) They boast a 5-3 record against ranked opponents. They were 3-1 against ranked opponents from BCS conferences. That lone loss? Last week, on the road against the No. 13 team in the nation. And the underdogs led until 8:12 remained in the fourth quarter. If you don’t know who I’m talking about by now, you’ve stumbled on this column by mistake. Please hit the back button and continue reading TMZ.
It’s Boise State, of course. Before the loss to Michigan State, Boise’s weeks-ranked streak was second only to Alabama’s 66. Given how well the Broncos played against a superior opponent in their first game after losing quarterback Kellen Moore and a slew of starters on both sides of the ball to graduation, I’d expect a new streak to start up soon and last for quite a while. Next weekend, they’ll have a chance to impress voters against the Miami (Ohio) team that just hung with Ohio State for a quarter.