Penn State Football – 2013 Midseason Review

Over half-way through the 2013 season and Penn State sits at 4-3 with 5 Big Ten games remaining. We’ve seen a lot in 7 games. Moments of excellence, moments of frustration and failure.

The highest of highs…

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Bill Belton game winning TD over Michigan in 4th overtime

To the lowest of lows…

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Christian Hackenberg sacked in a 63-14 loss at Ohio State

A lot to be excited about,  a lot that needs to be improved.  Here are the highlights:

Allen Robinson

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A-Rob’s leaping catch helps take Michigan to overtime

Best player on the field for Penn State, Allen Robinson, continues to improve his draft stock.  Last year, A-Rob finished the season with 77 catches, 1018 yds and 11 TDs.  In 7 games, A-Rob has already hauled in 55 catches for 878 yds and 6 TDs.  That includes plenty of all-star performances.

Running attack

Bill Belton lost the starting spot to Zach Zwinak last season.  Looks like Zwinak has lost the starting spot to Belton this year.  He’s quicker and more reliable in recent games (Zwinak with multiple fumbles).  Don’t count out big red though.  Zwinak is still a solid run-through-you type of a guy and provides solid pass-protection.  Expect to see both RBs through the rest of the season as well as young Akeel Lynch aka ‘Big Maple’.

RBs

Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak, Akeel Lynch

Tight End U?

Adam Breneman running against Kent State

Early knee injury took out Matt Lehman, walk-on success story and key player on the 1st team offense.  This led to early playing time for true freshman Adam Breneman with Kyle Carter (Jr) and Jesse James (So) getting majority of the playing time.  Redshirt freshman TE, Brent Wilkerson, still out for the season (back issues).  Therefore, injuries have certainly plagued one of the trademark positions of the O’Brien offense.  No worries though, a stud TE out of New Jersey, Mike Gesicki, committed to Penn State (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1815993-mike-gesicki-commits-to-penn-state-nittany-lions-land-stud-4-star-te).  Hopefully a sign of more to come…

Hack City

We shouldn’t be surprised that true freshman Christian Hackenberg got the starting spot.  He was destined to be the foundation of O’Brien’s offense.  He was one of the top rated high school QBs in the country, could’ve played any where he wanted, yet he stayed committed and chose Penn State even after the sanctions were announced.

Hackenberg drives the field to put Michigan in OT

However, taking the reigns on day one is no small order.  Hackenberg has shown signs of greatness.  Driving the field with 50 seconds remaining (give credit to WRs – amazing catches) to tie the game and beat Michigan in 4 OTs will remain a classic in Penn State history.  Hackenberg has also shown signs of a true freshman with a lot to learn (i.e., 63-14 loss to Ohio State).   The remainder of the season will be a good barometer of what to expect for the years to come. Backup QB Tyler Ferguson is a solid player as well.  Never count out the next guy in line yearning for his chance to shine (e.g., Matt McGloin).  But at the end of the day, this is Hackenberg’s team.  Hack City.

Defensive struggles

The ‘tough Penn State defense’ reputation and ‘Linebacker U’ moniker being called out this season, rightfully so.  They’ve yet to keep a Big Ten team from scoring less than 40 points. Some point the finger at the defensive coordinator, some blame talent.  Maybe a little bit of both.  One thing is for sure, the scholarship limitations (i.e.,  lack of depth) have been more apparent on the defensive side of the ball. We’ve seen a lot of different players getting time on the defensive line, with senior DaQuan Jones leading the pack. Secondary core continues to be mixed around, with some clear youth and areas of improvement still needed.  Glenn Carson remains a solid presence at middle LB, but the outside LB position seems to change depending on who’s healthy.  Starting outside LB Mike Hull missed some time early in the season, just now getting back to 100%.  Ben Kline never seems to be a 100% after recovering from shoulder surgery.  True sophomore Nyeem Wartman has been getting the start with Stephen Obeng-Agyapong coming over from safety on occasion.  Clearly, a team having to make adjusts on the defensive side of the ball.

These struggles shouldn’t come as a surprise though, they’re expected with a first year defensive coordinator and young players, including many seeing the field for the first time.  They lost their best defensive players from last season, defensive tackle Jordan Hill and LBs Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges — all playing in the NFL.   Now you have younger players filling the holes as well as walk-ons competing for playing time.  Ohio State and the like will take advantage of that every time….

Special teams running steady

Ficken still kicken.  He started off hot, missed a couple here and there, but still much improved.  Punter Alex Butterworth has been consistent too.  Certainly not an exciting return team though.  Wide-receiver and kick-returner Geno Lewis definitely has the ability to make big plays….still waiting.

Season Finish

5 weeks, 5 Big Ten match ups.

Penn State faces Illinois (3-4) this weekend at Beaver Stadium in what hopes to be a rebound game for the Nittany Lions after an embarrassing loss at Ohio State last weekend.  The Fighting Illini are coming off a blowout loss themselves, getting beat 43-3 by Michigan State (43-3) at home.

Next week the Nittany Lions head to Minnesota (6-2) to face a much improved team coming off an impressive home victory over Nebraska.  Follow that up with a home game against a struggling Purdue (1-6) team.

Matt Lehman TD ruled fumble at Nebraska

The final home game of the season against Nebraska (5-2) falls on November 23rd, first Saturday of the Thanksgiving break for students — hopefully still get a filled student section as this should be a good match-up.  Penn State has yet to beat Nebraska since they’ve joined the Big Ten (0-2).  Both games have been very close though (and controversial).

Finally, the last game of the season at Wisconsin looks to be the 2nd hardest game of the season (after Ohio State).  It will be a cold late November game in Madison, WI.  And I’m sure the Badgers haven’t forgotten their OT loss to Penn State last year.  They came into the game already knowing that would be playing in the Big Ten Championship game.  This year, Wisconsin once again has a shot at winning the Leaders division (needs an Ohio State loss).  So they’ll be motivated more than ever.  Wisconsin likely a big favorite, but never count out the Nittany Lions. 

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Penn State Football — 2013 Preseason Evaluation

Coach Bill O'Brien

Coach Bill O’Brien

Football season is upon us. Time to take a look at this year’s Penn State squad.

This time last year, of course, we had no idea what to expect given the severe NCAA sanctions and loss of some key players.  Now, one year later, challenges remain (and no, it’s not the Bowl ban or the vacated wins).  NCAA allows each school to have 85 scholarship players – PSU is restricted to 65.  These limitations can present issues when it comes to depth, especially when injuries occur. Consequently, O’Brien has opened the door to increasing the walk-on program at PSU (or ‘run-on’ according to O’B).  There are currently 40 walk-ons, 65 scholarship players.

Here I provide a brief overview of each position on the team (rated as either Weak, Average, Good, or Excellent).

Offensive lineGood
One to Watch:  Gary Gilliam
Key Loss:  Matt Stankiewitch
Notable Freshmen:  Andrew Nelson, Brendan Mahon

Last year we saw an average offensive line get pushed around at times by the likes of big beefy Big Ten players.  I don’t expect that will happen this year, at least not as much, as several key players return stronger and better than ever.  Only major loss being at center with Matt Stankiewitch (New England Patriots), although Ty Howle (6’0″ 292, Sr) already filling in well.  John Urschel (6’3″ 307, math genius), Adam Gress (6’6″ 317, Sr), and Eric Shrive (6’6″ 317, Sr) all bring experience along with Miles Dieffenbach (6’3″ 297, Jr) and Donovan Smith (6’5″ 327, So).  Smith has the highest ceiling of this crew, but the most intriguing player?  Former TE senior Garry Gilliam (added 40 lbs this off-season).  O’Brien has made it clear that Gilliam will get playing time. Now at 6’6” 305 lbs, he certainly has the size…but for someone who has never played the position? Should be interesting.

Tight Ends –  Excellent
One to Watch:  Jesse James
Key Loss:  None
Notable Freshmen: Adam Breneman

Jesse James

Jesse James

Currently the best position on the team. Kyle Carter (6’3″ 244, So) , Jesse James (6’7″ 249, So), and Matt Lehman (6’6″260, Sr) are all back.  Add new freshman phenom Adam Breneman (6’4″ 235) as well as Brent Wilkerson (6’3″ 245, RS Fr) – you’ve got perhaps the best TE core in the conference. Enough said.

Quarterback – Average
One to Watch:  Tyler Ferguson
Key Loss:  Matt McGloin
Notable Freshmen: Christian Hackenberg

Here we go again. No true starter announced. Last year, former walk-on Matt McGloin (Oakland Raiders) took the reigns and far exceeded anyone’s expectations.  This time, we have two players who have never taken a snap as a PSU player though.  We have Tyler Ferguson (6’3″ 213, So), JUCO transfer from California, and Christian Hackenberg (6’3″ 218, Fr), one of the most highly rated freshman QBs in the country.  And yes, he is every bit of a 5-star blue chip player…which is refreshing considering past ‘high-rated’ QBs at PSU haven’t fared so well – Kevin Newsome (transferred to Temple, no longer on team); Paul Jones (transferred to Robert Morris); Rob Bolden (transferred to LSU, currently 3rd string QB).

Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg

Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg

Ferguson appears to have the best shot of taking the starting role.  He’s had a bit more time to study the playbook and learn the system since enrolling in January.  But unlike Hackenberg, Ferguson has had a very quiet recruiting process. Everyone has heard about Hackenberg, the elite QB that stuck with PSU when he had any college to choose from, but what about Ferguson?

A hard-working kid with something to prove: that he belongs.  During his senior season, a broken collar bone diminished his chances of receiving any major scholarship offers to play football.  He considered playing Division III basketball, but instead decided to attend the College of the Sequioas to pursue his goal of becoming a major college QB.  During the 2012 season, Ferguson (#3 rated JUCO QB) passed for an impressive 2,614 yards with a 55% completion rate.  However, his only major offers were from Houston, Akron, and Florida Atlantic. PSU instead had their sights on Jake Waters (#1 rated JUCO QB) and it wasn’t until Waters committed to Kansas State did coach O’Brien offer Ferguson.  He was the ‘fall back’ choice.  And when offered by PSU, he committed without even stepping foot on campus. No hesitation.

Since then, Ferguson has quietly made a name for himself.  First, competing with returning sophomore Steven Bench (who has since transferred) and now true freshman Hackenberg.  He has yet to falter and continues to play with the ‘chip on his shoulder’…which is actually quite fitting with the current PSU mentality.

Running BacksGood
One to Watch:  Akeel Lynch
Key Loss:  Mike Zordich
Notable Freshmen: Walk-ons

Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, Akeel Lynch

Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, Akeel Lynch

A solid group with a range of style and talent.  Leading the pack will be returning starter Zach Zwinak as well as Bill Belton (5’10″ 205, Jr).  Zwinak is clearly the ‘power’ back that runs straight through you, whereas Belton is the quick lateral RB.  Add to the mix Akeel Lynch (6’0″ 214, RS Fr) as well as walk-on Deron Thompson (5’10″ 198, So). Last year we saw Zwinak take the starting role from Belton.  This year, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lynch moves up the depth chart – very talented player. There are also some talented freshman walk-ons, including Von Walker, but doubt they’ll see much if any time this season given the depth at this position.

Fullback position isn’t used much in the offense, but Mike Zordich and his leadership alone will be missed.  Pat Zerbe (6’1″ 231, Sr) appears to be ready to fill the spot when needed, likely sees more time on special teams though.

Wide ReceiversGood
One to Watch: Eugene Lewis
Key Loss:  None
Notable Freshmen: Richy Anderson, DaeSean Hamilton (IR)

Alex Kenney 2010 vs 2013

Alex Kenney 2010 vs 2013

No major loses here from the previous season.  Allen Robinson (6’3″ 211, Jr) the highlight and perhaps top receiver in the Big Ten.  However, expect tighter coverage though from opposing defenses given his success in the previous season.  Other players will need to step up. Brandon Moseby-Felder (6’2″ 199, Sr), Matt Zanellato (6’3″ 202, So), and Alex Kenney (6’0″ 194, Jr)…clear winner of college transformation award…  all return with game time experience.  One to watch though will be Eugene ‘Geno’ Lewis (6’1″ 201, RS Fr).  Last year, Geno played QB on the practice squad (i.e. “dirty show”) to help prepare the 1st team defense for mobile QBs (e.g. Braxton Miller, Taylor Martinez).  He is currently listed behind Robinson on the depth chart, but I fully expect him to get some major playing time this Fall given his raw talent and catching ability.

Defensive Tackle  – Average
One to Watch:  DaQuan Jones
Key Loss:  Jordan Hill
Notable Freshmen: Parker Cothren

Key loss in star DT Jordan Hill (Seattle Seahawks).  Again, lots of talent and potential in another young group.  Lone senior DaQuan Jones (6’3″ 318, Sr) will start, with high expectations (http://www.nfl.com/photos/0ap1000000221610).  Big shoes to fill with Jordan Hill’s departure, be he is certainly capable of doing so.  The remaining DT position is still up for grabs.  Kyle Baublitz (6’5″ 286, Jr) will be competing mainly with Austin Johnson (6’4″ 297, RS Fr), but also Derek Dowrey (6’3″ 208, RS Fr), Brian Gaia (6’3″ 279, RS Fr) and Tyrone Smith (6’4″ 265, Jr).  Clearly a young inexperienced group, with the exception of Jones.  Normally, this lack of experience would be alarming, but I expect with Coach Johnson’s system that he’ll have his guys ready to go.

Defensive EndGood
One to Watch:  Anthony Zettel
Key Loss: Sean Stanley/Pete Massaro
Notable Freshmen: Garret Sickels, Curtis Cothran

Anthony Zettel

Anthony Zettel

Lost Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley to graduation, but still an impressive group of young players, including starter Deion Barnes (6’4″ 249, So).   C.J. Claniyan (6’3″ 251, So) and Anthony Zettel (6’5″ 257, So) are competing for the other starting spot.  Barnes is clearly the best of the bunch, but Zettel is a player to watch.  This kid brings the intensity, which we caught a glimpse of during the Navy game last year. Brad Bars (6’3″ 248, Jr) will be out this season (Achilles tendon injury), opening the door for Evan Schwan (6’6″ 242, RS Fr). Ideally, true freshmen Garret Sickles and Curtis Cothran will RS this season.

LinebackerAverage
One to Watch: Mike Hull
Key Loss:  Mike Mauti/Gerald Hodges
Notable Freshmen: Brandon Bell

Mike Hull, Glenn Carson, Nyeem Wartman

Mike Hull, Glenn Carson, Nyeem Wartman

Just average?  Linebacker U?  Well,  unfortunately the lack of depth is a concern. The loss of Mauti and Hodges (both Minnesota Vikings) are clearly huge holes to fill.  Fortunately, returning stars Mike Hull and Glenn Carson are experienced players with NFL potential and RS freshman Nyeem Wartman seems to be not too far behind.  Ben Kline is the next in line, but he’s still recovering from shoulder surgery.  After that, freshman Gary Wooten and Brandon Bell are the only scholarship players.  PSU accepted a large number of LB walk-ons in hopes of filling this void.  Nonetheless, if any of the starters go down with an injury, it could get interesting.  There has already been talk of playing a 4-2-5 style defense given the depth at the secondary position.  I suppose time will tell.

SecondaryGood
One to Watch: Adrian Amos
Key Loss:  Stephon Morris
Notable Freshmen: Anthony Smith, Jordan Smith, Neiko Robinson

The most improved position on the team.  Depth (and youth) not as big of an issue, as was the case last year.  Adrian Amos (So) is the clear star of the group, able to play virtually anywhere on the field (including LB if need be it), but most likely at safety.  Other players expected to see time at safety include Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (Jr), Malcolm Willis (Sr), Ryan Keiser (Jr), Jesse Della Valle (So), and converted WR Malik Golden (RS Fr).  Jordan Lucas (So), Da’Quan Davis (So), and Trevor Williams (So) all return at the cornerback position with a year of experience under their belt.  Depth (and youth) was a concern last year — no longer the case.  Expect to see a much improved secondary this season.

Special TeamsAverage
One to Watch: Sam Ficken
Key Loss:  None
Notable Freshmen: Chris Gulla (walk-on)

Sam Ficken

Sam Ficken

No major changes in the kicking game.  Ficken (Jr) still kickin’ and walk-on senior Butterworth  (Sr) still punting.  Freshman walk-on Chris Gulla could make it interesting though.  He’s already been matching Ficken kick for kick in practice, but don’t expect any changes. Still good to have someone ‘pushing’ Ficken (and next in line) at least.  Ficken obviously struggled early-on last season, but appeared to get things together towards the end of the season.  Hopefully he can build upon this and improve for the upcoming season.  He has the leg, more a matter of mentality.

I expect the return game to improve from last year (which isn’t saying much).  Several players currently on the list to potentially return kicks this Fall, including Bill Belton, Alex Kenney, Akeel Lynch, Richy Anderson, Trevor Williams, Geno Lewis.  Heck, last year Gerald Hodges returned a couple punts…so it’s hard to say what the staff will decide here.

So where does the team stand? ob

Starters are solid.  1st team offense and 1st team defense will be able to compete with the best in the conference.  The QB position is certainly one to watch.  The first few games, regardless of the QB, could be tighter than folks expect.  It’ll take a couple games for the new QB to get settled.

Many offensive weapons will be available. Defense will be solid, but depth issues arise pretty quick (note many starters also play special teams).  Avoid injuries at all costs.  O’B knows it ….has already adjusted.  And yes, expect to see him go for it on 4th down more so than the average coach.

Overall, should be a fun team to watch.  Good mix of young players.  Also, keep an eye out for those walk-ons…..never know who will be the next star to arise.

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PSU 2012 – The Photo Finish

Pictures often tell a much better story than words – a perfect way to recap the historic 2012 season.  Enjoy.

Team statement  – 7/25/12

Led by Zordich and Mauti, team addressed media post-sanctions

Rise and Rally – 7/31/12

Rise and Rally

Ohio vs PSU – 9/1/12.  L, 24-14

Senior Shane McGregor before the game

PSU at Virginia – 9/8/12.  L, 17-16

Ficken misses multiple FGs in 2nd loss of season

Navy at PSU – 9/15/12.  W, 34-7

Mike Hull returns fumble for a TD

Temple at PSU – 9/22/12.  W, 24-13

Allen Robinson reception for TD

PSU at Illinois – 9/29/12.  W, 35-7

Mauti interception returned for 97 yards                                       Zwinak runs for 100+ yards

Northwestern at PSU – 10/6/12.  W, 39-28

TD run by McGloin leads PSU to 4th quarter comeback

PSU at Iowa – 10/20/12.  W, 38-14

Belton TD silences crowd                             Mauti interception                    Carter acrobatic catch on 4th down

OSU at PSU – 10/28/12.  L, 35-23

Nittanyville sets a record in preparation for whiteout game

Mike Hull blocks punt, recovered for a TD

PSU at Purdue – 11/3/12.  W, 34-9

Robinson catch                                                                           James stiff arm & Barnes forced fumble

PSU at Nebraksa – 11/10/12.  L, 32-23

Controversial Lehman TD ruled a fumble/touchback

Indiana at PSU – 11/17/12.   W, 45-22

Robinson shatters school record.                                 Mauti goes down with knee injury

Wisconsin at PSU – 11/24/12.  W, 24-21 (OT)

Hodges honors injured Mauti by wearing #42.                               Jordan Hill 4th quarter beast mode.

Ficken makes FG for the win in OT

Coach O’Brien, whether intentional or not, sums it up pretty well in his post-game interview. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFFKutrCfEA&feature=player_detailpage

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Final Game: Wisconsin vs PSU – Nov 24

Wisconsin (7-4; 4-3) comes to PSU (7-4; 5-2) in the final game of the season for the Nittany Lions. Wisconsin has already locked a spot in the Big Ten championship game. Their OT loss to OSU prevented them from clinching the outright division championship, thus making their trip to the Big Ten Championship appear as more of a ‘handout’ than earned. How will Wisconsin respond in their final regular season game in preparation for the Big Ten championship, likely against Nebraska?

Saturday Notes:

Last game of season
It all ends here for the senior class. Far from a normal season, this senior class has to be one memorable in the history of PSU football. These guys stayed and truly represented the heart of PSU. There are a number of newsworthy seniors, including Mauti and McGloin, but DB Stephon Morris is another unsung hero worth checking out (http://bit.ly/Xz71JN).
Despite the game falling on Thanksgiving break, I expect a good turnout to support the team, these players, and the future of PSU football. Although recall the last two high-emotion home games (Ohio and Ohio State). Both resulted in a loss with disappointing 2nd half performances. Will the players be able to control their emotions this time around ? The game comes down in part to hard will Wisconsin play. Wisconsin has nothing to play for, won’t want to show too many plays and won’t want to risk injuring key players with a trip to the Big Ten championship game looming. Penn State also will be heavily motivated on senior day in their final game of the year. Don’t expect Wisconsin to take it easy though…the home OT loss is fresh on their mind.

Mauti out
The leader of the PSU senior class won’t play on Senior Day. Interesting news though has surfaced that Mauti may have the option of petitioning the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility, which was actually done by Purdue QB Robert Marve. Mauti missed the 2007 season because of ACL injury, which he took a medical red-shirt. There is no rule that forbids a player from using the medical redshirt twice, and Mauti’s 2011 junior season seems to be eligible. In 2011, Mauti played in four games before going down with an injury. According to NCAA, medical redshirt can be acquired if the player has “not participated in more than 30% of the institution’s scheduled or completed contests”. The Penn State football team would have to fill out a Hardship Waiver form and submit to the NCAA to give Mauti a sixth year of eligibility, which is simply a formality. The question is whether this is something Mauti wants to pursue. Mauti could potentially be off of a football field until August, long after the NFL Draft, which takes place annually in April. So if his injury prevents him from performing tryouts for teams and making it to the NFL Combine, that could seriously hurt his draft stock, especially if he is expected to still be in the rehab process when NFL training camp begins over the summer. If Mauti had the option to spend another year at PSU to fully recover before going pro, would he?

Monte Ball

Wisconsin Running game
It’s no secret that Wisconsin has a solid running game, in fact, that’s pretty much been the standard. RB Monte Ball scored his 78th TD against the Buckeyes last weekend, tying the college career record. He’ll be looking to claim the record for himself against PSU. Last year, Ball had 4 TDs and over 120 yards against the Nittany Lions. Defensive leader Mauti will be out, so expect the Badgers to pound the run and test the PSU front 7.

PSU Offense vs Wisconsin Defense
Wisconsin has been getting it done on defense this year, led by LB Mike Taylor. Wisconsin is ranked 2nd in the Big Ten in total defense and 1st against the run. PSU has seen recent success with running, particulary RB Zach Zwinak, but the passing attack will be the focal point on Saturday. McGloin is coming off a record game against the Hoosiers and looking to end his college career with a statement. The big question will be the trenches and whether McGloin has solid pass protection. OSU exposed the PSU offensive line, will the big Wisconsin farm boys do the same? If McGloin has protection, it could be another big day in the air for McGloin.

Prediction
This game means everything to the Nittany Lions and nothing to the Badgers. Wisconsin is a hard nose old school big ten kind of team. Nothing fancy, but they know how to get things done on the ground. The forecast for Saturday looks to be a cold one with the possible chance of snow. Hard to say who this would favor, typically the team with a run heavy offense, which in this case would be Wisconsin. But with everything PSU has handled this season and the recent injury to Mauti, I’m certain every senior will be giving every ounce of energy, plus some. This is it. This is where it ends for many considering most will never play another game. This game means everything to PSU, as for Wisconsin, well there is the Big Ten Championship game to look forward to and potentially the Rose Bowl. With that being said, I see PSU winning a close one in what will be a very emotional end to a roller coaster season…

20121120-205328.jpg

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Big…14? Maryland & Rutgers

University of Maryland (ACC) and Rutgers (Big East) announce today that they will be joining the Big Ten conference in what many believe is a high-risk high-reward move for the conference.  Adding Maryland and Rutgers means the Big Ten can now tap into the population dense TV market from DC to NYC.   There are an estimated 15 million available households in the New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C. markets. In fact, DC had the nation’s largest growth rate, at 2.7 percent.  If the Big Ten Network got on basic cable in all those places, the per-household figure by the time Rutgers and Maryland joined the league would project in the neighborhood of $1.25 per month. That would equate to about $200 million per year.

The Big Ten is already by far the most profitable conference, in large part to the Big Ten Network, and by adding Rutgers and Maryland, it could become ever more so.  This doesn’t just mean money for athletic programs, it also provides valuable funds for academics and the university as whole.  Money is a big motivator and the Big Ten knows it.

Find the people to find the money

Geographic impact
Penn State is currently the team farthest to the East in what many label as a Midwest conference.  Nebraska was the last team to be picked up by the Big Ten. Now, with the addition of two East Coast universities, the demographic expands East. Why?  Population density.  More people, more televisions, more money.  Technically, no longer a Midwest conference, perhaps the Union conference?  Although Maryland falls below the Mason-Dixon line, it remained in the Union thanks to a little ‘push and shove’ from old Abe Lincoln…

‘Non-college football’ territory?
Many argue that name-brand college football is not a big part of the landscape along the I-95 corridor, or at least nothing like the South and parts of the Midwest.  Here, professional sports reign supreme.  However, I imagine once Michigan, OSU, Nebraska, and PSU start showing up on a regular basis , major-college football will have arrived.  For PSU fans, it might serve as another home game!

Division realignment  East / West

Leaders Legends
Maryland Michigan
Rutgers MSU
PSU Nebraska
OSU Iowa
Purdue Illinois
Indiana Northwestern
Wisconsin Minnesota

The exception here is that Illinois is bumped to the Legends division while Wisconsin remains in the Leaders division.  Geographically, Wisconsin is definitely the outlier, but I imagine the Big Ten big whigs knew that moving Wisconsin and keeping Illinois in the Leaders division would’ve left PSU and OSU as the only consistently relevant football programs.

Updated Big Ten conference

Are we done at 14 teams?
Many thought the conference was done after pulling in Nebraska.  The only exception would’ve been Notre Dame.  My how that has changed.  Rutgers leaves a Big East conference desperately trying to hold on as teams continue to drop, whereas Maryland leaves a strong ACC conference to obtain the financial benefits of being in the Big Ten.  Maryland was forced to cut funding for seven sports teams this season as a result of a massive budget deficit and by joining the Big Ten, finances may no longer be an issue.  Talent on the other hand may take a while.  ACC is already on the move to find a replacement while Big East is back to the drawing board….

How will it impact PSU?
Hard to say at the moment, time will tell.  One positive though is that PSU is no longer alone in the East.  With large fan bases in New Jersey and the greater DC area, fans can watch and attend games close to home.  The question of recruiting has also come up.  PSU has had tremendous success recruiting in these areas, but will the addition of Maryland and Rutgers present a new challenge?  Will OSU, Michigan, Nebraska become bigger competitors in the region?  Easier to sell a DC recruit to attend OSU when he knows that he’ll be playing some games in Maryland, allowing his family and friends to attend.  Same goes for PSU though.  So all in all, hard to say how the additions will affect recruitment.

Conclusion
It’s all about the benjamins — to argue otherwise would be idiotic.  This is certainly a bold move by the Big Ten and time will tell to see how it plays out.  Big Ten is currently very stable, but of course never satisfied and knew the long-term potential of having a presence along the East Coast.   Rutgers and Maryland may not be the athletic powers many Big Ten fans had hoped for, but the move allows the Big Ten to become bigger and stronger than ever.  And for PSU, that’s a good thing.

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PSU prevails over Indiana

Penn State  bounces back with an emotional victory over Indiana 45-22, beating the Hoosiers for the 16th time in 16 attempts, and solidifying a winning record for the season.  Normally, such a day would be worth celebrating, unfortunately, the day was overshadowed by what appeared to be a serious knee injury to team leader Michael Mauti. Here are some highlights from win 7 on the season:

Game Highlights:

Attendance
90,358, the lowest of the season for Penn State and the lowest since the 2001 Beaver Stadium expansion.

Allen Robinson

Records shattered
McGloin threw for a career-high 395 yards and 4 TDs.  By the end of the game, McGloin held the school record for TD passes (45), single-season completions (251), and single-season passing yards (3,071). McGloin also recorded his 17th career 200 yd passing game and 6th 300 yd passing game – both school records.

Then there is the acrobatic Allen Robinson, who only needed one catch coming into the game to beat school single-season record for catches set at 64.  He shattered the record, plus some, catching 10 passes for 197 yds and 3 TDs.  Robinson now has the single-season reception mark with 73.

Ficken rolling
Ever the since the Virgina disaster, Ficken has been solid.  Sure, all his attempts have been <40 yards, but it’s good to see some confidence and consistency in the kicking game.

Zwinak ball control
Despite another successful day on the ground, rushing for 135 yards, ball control continued to plague the young RB.

Jake Waters & Aaron Wimberly

Recruits
A number of prospects attended the game.  Although attendance wasn’t ideal, the game and atmosphere did not disappoint.

Mauti injury
Mauti, who has already battled back from two separate ACL injuries during his collegiate tenure, went down in the 1st quarter after being hit with a devastating and probably illegal chop block. The entire Nittany Lions team came out as the cart with Mauti drove away, a silent crowd rose to its feet, applauding Mauti as he was taken to the locker room, his hands on the front of his helmet.  It is an unfortunate and sad end to Mauti’s college career, the emotional leader of the PSU team plagued with his 3rd knee injury.

Mauti and Zordich

Post-game interview with defensive coordinator Ted Roof said he was “sick” over Mauti’s injury. Roof’s eyes grew watery talking about the impact Mauti had on this season –“ I love that kid,” Roof said. “That kid has meant a lot to us, a lot to me personally. I have the utmost respect for him.” Coach Bill O’Brien added- “ I’ve coached a Hall of Fame quarterback and great players. Mauti is one of the most special players I’ve ever been around”

Hull & Hodges step up
Mike Hull did a fine job filling in for Mauti and Hodges was all over the field, with 12 tackles and an amazing interception.  Keep in mind Mauti is large reason why this team has been successful  and many talented players remained at PSU, including Mike Hull — “He was one of the guys to help me decide to stay,” Hull said. “Just talking with me every day, just giving me confidence and telling me how much I meant to the football program and the team.”

Summary
Indiana tested the PSU defense, in fact, behind all the PSU stats was Indiana’s QB Cameron Coffman who threw for 454 yards.  In the end though, PSU got it done offensively and managed to slow Indiana down went it mattered most (including a goaline stand to end the game).  Unfortunately, the emotional leader of the team will be out for his final game next week as a Nittany Lion. This was not the way it was supposed to end for Mauti.  He might not go down as the greatest linebacker at PSU, but surely be remembered as a legend and arguably one of greatest players in PSU football history.  His time as a PSU linebacker may be done, but his leadership and legacy is far from over…

               

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Indiana vs PSU – Nov 17

PSU (6-4; 4-2) comes home after a disappointing end in Lincoln, Nebraska to face an Indiana team (4-6; 2-4) hoping to rebound after a 62-14 blowout loss at home to Wisconsin.  Penn State has NEVER lost to Indiana (15-0), but don’t let that fool you.  This is an improved Indiana team from years past.  What should we expect?

Game Notes

Low Attendance
The Indiana game isn’t one many PSU fans circle on their calendars.  Noon games prevent significant tailgating, usually slow to fill the stadium too.  And to top it all off, students have all next week off for Thanksgiving break, meaning many will be heading home before the game.   Should be plenty of empty seats on Saturday.  At full capacity, Beaver Stadium is one of largest in the nation, 2nd only to the Big House.  So even if several thousand below capacity, you’ll still have more people in attendance than almost any college or NFL game this weekend, the exceptions being Michigan, Alabama, and Texas all playing at home (OSU and Tennessee playing away games).  There will also be plenty of cheap tickets available.  I know I plan to find some hustler outside the stadium before game time to get myself a nice $10 ticket.  You should do the same.

Injury update
TE Kyle Carter and DT Jordan Hill both came into the game against Nebraska listed as ‘questionable’ and both saw action in the game.  However, Kyle Carter suffered a hand injury in the Nebraska game (separate from previous injury) and now ruled out for the remaining two games of the season.  Carter was the team’s second-leading receiver.   Jordan Hill on the other hand has another week to recover and likely closer to 100% come Saturday.
Starting safety Malcolm Willis (knee) and special teams player Curtis Dukes (head) are both listed as day-to-day.  I expect both will be ready to go come Saturday.

Defense – Secondary Test
Indiana offense features slightly more passing than rushing, which will be a test for the PSU secondary.  Indiana WR Cody Latimer ranks 2nd in the Big Ten with 707 receiving yards.  This will be a transition from the run-heavy Nebraska offense.   Last week we saw McGloin match-up with dual-threat QB in Taylor Martinez.  This week McGloin matches up with junior college transfer Cam Coffman.  Indiana QB Cam Coffman has the 2ndbest completion percentage in the Big Ten (62%), behind that of Taylor Martinez.  The Hoosiers are solid offensively, with Indiana throwing for nearly 300 yards per game, and putting up an average of 31.2 points per game.  It’ll be interesting to see how the PSU matches up defensively. This is an Indiana team that has the most penalties (127) in the Big Ten.  Look for the defensive line getting through the line and pressuring the QB.

Deion Barnes

I’ve really liked how well sophomore Deion Barnes  has been stepping up –  a quick DE already making a name for himself.  Barnes had six tackles, including three for 13 yards in losses and one sack, in the Nebraska game. Look for him to pick up the pace in pressuring Coffman.

Offensive Line/Running Game
Wisconsin rushed for a program-record 564 yards against Indiana last weekend, in large part to dominating the line of scrimmage.  With Zach Zwinak rolling up the yards, can the Nittany Lions also punish the Indiana front 7? Indiana has one of the worst ranked scoring defenses in the nation, giving up 32.2 points per game on average. Don’t be surprised if PSU comes out running the ball more.

Zach Zwinak

Zwinak set a career high in rushing yards for the second straight week, including a 50 yard TD run (longest play from scrimmage this year for the Nittany Lions). I’m still wondering when/if we’ll see Belton back in the line-up – seems that Zwinak is the clear starter now with Zordich at the two spot, despite Belton being listed as #2 on the depth chart.  I actually believe blocking ability has a lot to do with it given O’Brien’s style of offense.  Zwinak and Zordich are both much bigger than Belton (over 30 lbs larger) and serve as solid blockers, providing McGloin with crucial pass protection when needed.  By the way, will someone on the PSU staff please update Zwinak’s photo - everyone at home must think he’s some 14 year old kid, until they realize he’s more of a mix between a red-headed wolverine and grizzly adams.

1st half vs 2 half
PSU continues to dominate the 1st quarter, outscoring opponents 83-6.  This would be a great stat to advertise if the 2nd half stats were actually similar.  Unfortunately, PSU has been struggling to finish games.   PSU has been outscored 56-6 in the 3rd quarter this season; 99-28 in the 2nd half.  I suppose you could argue that these numbers are skewed since PSU eases up in the 2nd half after blowing some teams out in the 1st half (e.g. Navy, Illinois, Iowa, Purdue), allowing teams to put points on the board towards the end of the game.  I don’t agree.  PSU has NEVER been down going into half this season. Yes.  That is correct.  PSU has been up at half-time every single game this season, with the exception of OSU – they were tied.  This says a lot about the coaching staff  doing a great job getting the team prepared and ready to go each week, but it also says a lot about the coaching staff failing to make half-time adjustments and finishing games.   The Nebraska game is a perfect example – up 20-6 at half, but lose 32-23.  O’Brien did mention that he is still adjusting to the slightly longer half-time in college vs the NFL (20 min vs 12 min).  Regardless of length, this is still my biggest issue with the team.  Inability to finish.

Jake Waters

Prospects Visiting
Stud JUCO QB Jake Waters and his teammate RB Aaron Wimberly will be in attendance.  Waters is an experienced QB that could come and compete for the starting position with true freshman Steven Bench and incoming recruit Christian Hackenburg.   Ideally, O’Brien would like to redshirt Hackenburg his first year, leaving Bench alone at the QB position.  Waters could provide the needed experience and depth.
Also, WR DeaSean Hamilton will be visiting.  Hamilton has offers from many big programs and PSU still remains towards the top of his list.  Too bad the recruits won’t get the ‘full’ experience with a low attendance game.  Nothing a like ‘whiteout’ game to  help sell the program…

Robinson                       McDuffie                           Engram

Breaking Records
WR Allen Robinson is currently tied with All-Americans O.J. McDuffie and Bobby Engram in the single-season receptions record  (63 catches).   Both McDuffie and Engram also had successful NFL careers.  Robinson only needs one more catch to break the record.  Consider it done.  Robinson also leads the Big Ten in receptions, yardage, yards per game, and TD catches.   Best part?  He is only a sophomore….
Matt McGloin only needs 328 yards passing to claim the single season record.    At 41 career TDs, he is just 2 TDs away from tying the PSU record (held by Daryll Clark).  McGloin also leads the Big Ten in passing yardage, completions, and passing TDs.  Best part?  An unranked walk-on, who outlasted 3 highly recruited elite QBs (K. Newsome, R. Bolden, P.  Jones).

Prediction
This is an improved Indiana squad under 2nd year coach Kevin Wilson.   Don’t expect a PSU blow out like we saw for Illinois, Iowa, and Purdue.  Indiana beat both Illinois and Iowa this season (yet to play Purdue), and nearly beat the Buckeyes (52-49).  Unfortunately, Wisconsin came to town and embarrassed Indiana and removed any chance of playing in the Big Ten Championship.  Now, Indiana is striving for a bowl game berth whereas the Nittany Lions are out to ‘show the world’, playing each game with a chip on their shoulder.  Indiana’s offense will test the Nittany Lion defense, but when push comes to shove, PSU prevails.

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