Sunday, December 20, 2009

Penn State Athletes Convey Life Lessons

On Saturday, at university-wide graduation ceremonies, Penn State University released yet another pride of Nittany Lions into the wilderness, including many of the students in my senior marketing classes. They will be forced to find their own path through the jungle of a recovering but still bad economy. Some of them were lucky enough (or good enough, or both) to land jobs this fall. Others are still looking, or waiting to hear the results of job interviews held this fall. Still others are applying to graduate school in order to wait out the dearth of jobs. They are graduating, though, with a major advantage: the Penn State brand name on their degree, and a phenomenal network of Penn State alumni who are always willing to help fellow Penn Staters.

In any case, during the last two weeks or so all my efforts went to end-of-semester grading. Had to get the grades done so that these students would get their diplomas on time. Done, finally, as of 3 p.m. Friday.

What does this have to do with football? Nothing. I just wanted to explain why this blog has taken a back seat to my full-time job over the past two weeks. Then, just as I was about to post this blog on Saturday morning, I lost all telephone service – including Internet access. The explanation by Verizon is that there’s an area-wide outage, some sort of major cable failure. They promised me that it would be restored by WEDNESDAY at midnight, five full days after the outage occurred! Unbelievable. For someone like me, not having Internet access is worse than no coffee in the morning. It’s worse than withdrawal from nicotine. It’s just hugely bad.

Today, I drove to work just to access the Internet, check email, and post this blog. But I digress…back to my main topic.

My work as a professor and my interest in football – and other Penn State sports - are not totally separated. Every once in a while, something happens that reminds you that athletic sports at a collegiate level are different from those at a professional level. What Penn State Athletics translates to ultimately is the development of young people into the best that they can be, both on and off the field.

Three incidents reminded me of that in the past few weeks. The first was a student-athlete who came to my office hours this week. The grade this athlete received was not as high as it could have been, although it wasn’t bad. But instead of complaining about the grade, as so many students tend to do during finals week, the athlete came to my office hours to apologize for not doing better, to ask my advice on how to do better in the future, and to thank me for a great class. It was a very rewarding – and fun – developmental conversation.

This athlete applied an important principle of social influence: the ability to be likable. That’s one life lesson that I believe has to do with the way student-athletes are coached at Penn State to pay attention to academics and to have positive communication with their professors. The conversation didn’t change that athlete’s grade, but I developed a sense of respect for this athlete as a person who is serious about improving and making the most of a Penn State education.

Another incident occurred while watching the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Semi-Finals on TV the other night. In the opening introductions of the team, each player discussed their relationship with “The Widget”, Cathy Quilico, a junior defensive specialist. That brought a smile to my face. Cathy was in one of my classes last year. When she approached me at the beginning of the semester with her volleyball schedule, I looked at her and said, “You’re too short to play volleyball!” She’s 5’1” tall, basically tiny for a volleyball player. “I’m a dig specialist,” she responded.

So it was rewarding to see her play such a prominent role on the team in the wins against Hawaii and Texas, and to see the respect she had earned from her other teammates as conveyed by the good-humored introductions. It was clear to me just from watching the matches that not only is she competent at her specialized role, she is also an emotional leader of the team who is maximizing her potential.

Cathy has learned a life lesson about various paths to leadership. In a sport that is dominated by tall females, she has found a way to make a difference by focusing on what she can do, not on what she can’t, in a game she obviously loves.

Congratulations to the entire volleyball team for achieving an unprecedented third National Championship! We weren’t sure at all last night that Penn State would come back from being two sets down against Texas. They had not faced that sort of adversity in two years. But they did it. They found a way to win. What a game! Congratulations also to Russ Rose for achieving his 1000th win plus.

The final incident occurred at the Senior Banquet sponsored by the State College Quarterback Club on December 6th. In addition to numerous speeches and awards that lauded several graduating seniors, the Quarterback Club presented Brandon Short , former linebacker for both Penn State and the NFL, with its Distinguished Alumnus Award. While Brandon Short was not enrolled in any of my marketing classes, he did graduate from the Smeal College of Business with a marketing degree.

So I was very proud when he gave a speech about what he learned in his time at Penn State. It brought a standing ovation by the people who were present to hear it, and it caused Coach Joe Paterno to be overcome with emotion in his closing remarks. But rather than summarize the speech, I’ll just provide the link to the Penn State Football page on Facebook (you don’t have to join Facebook) so you can view excerpts from his speech and judge for yourself!

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/video/video.php?v=106082472739162&ref=mf

All for now. But since it may be Wednesday or possibly later before I get Internet access back, I would also like to wish you a very Happy Holiday season and a great New Year!
Carolyn Todd

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Travel Choices Are Plentiful for Capital One Bowl

Pardon me for being a bit slow in sharing my thoughts about the upcoming January 1 matchup with LSU. Sometimes, other priorities take over. This weekend was an intense period of grading team projects for one of my marketing classes. There were lots of marketing plans to read and lots to comment upon. A deadline looms for me this week: it’s the last week of classes. So it’s always good to return my comments on major projects before students scatter for finals week. Got more to do, but as I always tell myself this time of the year, “this too will pass…”

We did take the time for three things on Sunday. The first was the Senior Football Banquet sponsored by the State College Quarterback Club. The second was the bowl announcement show on Sunday night. The final was making travel arrangements to Orlando immediately after the bowl announcements.

I’ll talk about travel arrangements first in this post. Later this week look for some thoughts on the senior banquet and the bowl game itself. Terry and I had been hoping for a BCS bid to the Fiesta in Arizona, but we more or less expected to be in Orlando. And we’re reasonably happy about that. Iowa did really deserve a BCS bowl more than Penn State did, because they were ranked higher than us and because they beat us head-to-head. Besides, it looks like a matchup with LSU will be a very good one for us.

Whenever Penn State is chosen for a bowl game, we have two basic choices: sign up with a tour group, or travel on our own. For the possibilities this year, we had decided that for Arizona or Orlando, we would travel on our own. If we had wound up in the Orange Bowl, we would have traveled with a tour group so we could stay in a hotel on South Beach, secure tickets, and let a tour shuttle us to the stadium.

There are practical reasons for choosing a tour, and much of it has to do with ticket and hotel availability. Tickets are included, you receive bus transfers to the game and other pre-game events, and you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the experience with a bunch of other rabid Penn State fans. The tour groups that we have traveled with do a good job. It’s a hassle free way to go to a bowl game. We’ve traveled with both Collegiate Athletic Travel and Centre for Travel, local State College businesses with lots of experience and competent staff. The Penn State Alumni Association bowl tour is also well done. But if we were planning to go on a bowl tour, we’d just as soon support one of the local businesses in town, if their tour packages look good.

As mentioned before, we decided to travel on our own for this trip. When it comes to the Capital One bowl, we expect that there will be no problems acquiring two tickets directly from Penn State. Our Nittany Lion Club points are high enough to ensure that. Also, there are plenty of hotels in and around the Orlando area. We’ve also traveled on our own before in Orlando, and we’ve done it with a tour a couple of times. Either way works. It’s a matter of preference.

Our favorite Capital One Bowls (or Citrus Bowls) have been the ones where we have stayed at Disney World. Why? Disney does the holidays right. New Year’s Eve fireworks at any of their theme parks are spectacular. And if you stay at Disney, getting around the Disney complex is very easy through their system of monorails and busses and even boats. Even on New Year’s Eve after the fireworks it took a mere 20 minutes to get back to our hotel. We were very impressed with their transportation logistics on one of the most crowded nights of the year. Disney also has a plethora of great restaurant choices for New Year’s Eve, and I have already made reservations for a dining spot that night.

We went to a Penn State New Year’s Eve party in Orlando once, at the Peabody Hotel. We found it to be a strange affair. We sat next to some people who kept asking me about teaching at Smeal College, and I felt like I was working the entire time. I’d rather be anonymous on New Year’s Eve, and just enjoy myself. So Disney it will be for us. It’s much more fun to be a kid again than it is to play the role of college professor when you’re on vacation!

Within fifteen minutes of the bowl announcement, we looked at the choices for hotels at Disney. Tentatively reserved a vacation package for 12/28-1/3. Then looked at airlines. Wow. There were very expensive and lousy choices of flights from State College or Harrisburg to Orlando. Then it occurred to me. We were trying to return home on the Sunday of New Year’s weekend. I don’t have to be back to classes until 1/11. Looked at 12/29-1/4 instead. Much better choices, more reasonable airfares in and out of State College. The Disney package was also slightly less expensive. So, we booked airfare and hotel package through Disney. Then went online to ask for two tickets at the Penn State Athletics ticket site. Done by 9:30 p.m. on Sunday.

By the way, if you’re interested in both a bowl tour and Disney, there are some options available. Centre for Travel and Collegiate Athletic Travel for instance, both have tour packages that include a stay at a Disney resort, tickets to the game and bus transfers to the game, and other events/gifts. You can buy a land package and arrange your own flights, or buy an air package that includes flights. If you want to stay longer at Disney than the tour, I’m confident that either tour group can make arrangements for you.

The Penn State Alumni Association tour’s deluxe package is based at the Peabody Hotel in Orlando, the Big Ten headquarters where the team is staying, while its standard package is at the Rosen Plaza in Orlando. The Peabody Orlando is a beautiful luxury hotel and features the unique Peabody Ducks, who march through the hotel lobby on a red carpet each afternoon. It’s worth seeing at least once, there’s a lot of fanfare surrounding these ducks.

Another option, for those of you who would prefer to plan your own travel and find more inexpensive hotel choices in the Orlando area, is to book a game day package through the Penn State Alumni Association website. This package includes bus transfers to and from the Peabody Orlando to the game, a pre-game BBQ lunch, and a game ticket. The package is $274 per person.

Or if you want to park yourself at the game, and have your own game tickets, but want to attend the Alumni Association’s pre-game luncheon at the stadium, that’s $65 per person and you can register for that on-line at the Alumni Association’s web-site.

So we will spend six nights at Disney World. A pretty good vacation over the holidays, and we will have enough time to enjoy all of Disney at a slower pace that works for us. And now that the bowl trip is in place, and the end of football season frees up our weekends, we can move on to other things, like winding up the semester and planning for Christmas holidays…

For now, it’s back to grading…

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Waiting Game for A Bowl Choice: Almost Over!

Yesterday…grading papers while watching football games on TV. Penn State’s season is over, so all we have to do is wait for the bowl selections…

What a great comeback for Cincinnati to make the score 45-44 with 00:33 left in the Cincinnati – Pittsburgh game, clinching the Big East Championship. Congratulations to the entire team and its coaching staff led by Coach Brian Kelly for a 12-0 undefeated season.

So now that bowl piece is in place. Cincinnati is heading to a BCS bowl. Pittsburgh won’t be. So the Big Ten is one step closer to an at-large bid.

Then there’s the SEC Championship game. Congratulations to Alabama on a dominant win. That was not expected, and we were impressed. I felt for Tim Tebow at the end of the game. But he handled himself well through the tears. Class act. Alabama goes to Pasadena for the national championship, Florida will likely be chosen by the Sugar Bowl for that BCS game. No impact on the Big Ten at-large bids.

Watching the Texas-Nebraska game. A very sloppy game for Texas, their offense just didn’t look good at all. Colt McCoy had a bad day. Nebraska played a brilliant defensive game. But Texas found a way to win…kicking a field goal with 1 second left to win the game 13-12. What a game!!! It was an instant classic. Congratulations to Texas for pulling out a tight one!

One second away from BCS chaos…but all the teams I wanted to win won yesterday. Clears a possible path for Penn State in a BCS Bowl…hopefully the Fiesta! Maybe the Orange. If not, Orlando and Disney here we come.

We’ll finally know tonight!

In the meantime, today is the senior football banquet sponsored by the State College Quarterback Club. So we get to thank the players in person for a great season and thank the seniors for their contributions over the last 4-5 years to Penn State football. It’s always a good event.

Then, as soon as the bowl matchups are announced, lots of plans to make, starting tonight….but for now, back to that stack of papers…

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What If the BCS Considered Graduation Rates in Bowl Selections?

Move over, Florida. Alabama is now #1, you’re #2. Sorry, Texas, Cincinnati and TCU are now ranked ahead of you and closer to a national championship pick. Sorry Iowa. Penn State is the best team for a BCS bowl. Why? As part of the BCS ranking formula, I gave some consideration in the final bowl selection picks to the NCAA reported graduation rates of college football players.

The NCAA report just came out, and a few days ago Tony Mancuso of Official Sports Reports published an article of how the AP Top 25 would stand in the graduation rankings. To see that article, click on the link on the right side of my blog (if you’re reading this in the CDT, go to the blog roll, click on see this blog with pictures then click on the link to the right). You will need to subscribe. But it’s free, and the reporting is quite good. The listings of the NCAA graduation success rates and federal graduation rates, and the rankings, can be found in an article published this week. Or you can go to NCAA.org and look at the graduation data for each school yourself.

So I thought I would take Tony Mancuso’s listings one step further and see what difference graduation rates would make in the overall BCS rankings. I made an adjustment to the BCS standing based on the difference between each school’s graduation rate and the average for the FBS subdvision. I looked at both the Graduation Success Rate (which tracks football players receiving financial support) and the federal graduation rate (which looks at all football players). Then I averaged the two differences.

So, for example, Alabama’s GSR is 67%, 0% difference from the FBS average of 67%. Their Federal Graduation Rate is 75%, 20 percentage points above the FBS average of 55%. I averaged those two percentages and came out with an adjustment of 10%. So I adjusted the Overall BCS Standing for Alabama by 10%. Whereas Texas’s GSR is 49%, 18 percentage points below the FBS average of 67%. And its Federal Graduation Rate is 48%, 7 percentage points below the FBS average of 55%. The mean is -13%, so I adjusted their BCS standings accordingly. I did these for all 25 teams included in the BCS standings.

What’s the new order?

RANK Team Revised BCS Points
1 Alabama 1.05754
2 Florida 0.985728
3 Cincinnati 0.8977595
4 TCU 0.895997
5 Texas 0.8105125
6 Ohio State 0.6946995
7 Boise State 0.693309
8 Pittsburgh 0.687033
9 Penn State 0.628992
10 Georgia Tech 0.597212
11 Oregon 0.584988
12 Iowa 0.5743275
13 Oklahoma State 0.500565
14 Virginia Tech 0.48667
15 LSU 0.352225
16 Miami (FL) 0.316578
17 Clemson 0.2828325
18 Oregon State 0.27789
19 USC 0.2498385
20 Brigham Young 0.238693
21 Utah 0.2247115
22 California 0.2165145
23 North Carolina 0.1623375
24 Houston 0.134412
25 Mississippi 0.08484

Looking at this order, the national championship picture would be very different. Cincinnati or TCU would be ahead of Texas to play Alabama or Florida. Penn State would be ahead of Iowa –a cool reward to Penn State achieving the #1 spot – the highest graduation rates among the BCS ranked teams. Georgia Tech would lose two spots in BCS rankings because their graduation rates are ranked #23 and #25 among the top 25 BCS teams.

Of course I’m sure there will be folks who will point out the flaws in such a reward system. Perhaps one of the NCAA graduation rates should be rated more than the other. Perhaps schools like Georgia Tech and Texas have tougher academic standards than other schools. Perhaps there should be a fine-tuning that also compares the football players’ graduation rates with the overall graduation rates of the school.

There are also anomalies in graduation rates. For example if a highly ranked football player (for example at Texas) decides to declare for the NFL draft early because they are projected to go in the 1st round rather than stay in college to finish their degree, the school takes a hit on their graduation rate. But who can blame the athlete for choosing not to stay in school when an injury could cause them to lose millions of dollars the following year?

Adding a graduation rate measure makes no less sense than some of the computer-based rankings that are a part of the BCS, and may make more sense. It at least gives some acknowledgment that academics matter in this increasingly commercial college football bowl scene.

What do you think?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Waiting Game for Bowls Is Full of Suspense

We are all waiting for the decision on which bowl Penn State will go to. The two most discussed are the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida, and the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Florida. There is also a chance that we could wind up in the Fiesta Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, or even the Outback Bowl, depending on what happens in games this weekend and next, and how the BCS deals with the at-large berths.

Of course, the Orange Bowl is the preferred choice for Penn State, and Orange Bowl representatives were present at Michigan State observing the game and, from what I understand, singing Penn State’s praises. It’s a BCS bowl, and Penn State’s basic argument is that we finished strong with the same 10-2 record as Iowa, we have a legendary coach who will not be around forever, the last game played at the Orange Bowl was one of the best in bowl history (and also the longest!), and Penn Staters will show up in abundance and spend lots of money to bolster the economy. Especially in this economy, the Orange Bowl may go for a sure bet with Penn State, rather than take chances on Iowa, which is further away, even though the Iowa fans also have a great history of traveling well and spending lots of money.

In fact, Iowa has asked that people order tickets for the bowl game BEFORE the bowl announcements are made – by December 4. My guess is that Iowa wants to prove that their fans will be there - for whatever BCS bowl that they are selected for. I don’t blame them for wanting to make their case.

Personally I believe that Iowa deserves a BCS bowl more than Penn State does. We have the same 10-2 record, but they beat us head-to-head and are ranked ahead of us in the Big Ten and in the BCS. Also, when you consider each of our games against Ohio State, Iowa gave OSU all they could handle even though they were playing under the leadership of a backup quarterback – moving the game into overtime before losing. Penn State lost every aspect of the game against Ohio State. We were solidly beaten.

On the other hand, Penn State could argue that we’re a better team now than when we played Iowa at the end of September. Plus, we won every game on the road. At the end of the season, Penn State’s win against Michigan State was more impressive than Iowa’s win against Minnesota, at least in terms of the score. I haven’t watched the Iowa-Minnesota game, so I don’t know how the game was played. Plus, there’s nothing about the BCS that’s inherently fair. It’s about TV ratings and the best chance to have an economically winning event.

So I’ll much prefer the Orange Bowl if it’s offered to us, even though I believe it’s unfair to Iowa, or possibly other at-large candidates. Or the Fiesta Bowl, which is really our first choice for a bowl game. The Sugar Bowl will be fun, I love New Orleans and have never been to a Sugar Bowl (Terry has), but we will have to miss a wedding. The Capitol One Bowl will be decent – we love Disney and haven’t been there for a while. The one bowl I personally wish to avoid is the Outback Bowl. It’s actually a very decent bowl, one of our favorites, but I would prefer not to have to go to Tampa, Florida.

For most of our marriage, our holiday plans have evolved around bowl games. There were three locations that were particularly important for us. The first preferred location was California for the Rose Bowl (because that meant the Big Ten championship) or Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl. Terry’s son Bob and his family live in Arizona, and we also have very good friends near Phoenix.

So if we headed out west, we looked forward to holidays with family, especially our grandchildren Miranda and Mike, and our friends Janet and Herb. Last year also, my sister and her husband from Boston joined us for the Rose Bowl, and we also had a reunion with our nephew and his family who live in Los Angeles. It was a great deal of fun to convert my family to Penn State fans!

So for this year, being with family in Arizona is a reason for rooting for the Fiesta Bowl. It’s always fun to open presents with grandchildren! Even if it’s after the New Year!

My mother lived in Florida, near Clearwater, outside of Tampa, for over two decades. So any time Penn State was in the running for a Florida bowl it was always exciting for her. She always wanted Penn State to win their games (but not too many games) so we could spend the holidays with her. During the football season she would send me any articles from the St. Petersburg Times that discussed the Joe Paterno-Bobby Bowden rivalry. And she would watch every game she could get on TV and call us after every game and congratulate or console us.

Whenever Penn State was chosen for any Florida bowl, she was so delighted when I would call her and tell her we were coming. But if we were destined elsewhere, she nevertheless said she was very happy for us, even though we knew she was disappointed. She was a wonderful mom, and always wanted the best for us.

We spent many a Christmas, or New Year’s, or both, with her when Penn State was playing anywhere in Florida - in Tampa, or Orlando, or even Miami. A stop in Tampa was always part of those trips. But beginning in November of 2007, she started having serious health problems, and she died, ironically enough, on Mother’s Day in 2008. I guess she wanted to make sure we never forgot her! She was 89 years old, and for all but the last seven months of her life, she had a very good life. We miss her tremendously.

After spending some time in Florida managing her affairs after her death, we have not yet returned to Florida. And I’m truly not sure how I would handle it if we wound up in Tampa this year. Miami or Orlando will be difficult enough because there are associations with visiting her – but they’re different environments and far enough away.

But Tampa is so strongly associated with my mother. All the places we’ve stayed in that area, the things we’ve come to know and love about the Tampa Bay area, are associated with her presence.

So we will have a decision to make. Do we confront those memories of my mother head on by staying at our favorite places in the Clearwater area, near where she used to live, or do we try to make the trip very different from the past – away from our favorite hotels, restaurants, and beaches where we shared so many precious moments with my mom? I guess you can tell from my writing that I haven’t finished grieving her loss. And frankly I just hope that we avoid the Outback Bowl for now. I’m not sure I’m ready to go back quite yet.

Our third favorite destination is the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio Texas. That’s not even a consideration for Penn State this year. But my best friend Jeanne from high school lives there. So for the two Alamo Bowl appearances, we’ve enjoyed Christmas with her, treating her and her boys to the bowl game, and a wonderful time overall on the Riverwalk. It’s a great bowl game, and I’m sorry to see that the Big Ten connection will not be as strong as in the past.

Another complication with this year’s bowl choice is a wedding we’ve been invited to that will occur on New Year’s Eve this year in State College. It’s a black tie affair at the Nittany Lion Inn. We have a lot of affection for the bride, because as a teenager she took good care of our cats for many years while we traveled to Penn State games and elsewhere. Her father, our good friend and next-door neighbor, has told us that it will be the event of the year in State College. We do believe that is true! We hate to miss the celebration.

So, having said all that, our preferences are as follows:

1. Fiesta bowl January 4– we will see family and friends near the holidays AND we can go to the New Year’s Eve wedding in State College
2. Orange bowl January 5– Miami is warm and nice and it’s a BCS bowl after all AND we can go to the New Year’s Eve wedding in State College. PLUS a regular respondent to this blog has promised us that he will treat us to the best Mojito in Miami!
3. Sugar bowl January 1– it’s a BCS bowl and I have never been to a Sugar Bowl, and we love New Orleans, but we will have to miss the wedding
4. Capitol One Bowl January 1– Disney is always fun, but we will have to miss the wedding. But we still hope to share cocktails with the blog respondent mentioned above!
5. Outback Bowl January 1– Tampa/Clearwater area is always nice as well, but we will have to miss the wedding. And am not sure how I will handle such strong memories of my mother, whose presence was so important for so many years.

Wow! Is this complicated or what? Such is the life of Penn State fans that go to EVERY game and have to wait to know their fate for the holidays! Wherever Penn State goes, however, we will be there.

We will know on December 6 and then we can make some plans. We just hope that it’s not too late to rent a tuxedo in State College. And if anyone has two seats on a private plane from State College heading toward a bowl early on January 1, please let us know!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Will Penn State Season Ticket Holders STEP into the Future?

Penn State Athletics calls it the Seat Transfer and Equity Plan, or STEP.

The basic idea of STEP is to require a donation to the Nittany Lion Club based on the location of the seats in the stadium. Seats on the 50 yard line will cost more than seats on the 10 yard line or the end zone, for example.

There will also be a move of the entire student section to the South End Zone, and the installation of ADA seating in certain locations in the stadium. So some current season ticket holders will be forced out of their seats as a result and asked to select new seat preferences. The east stands will also have a lot of seats open up as a result of this student section move, and the propensity of students to stand throughout the game won't disrupt their view of the south end zone, which is the case right now.

There is also a transfer option where a season ticket holder can transfer current seats to a family member or any other individual (not a business). There will be a one-time transfer donation associated with each seat. That transfer donation also depends on the location in the stadium, and for any of the seats, it's quite expensive. The person to whom the tickets will be transferred will also be required to make annual Nittany Lion Club donations on the proposed per seat basis and agree to the new plan.

The plan can be found at the following url:

http://www.gopsusports.com/sports/c-lionclub/step.html

If you are a current Nittany Lion Club member who purchases Penn State season tickets, the plan is also being sent to your home. You will need to read this carefully and make some decisions based on your individual situation, paying careful attention to the time-lines.

At least Penn State is giving everyone time to think about it. It's a lot to absorb. You may want to have a lawyer sitting beside you when you read the plan! It's quite dense with some legal language included.

How severe the impact is depends on where a person's season tickets are currently located. For example, if I had four seats on the fifty-yard line, and had been paying only a minimum donation for those four seats for years (in 2010 it would be $400), then I will be facing a very steep price increase. I would have to donate $2400 per year to retain those four seats. I may as well donate $2500 per year and get a reserved parking space. And if I can't afford that and want to transfer those tickets to someone else, there will be a huge one-time donation for that transfer.

Or I can request a move to another section of the stadium where the donation level isn't as high. But I will have to wait in line behind the folks who want to keep their seats, the folks who are being displaced, and the folks who want to upgrade their tickets, in order to do so. And then the order of choosing those seats within those priority groupings will depend on my overall donation points.

We are lucky enough to have four seats in WBU, on about the 10-yard line, which in the new plan is in the blue zone (same as the end zone) and requires a seat donation of $100 per seat, no change from the minimum donation $400 required for 2010 for access to four tickets. They are great seats, (you can see the view in my banner at the top of this blog) and thankfully it looks like we will be able to keep them. One of the reasons we like those seats is that they are next to the railing that divides WBU and WCU. Nobody climbs over us to get in and out of the seats.

But our friends who have held seats next to us for nearly 30 years, who are on the other side of the railing in WCU and have only a slightly better view, between the 10- and 15-yard line, will have to pay $400 per ticket at a minimum to retain those seats. The donation for these friends will be at a minimum $1600.

I suppose there has to be a cutoff somewhere, but the value difference seems to be exacerbated in this situation. $400 per seat for only a slightly better change in view?

The idea of people paying more for better seats isn't necessarily a bad plan. It makes good business sense for an athletics department that is self-sufficient and has only two revenue-producing sports: football and men's basketball, and needs to support 27 other non-revenue-producing sports. The financial explanations on the web-site, though, are a bit vague. Some more transparency on the financial pressures that Penn State Athletics is facing would be helpful.

Also, Penn State merely refers us to the web-sites of other schools to show the trends. A comparison chart would have been very helpful to get some of us up to the reality of what's happening elsewhere.

It was inevitable that a plan like this would be proposed. The advent of legalized on-line scalping in Pennsylvania can be blamed for that. Penn State and the rest of us began to see how much the tickets between the 25-yard line are really worth, and how many of those tickets are for sale every week by season ticket holders. The brutal reality is that a lot of season ticket holders scalp many of their tickets to help pay for their donation or even make a profit, and attend only a few games each year.

I just wonder if Penn State went a bit too far as to where they drew the line in the sand on where the price increase per seat occurs. Especially in this economy.

And finally I also wonder what the value will be for this price increase in the form of better competition on the field at Beaver Stadium.

Penn State, give us something in exchange for this new plan! Promise us you'll give up an eighth home game to schedule a "home and home" with a non-conference team that's more competitive than Eastern Illinois. We understand that the seventh home game in a 12-game season is a real need to bring in revenues.

But an eighth home game? There's a limit to fans' willingness to put up with games that are not competitive, especially at these increased prices. And it does nothing to improve our BCS standings, either.

Will Penn State season ticket holders STEP into the future? The willingness of Penn State fans to renew their 2010 season tickets will be a strong indication of how much resistance there will be.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Four Road Wins Define A Great Season

Beating Michigan State was the most satisfying road win of all the away games this season. Especially the way we did it. We didn’t just squeak by and steal a win on the road. We beat them resoundingly. In a very solid second half performance. I wasn’t even bothered by the slow first half start because of the way the game was played.

The first half was primarily a defensive battle and a game of field position. It was played in the trenches, with the defense of each team stopping and containing each offense. We had expected a tight game, so a score of 7-7 at the half was not too bothersome.

About the only play that bothered us was Collin Wagner’s missed 38-yard field goal with 5:54 remaining. We were concerned that special teams might turn out to be the difference in this game. But our defense held Michigan State to a 3-and-out, and on our next possession we scored a touchdown, with 2:10 left in the half. Michigan State’s two-minute drill worked perfectly – an 8 play, 87-yard drive that resulted in their first touchdown. That drive reminded us that Michigan State has a potent offense. But it also confirmed to us the excellent job our defense had done of containing Michigan State’s offense to 7 points during the first half.

So as the team went into the half-time period with a tie score, we felt relatively okay, although certainly not comfortable. Penn State had made no major mistakes. It was simply a hard-fought game on both sides. This game was going to go to the team that made the best second-half adjustments, and we were hopeful that Penn State would succeed in that regard.

We were also in a very good mood. How could we not be? We were sitting in the nosebleed section of the stands – 7 long steep ramps to get up there – in light fleece jackets on November 21 in East Lansing. Our winter jackets were under our seats, and we would need them once the sun set, but it had been a delightfully mild and sunny day. There was no wind-chill to lower the 55-degree temperature. It was a perfect fall football day, and the Michigan State tailgating atmosphere was at its absolute best. It was certainly the best weather we had ever experienced at Michigan State. And the Michigan State fans were downright friendly toward us. We even crashed one of their tailgates when we observed the “Big Uglies” there doing the same. We were positively welcomed, and the good sportsmanship of Michigan State fans at that tailgate and elsewhere was truly appreciated.

The third quarter, of course, defined this football game. With Penn State scoring 28 points, the game turned into a rout. Clark’s trick pass play to Curtis Drake who then completed a touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless was a pleasure to watch! Two of the touchdowns were a result of interceptions by Nick Sukay and Sean Lee, leaving Penn State with a short field in both cases. Both the offense and the defense poured it on. Darryl Clark was perfect in passing during the second half. The rushing game also helped open up the passing. Evan Royster achieved yet another 100+ yards rushing (114 total). Overall Penn State rushed for 188 yards. Darryl Clark completed 19 of 27 attempts for 324 yards. We also had a chance to see the future. Kevin Newsome received some playing time, showing his exceptional running ability on the last touchdown drive.

Special teams turned out to not be a factor in the game. Except for this: the special teams did what they had to do. Due to the excellent directional punting of Jeremy Boone and a couple of Collin Wagner kicks that resulted in touchbacks, Michigan State’s dangerous punt and kick returner Keshawn Martin was neutralized. Martin’s longest kick return was 25 yards, on the opening kick of the game. His longest punt return was 1 yard! Michigan State’s longest kick return was 34 yards, by A.J. Zimmerman. Penn State’s speedy Stephon Green returned two kickoffs by Michigan State: one for 26 yards, and the other for 37 yards. So that was a tremendous improvement.

The travel this year has been always satisfying in the end. Why? We won every game on the road. When was the last time we did that? 1994! The last time we had an undefeated season. And because of those road wins, we’re 6-2 in the Big Ten, and 10-2 overall.

Many kudos to the Penn State road warriors who made this happen! It’s tough to win on the road in a Big Ten venue, and you did it in grand style each time. You came home bearing your shields. It’s so much better than coming home on your shields. Made all those layovers at Detroit airport worthwhile!

Congratulations on a great 10-2 season!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Buzz at Penn State Needs to Focus on Michigan State

The buzz in the corridors at Smeal College is all about which bowl Penn State will play in and major changes proposed for Beaver Stadium seating and ticket access in 2011. Hardly a word about the Spartans! It almost seems like everyone thinks we will of course win against a 6-5 team. Think again. With a 4-8 record at Spartan Stadium, a win there is hardly a guarantee. The Spartans are a better team than their record indicates. And after last Saturday’s sloppy start against Indiana, we have to fix some weaknesses in order to win.

It is sort of fun to speculate how Penn State might indeed qualify for a BCS bowl, if a little luck gets thrown our way. People are talking about who needs to lose in order for us to get to Glendale, New Orleans, or Miami. Everyone is hoping that Iowa will lose to Minnesota, and many of us will become Michigan fans this weekend. But I refuse to get into this discussion. I just keep telling people, “Hey - we need to win on Saturday. Period. I can’t worry about anything else.”

Then there’s the buzz about major changes to Beaver Stadium seating – moving the students to the South End Zone that appeared in full color on the front page of the Daily Collegian this week – and news reports from the Harrisburg Patriot News and the Daily Collegian that suggests that the level of donation to the Nittany Lion Club required in 2011 to acquire Penn State football tickets will be increased significantly, if not dramatically, depending on the location of your seats in the stadium.

This one is hard not to get engaged in. The students in my classes don’t like the fact that seniors would not get to sit on the 40-yard line, although they personally will be graduated before this happens. They seem to resent the fact that alumni will get priority over students for those prime seats. Until I remind them that they will be alumni themselves and might be able to buy seats there. But still, they don’t think it’s fair to future seniors.

The season ticket holders I know at Smeal College – many of whom have faculty/staff tickets and are usually only minor contributors to the Nittany Lion Club – are wondering how Penn State will accommodate this perceived benefit to employment and faculty recruitment at Penn State.

Then there are friends from out of town who participate in a pooled Nittany Lion Club membership with great seats who will probably be severely impacted by what appears to be a sharp increase in donations if the Patriot News report is true.

Terry and I wonder also what the impact will be for us. We already donate at the Honorary Coach level, so we’re not as concerned about the direct impact on our wallet. But we are VERY concerned about how all this will be implemented, especially since some of our tickets are in the proposed new student section. In addition there is a glaring inequity on parking for Honorary Coaches depending on when you started donating at that level. A fix is definitely needed for that.

Penn State Athletics needs to give us the fine print, tell us how they will manage this transition, and who we need to talk to, and then we’ll react. Right now I don’t have enough information to deal with it.

It’s also very mystifying to me how such communications could just be, sort of, “leaked” to the press first before the season ends rather than officially announced in a more coordinated manner by Penn State. Unless, of course, it’s a purposeful leak – a trial balloon of sorts - in order to gauge reaction. In any case, I’m sure the phones at the Nittany Lion Club and the Athletic Ticket Office are ringing off the hook this week with all sorts of questions based on partial information. Perhaps also phones are ringing elsewhere – at the Football office and the President’s office.

Do they really need this distraction when the season isn’t over? Coach Joe Paterno sure didn’t appreciate it in the press conference on Tuesday. He knew broadly about the plan, but if he knew the details he wasn’t about to get into it. He thought an announcement would be made after the football season was over.

Again, we have a game to play on Saturday! Against a tough football team with a 6-5 record that lost to Central Michigan by two points, to Notre Dame by three points, and to Iowa by two points. They are only 7 points from having the same 9-2 record as we do! Our overall record against Michigan State is 13-12-1.

We’re battling for the annual Land Grand Trophy, and Michigan State takes this rivalry seriously, as we should as well. Michigan State wants to even the score to 13-13-1 after an embarrassing 49-18 loss at Beaver Stadium last year, the game that clinched the Big Ten Championship for us. Penn State does not want to repeat the disastrous appearance it last had at Spartan Stadium when we had a 24-7 early lead in the game, but we couldn’t prevent Michigan State from scoring and wound up losing the game in 35-31. It was a heart-breaking loss, and kept Penn State out of a New Year’s Day Bowl (although the Alamo Bowl isn’t a bad consolation prize! It’s one of our favorite bowl venues).

Both teams are playing for the best bowl bid possible this year. Michigan State is already bowl-eligible, but they will probably want to avoid the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl down the road in Detroit. They will play hard in order to get to Tempe or Orlando or possibly even San Antonio. Can’t blame them for that. We should be hungrier, with an outside chance at a BCS bowl in our grasp. Will our hunger allow us to be victorious? No. A solid four quarters of play will be necessary.

So on to East Lansing on our usual 6:15 a.m. flight for a tough battle.

Go Nittany Lions! Beat the Spartans!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

First Half Mistakes, Second Half Triumphs: A Sloppy 31-20 Win

As Indiana led 10-0 at the end of the first quarter, we were beginning to wonder if the Penn State team had given up on the season. Perhaps the loss to Ohio State was such a deflation that they just couldn’t get excited about this game. Or perhaps all the criticisms by fans after last week’s loss had gotten to them.

Perhaps the emptiest student section of the season was also discouraging – it was certainly embarrassing for Senior Day. Only the senior section was nearly full at the start of the game. This was their last home game, and the seniors were going to be there for Senior Day. My camera recorded that the student section never was full. With about 10 minutes remaining in the first half, it was only nearly full.

Perhaps the offense and special teams were also just trying too hard to make things happen. They took the brunt of last week’s loss. When a team tries too hard, mistakes happen. And we made plenty of mistakes.

Indiana’s first drive was a mistake-free series of run and pass plays that took five minutes off the clock. But our defense tightened up in the red zone and held them to a field goal. Their second drive was the result of a badly thrown pass by Darryl Clark, intercepted by Indiana’s Matt Mayberry. So they had a short field for their first touchdown, starting at the Penn State 43 yard line. 6 plays later, the score is 10-0.

On Penn State’s next possession, Darryl Clark leads the team 56 yards down the field only to throw another interception, this time caught by Indiana’s Nick Polk. Then Indiana goes three and out. Punts the ball. Drew Astorino returns the ball 4 yards but Indiana’s Chris Hagerup forces a fumble and Indiana recovers it.

Each team has a possession that stalls. Then Penn State gets a break when an Indiana player interferes with a punt, causing Penn State to take over at the PSU 39 yard line. 8 plays and 45 yards later, Penn State is able to make a field goal. Indiana's defense stopped us in the red zone. The score is now 10-3.

Indiana goes 3 and out. They punt it 38 yards to Graham Zug, who fumbles the ball. Indiana’s Trea Burgess recovers it on the PSU 29 yard line. But Indiana’s touchdown drive stalls, and the defense holds them to a 47-yard field goal attempt. Nick Freeland misses it.

The score is still 10-3 with 59 seconds left in the second half. Penn State has thrown two interceptions and lost two fumbles.

This has been a very ugly half of football. We are thinking at this point that we’re lucky to be down by only 7 points. That what Darryl Clark should do is end the half quickly, take two knees, go to the locker room, and talk it over. That the last thing we can afford is another mistake creating another opportunity for Indiana to score.

But the Penn State offense had other ideas. After two incomplete passes, Clark completes an 18-yard pass to Brett Brackett. We’re on the 48-yard line. Then backup freshman running back Curtis Drake scrambles for 26 yards to the Indiana 26. Add on a face-mask penalty by Indiana and we’re at the Indiana 13 yard-line.

Darryl Clark throws a touchdown pass to Evan Royster. The score is now 10-10 with 6 seconds left in the half.

Wow. What a strange half of football, probably the strangest we’ve ever seen. A miserable performance by Penn State's offense and special teams, but the score is tied. We had four turnovers but the game is even. How can that be?

Credit the defense. They were the only bright spot in the first half. Linebackers Sean Lee and Navarro Bowman in particular. They made a lot of stops. The defense made sure that Indiana couldn’t capitalize on all our mistakes. Credit also that critical face-mask penalty at the end of the second half. Without that mistake, Penn State’s touchdown drive might have stalled. We were running out of time.

Penn State had won the toss, so had the first possession of the second half. And it started out in a shaky way. Jerome Hayes returned the kickoff 35 yards to the PSU 45-yard line, but Indiana’s Matt Ernest forced a fumble. Fortunately this one was recovered by Penn State! Whew. We got lucky.

A ten-play, 38 yard drive wound up in a missed field goal. Now Terry and I were upset. Indiana was able to stop us in the red zone on our first drive of the second half, and we were still making mistakes. Not good.

Credit the defense again. On Indiana’s next possession, they drove to the Penn State 28-yard line. Ben Chappell throws a pass that is intercepted by Navorro Bowman, who runs 73 yards for a Penn State touchdown. It was certainly the play of the day! And with 6:50 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Penn State is finally ahead, 17-10.

The defense holds Indiana to a 3-and-out. Then the Penn State offense finally gets into a rhythm. Darryl Clark leads the offense on a 14-play, 73-yard drive for another touchdown. Indiana then has a 12-play, 54-yard drive but is held by our defense to a field goal. The score, with 10:37 left in the fourth quarter, is 24-13.

Penn State completes another long touchdown drive, the score is 31-13 with 4:08 to go in the game. Indiana manages one more touchdown before the game is over, with a final score of 31-20.

The Penn State-Indiana game was in some ways typical of our season. This Penn State team has found a way to win nine times. We’ve lost only twice. But against Big Ten competition, especially, our wins have been at times sloppy if not downright ugly wins.

Next week against Michigan State, Penn State can’t afford to be sloppy or ugly. Spartan Stadium is a tough environment on a chilly November late afternoon. Michigan State is now bowl-eligible and will be playing for the best spot they can get. Penn State will be as well.

Penn State has to play a solid four quarters. We can’t rely on a series of big plays in the second half to pull out the game. The offense can't afford again to wait until the middle of the third quarter to get its act together. It’s time for Penn State to play a solid first half and show from the beginning what the offense is capable of doing. And then not have a let down in the second half. It's November. Mistakes should be minimal. We need to execute consistently to win next week's game. Michigan State has a lot of stake in this game, and so do we.

Of course, even if it's an ugly win, I'll take it!

Go Penn State! Beat the Spartans!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

With a 37-13 Record So Far, Thank You Seniors For Your Commitment

Imagine this. You are a talented football player. Penn State is coming off a 3-9 season in 2003 and a 4-7 season in 2004. You have other options, other scholarships to other programs with much better records. But you believe (as did many others who graduated last year) that you can help turn the program around. You believe in Penn State and Coach Joe Paterno. So you decide to take a chance on a team that had a losing record 4 out of 5 seasons. That couldn't win on the road. That was hanging around at the bottom of the Big Ten league.

The following seniors made such a commitment to Penn State in early 2005 and started their freshman year at Penn State in the Fall of 2005: Jeremy Boone (punter), Darryl Clark (quarterback), Jerome Hayes (defensive end), Josh Hull (linebacker), Dennis Landolt (tackle), Sean Lee (linebacker), Patrick Mauti (wide receiver), Andrew Pitz (kicker), Mickey Shuler (tight end), Brennan Coakley (tight end), and Knowledge Timmons (cornerback).

Of these seniors, only one player – Sean Lee – saw action in the 2005 football season. The rest were redshirted. But they came here. They took a chance. Thank you so much for choosing Penn State when we were down!

Thank you also to the following graduating seniors who joined Penn State in 2006 as freshmen or who transferred into Penn State in 2007: Tom Golarz (defensive tackle), Nerraw McCormack (tackle), Shelton McCullough (cornerback), Jared Odrick (defensive tackle), Ako Poti (tackle), Andrew Quarless (tight end), and A. J. Wallace (cornerback).

Most of them are familiar names. Many of them saw significant playing time throughout their career at Penn State. Some of them are not as familiar. Perhaps they were injured and their playing potential was cut short. Perhaps they had limited playing time or they played on the scout team in practice helping the varsity prepare each week.

However they contributed to Penn State football, thanks are in order. Thank you also to the following seniors who contribute as senior managers or undergraduate coaches in behind the scenes roles: Ryan Gmerek, John Kuceyeski, Brett Robinson, and Andrew Shilling.

We watched these seniors play every down in the time they were here. They contributed to a lot of great memories. Since 2006 we’ve seen them win 37 times and lose 13 times. Favorite games were the 28-27 overtime win at Minnesota in 2006, the Penn State White Out Win against Notre Dame in 2007, the Homecoming win against Michigan in 2008, our first win as a Big Ten team at the Horseshoe against Ohio State in 2008. Our win at the Big House in 2009. They brought us to the Outback Bowl, the Alamo Bowl, and the Rose Bowl. They brought us the Big Ten Championship last year. They will bring us to a bowl game this year, hopefully with a 10-2 regular season.

If they win the next two games and the bowl game, their final record since 2006 will be 40-13. We have celebrated many more victories with them, some of them tough ones, than we have mourned losses. It’s been a pleasure watching them play and watching them develop as players. It’s been a pleasure also to watch them graduate with a Penn State degree.

Penn State fans and especially students, I know we lost a heart-breaker last week. I know it’s a twelve-noon game. I know that some of you think a game against Indiana won't be competitive (think again). But be there anyhow. Be there ON TIME to support our seniors and give them thanks.

They deserve our support!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

When You Bleed Blue and White, Sometimes All You Feel is the Blood

“College football – and Big Ten competition - doesn’t get much better than this,” I thought to myself as Northwestern’s 17-10 win against Iowa was announced at the beginning of yesterday’s game. The entire stadium – packed to maximum capacity – let out a collective roar. The stakes for the Penn State-Ohio State game had just gotten even bigger than they were before.

An outright Big Ten title was now possible for either team. All Ohio State needed to do was beat Penn State this week, then win against Iowa and Michigan. All Penn State needed to do was beat Ohio State, hope that Ohio State would beat Iowa at the Horseshoe, and win against Indiana and Michigan State.

The stadium was at its “Greatest Show” best. Most of the students did arrive on time, although there were still mystifying gaping holes in the student stands at kickoff. Regardless, the Penn State crowd was noisy and pumped, led by the boisterous students, who truly earned the label of the best student section in the country this week.

The weather for an early November game was nearly perfect. We wore just sweatshirts for most of the tailgating, a winter coat and hats when the sun went down, but clear skies for a change. We were all in a good mood. Happy Valley was happy indeed. It was a fine day of tailgating followed by a much-anticipated Big Ten battle between two good football teams with great traditions.

Most sports pundits had predicted a Penn State win in a close defensive battle. We were prepared for a tough game, but Penn State fans expected victory. After all, we had Darryl Clark leading an explosive offense, and the best Big Ten defense. Ohio State was ranked second in the Big Ten on defense, and Terrell Pryor had shown some inconsistencies in past games. Even our special teams were favored, because Ohio State’s kicker had been injured the week before. Besides, we had the home field advantage. With the student section there in force, noise would be a factor for Ohio State. Everything pointed to a Penn State win. We would prevail. Ohio State was beatable this year. It would be fun, for a change, to beat Ohio State twice in a row, something we haven’t accomplished yet in the Big Ten era.

Credit Ohio State for overcoming the odds. Credit their defense for rising to the occasion and dominating our offensive line. Darryl Clark didn’t have a chance to show how good he is. He could not get anything going against an Ohio State defense that was always in his face, causing him to rush into every play he made. Credit Ohio State’s offensive line as well for preventing big defensive plays by Penn State. This game was won by Ohio State on the line of scrimmage - both sides of the line of scrimmage. Credit also Ohio State’s special teams for making big plays and achieving huge field position advantages. They exposed all the weaknesses of our special teams that had been murmured about throughout the season.

They beat us, purely and simply. We didn’t beat ourselves. They were the best team on the field yesterday, and perhaps they will prove to be the best team in the Big Ten by the end of the season. The game yesterday also proves the old adage that offense may score points, but defense – and special teams – wins games. Blue and white blood gushed from major arteries as Ohio State dominated every aspect of the game.

So we saw an 11-1 regular season and a bid to a BCS bowl, possibly even the Rose Bowl, disappear before our eyes. Now it will be at best a 10-2 regular season, possibly worse than that if the team doesn’t bounce back from this tough loss and win the rest of its schedule. Orlando, Tampa, or San Antonio is the best we can do for a post-season trip. The best we can hope for is probably the Capital One Bowl. Not bad, but when your expectations are higher than that, it hurts.

At Penn State, we still have a good team this year. It’s just not as good as we had come to expect. I’m not going to get down on the team, though. I am sure that there is no fan out there that feels worse than the student-athlete football players at Penn State do about losing yesterday’s game. And it’s at times like these that we do have to remind ourselves that they are student-athletes out there on the field who are doing the best they can. They didn’t quit. They were just overwhelmed.

Before and after the game we tailgated behind the West Stands with our friends Charlie and Lindley, avid Penn State fans who live in Memphis Tennessee and come to only a few games each year. Their tailgates are always a lot of fun, and for the Penn State-Ohio State game, the tailgate included a number of their personal friends who are Ohio State fans.

So not only was the Blue and White blood pouring out all over the place as we licked our wounds from solid defeat, we also watched the Scarlet and Gray blood in these OSU fans swell them up with pride for what Ohio State had accomplished.

Good people, Ohio State fans. Although they were very happy – shall I say ecstatic? – they didn’t rub it in. Good people, Penn State fans. They swallowed their pride and hugged their Ohio State friends after they won. We shared some hot soup together, even some cute buckeye-shaped chocolate and peanut butter confections. And of course we shared a drink or two, either in celebration or to ease our pain.

We talked about each team’s prospects for the rest of the season, the key plays of the game, Terrell Pryor’s mistake free game. We had a good time with them, both before AND after the game. I even asked for a photo of one of the OSU fans lighting a victory cigar. Why not? May as well have some fun with photos.

College football doesn’t get much better than this, if you’re an Ohio State fan. As for us Penn State fans, it couldn’t be worse, because we lost the two biggest games of the season at home. We’ll have to wait for other chances in other seasons to experience the euphoria of a tough win against ranked competition at home.

That’s the mean reality right now, as we digest what happened and read all the criticisms of Penn State and its schedule, etc. during the coming week.

In the meantime, let’s hope that the Penn State team learns from its mistakes and rebounds from this very tough loss. They can’t quit now. Nor should us fans quit on them.

That’s what bleeding blue and white is all about. Support the team, win or lose.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Challenge to All Good Sports Fans for Saturday’s Ohio State Game

There is no question that Saturday’s Penn State-Ohio State game will be high stakes for each team. Both teams are vying for a potential share of the Big Ten Championship, that is, if Iowa loses one game before the end of the season. Both teams are hoping for at least a New Year’s weekend, even a BCS, bowl, if they win on Saturday and the rest of the season.

It’s also November. That means that both teams have improved since the beginning of the season, and early mistakes or inconsistencies are being corrected through regular practice and more experience through playing games. Both teams have impressive defenses. Both teams have potent offenses led by talented quarterbacks. Both teams are also well coached.

The rivalry itself is intense. We’re tied 12-12 in the series. But some of that is old history dating back to 1912, and is misleading. The series with Ohio State since we joined the Big Ten is 10-6 in favor of Ohio State. The longest series streak since we joined the Big Ten was 2002-2004, when Ohio State won three times in a row. We have played Ohio State eight times at Beaver Stadium. On our home field, we hold a slight 5-3 advantage. At Ohio Stadium, our record is 1-7. We finally won last year, in a tight 13-6 defensive battle that was a sweet victory. But as a result of all those losses in Columbus, Penn State has never beaten Ohio State twice in a row! This year could be different. At least I hope so!

Seven of the sixteen games played during the Big Ten era have been close – with a final score difference of 7 points or less. The biggest score differential was the 63-14 Penn State win (one of my favorites) in 1994, our last undefeated season. The tightest score differential was a 21-20 Ohio State win, in 2003, when Penn State had a losing season. An all-time favorite game for most Penn State fans was Penn State’s 17-10 win in 2005! Another favorite game was the 2001 Penn State win – 29-27 at Beaver Stadium. It was at that game that Joe Paterno achieved his 324th win and finally surpassed Bear Bryant for the most Division I-A college football wins by an active coach. A great celebration occurred after that game. Who knew at that time that Joe Paterno would still be coaching and still hold the record? That 2001 game was the highlight of an otherwise miserable losing season.

So Ohio State is always a big game, especially this year with our Big Ten and BCS chances riding on a win. It’s the only home game left this year that my students are excited about. Their enthusiasm for Penn State football this year has waxed and waned. Mostly waned. They have complained about the loss to Iowa, too many twelve noon games, too much bad weather, and lackluster home competition. If they’re not complaining about that, they are complaining about the new ticketing system or how long it takes to get in their seats.

But now that Ohio State is coming, and our record is 8-1, this somewhat fickle student body is excited again. They promise me they will be in their seats on time for kickoff. The 3:30 game will help that cause, that is, if they’re not caught up with playing beer pong at their tailgate parties. Even for the Iowa game, there were some empty seats at kickoff. This Saturday, I’m hoping for no empty seats! We need that student section noise to carry Penn State at the beginning of the game, not halfway through the second quarter.

With the intensity of Saturday’s game also comes a big concern: the treatment of Ohio State fans at Beaver Stadium and elsewhere on campus and in State College. Perhaps I’m particularly sensitive to this because we travel to all away games each season. For the most part, Ohio State fans have been friendly to us. We have never had a seriously nasty encounter with an Ohio State fan, and have more often had an enjoyable time with them after a game at one of our favorite Columbus restaurants: the Buckeye Hall of Fame CafĂ©. Some other fans I’ve talked with, however, have had some bad harassing experiences in Columbus. I can’t speak to their experience, only our own.

Last year, the attitude of Ohio State fans towards Penn State fans was more friendly than usual. Even my students returned from Columbus last year gushing about how well they were treated by Ohio State students. They told me the student body was downright welcoming. We had the same experience. More Ohio State fans than normal greeted us and welcomed us to Ohio Stadium. It was a very noticeable change in fan atmosphere. As a result, Ohio Stadium is now #5 on our list of favorite college football atmospheres.

After that game, I emailed Joe Battista, former Executive Director of the Nittany Lion Club, Tim Curley, Penn State’s Director of Athletics, and Dr. Graham Spanier, Penn State’s President, describing our very positive experience at Columbus. The turnaround in fan behavior was due to an aggressive fan behavior social marketing campaign sponsored by the Ohio State Athletics Department. I suggested that perhaps it was time that Penn State should join Wisconsin and Ohio State in being more aggressive in promoting positive fan behavior at football games. For each of these schools, their fan behavior programs have been in existence for a few years now. It takes a while to have an impact!

Penn State’s appeal for good fan behavior is limited. There are standard announcements at Beaver Stadium – not the best time or place to reach fans. There are new appeals before the game through Nittany Lion Club emails, but not everyone who attends games is a Nittany Lion Club member, nor do we all read those emails. And a new initiative this year is students positioned at each entrance to Beaver Stadium who welcome each fan to the game. These are positive steps, but more could be done to encourage a safe and entertaining environment for all at the "Greatest Show in College Football".

Ultimately, though, the goal of any fan behavior program is to convince us fans to create a positive atmosphere for ourselves and for away team visitors. We’re not going to eliminate all the bad behavior that can happen among passionate sports fans at a big stakes game.

But each of us can help. We can help to offset any possible incidents that occur by being welcoming to those we meet who are in scarlet and gray. If each of us takes the responsibility to be good sports ambassadors, then the problem is reduced, if not solved.

The Nittany Lion Club uses the term “Common Courtesy and Mutual Respect.” If we all just applied the Golden Rule – treating opposing team fans in the same way we would hope to be treated if we all traveled to away games – then we will come a long way in creating a positive fan atmosphere for everyone.

Will you join us in doing that?

Go Nittany Lions! Beat the Buckeyes!
Then, after we win a close game – Go Buckeyes! Beat the Hawkeyes!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Fourth Quarter Scoring Blitz Saves An Otherwise Difficult Game

“Northwestern has very smart football players,” Brett Conway told us as we were discussing what we thought of Penn State’s chances at the Pep Rally yesterday. There was none smarter on Northwestern’s team than their starting quarterback, Mike Kafka. Kafka picked apart our defensive secondary in the first half, completing 14 of 18 passes for 128 yards and rushing 42 yards on 8 attempts. Kafka was Northwestern’s primary offensive threat in the first half of that game. He is a very talented quarterback with incredible vision and timing.

I don’t like to see players injured on either side of the ball, but in many ways, Penn State is lucky that Mike Kafka suffered a hamstring injury that caused him to leave the game with 8:15 left in the 2nd quarter. Yesterday’s game might have had a very different conclusion if Mike Kafka had remained in the game. Dan Persa, Northwestern’s backup quarterback, was able to move the ball quickly with 28 seconds left on the clock at the end of the first half to score 3 more points on a field goal. But it was a different team we played against once Kafka was out. Northwestern was not nearly as in sync.

The score was 13-10 in favor of Northwestern at the end of the second quarter. In the third quarter, Northwestern’s defense held Penn State to a Collin Wagner field goal with 5:38 remaining in the quarter.

So a tie at 13-13 started the 4th quarter. I turned to Terry and said, “Remind me why I like close games.” Terry’s response was, “I have no idea!” We weren’t very happy. In fact, I didn’t like this game at all. We had difficulty establishing the run, difficulty scoring touchdowns, and we had some dumb penalties (delay of game, 12 men on the field, an unnecessary personal foul) that caused our offense to stall or gave Northwestern first downs after we had stopped them on third down.

That all changed with 12:27 remaining in the 4th quarter. Darryl Clark engineered a 7-play, 58-yard touchdown drive. The score was 20-13. Northwestern went 3-and-out on the next possession.

Then on the first play from scrimmage with 10:25 on the clock, Darryl Clark threw a 53-yard pass to Derek Moye for a touchdown. It was a perfectly executed pass, and Derek Moye didn’t even break stride when he caught it and ran into the end-zone. That got us excited! The score was 27-13, and we began to feel more comfortable.

Penn State’s defense held Northwestern to 26 yards of offense on their next possession. With 8:58 left on the clock, Penn State started on their own 31-yard line. The handoff to Evan Royster resulted in a 69-yard scramble for a touchdown.

So a 53-yard pass play for a touchdown and a 69-yard rush for a touchdown were the final two scores. Two plays for two touchdowns. Wow.

Penn State’s defense had a much better second half. Sean Lee led the defense for the game, with 12 tackles. It was good to see him finally start again. The defense also recovered two fumbles during the game. Whatever difficulties they had in the first half were solved with adjustments in the second half.

But I keep going back to the fact that Kafka was injured. Northwestern was down 28-3 last week against Indiana and Kafka had led a comeback in the second half, winning the game 29-28.

So despite our quick strike offense and a win, there is reason to be concerned for next week. It was not what I would call a solid performance. The game was much closer than the final score indicated, and Penn State has plenty to work on to prepare for a solid game against Ohio State.

But, as they say, a win is a win! We’re happy. It’s nice to be 8-1 for the season!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chicago Makes Northwestern A Fun Trip

We always enjoy following Penn State to Northwestern. Why? Location. Location. Location. Evanston Illinois is a suburb just north of Chicago. Every once in a while it’s nice to get a big city fix, and Chicago is one of America’s great cities.

When we go to Chicago, we try to take advantage of all that Chicago has to offer. Favorite museums include the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of Science and Technology. We will usually visit one of these museums each time we go to Chicago. There’s always something interesting to learn or see.

Also, Terry loves to visit zoos, and two of his favorites zoos are in Chicago. The Brookfield zoo is great – in the suburbs near O’Hare – and so is the Lincoln Park Zoo – within the city limits. If the weather is good, we will head to the zoo.

Then there’s the shopping, especially on the Magnificent Mile, where we usually stay. Flagship stores of major brands such as Nike, Sony, or Apple can be found on that stretch of Michigan Avenue. Favorite department stores such as Nordstrom's, and major malls with every retailer you can possibly name can be found here. Since I live in Centre County, PA., excellent shopping (more likely browsing) is a real treat. As a marketing professional, seeing the latest trends in retailing is also a learning experience. The only problem is that Terry hates to shop. So I leave him in the hotel room for a few hours while I explore.

Finally, there are the restaurants. Chicago deep-dish pizza – there’s nothing better if you like pizza. Edwardo’s is our favorite, followed closely by Giordano’s. There are steakhouses galore, too numerous to mention, and we’ve had several good meals. Somehow, Midwestern steaks are always better than what you can find in the East. And then there’s the Twin Anchors Tavern, a recent find. The best ribs we’ve ever eaten! We’ll probably go there again this trip, even though we need to take a taxi, it was that good. A local pub, very crowded, but well worth the wait.

We’ve learned from experience how to manage the trip to Northwestern. The first time we visited there, we stayed at a hotel near O’Hare Airport and drove to Evanston. It was 1993, and football was – well – not a major focus at Northwestern. The stadium, Ryan Field, has a capacity of 47,130. When we went to that first game, we had a rental car and drove to the stadium. Barely an hour before the game, we could park within two blocks of the stadium. A half hour before the game, there were still empty parking spaces right next to the stadium. We were amazed. Northwestern did not have a winning tradition, so attendance was sparse, and access was easy. Empty seats – and empty parking spaces – prevailed. Our seats, purchased through Penn State, were on the 35-yard line for that first game.

Northwestern is a great school, with very tough academics. In 1993, Northwestern was known more for its losing records in Division 1A than its winning records. On the other hand, Northwestern has always had one of the highest graduation success rates of NCAA BCS football – 92% in 2008, the last year the statistics have been made available. In comparison, Penn State’s NCAA graduation success rate for football was 78% that same year. This is not to be frowned upon! Among the Top 25 AP teams, Penn State was #2. Texas Tech was #1, with 79%. But for Northwestern, recruiting great football talent with very tough academic standards is even harder than it is at Penn State – which is tough enough, and getting tougher every year.

Unlike other Big Ten schools, which are all public universities, Northwestern is a private university, with an enrollment as of 2007 of about 19000 students. From my perspective as a marketing professional, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern is well known for having one of the best marketing departments in the country.

In fact, in 1995, just when I was about to go to Northwestern for a game, we were recruiting marketing professionals for my company’s marketing department. I asked my boss where we should recruit. Northwestern, of course, was his answer. My response: “I’m going to the Northwestern game this weekend. What can I do?” My boss said, “Recruit an MBA from Northwestern”. So it was the first and only time a football game became also a business trip.

That same year, everything changed for Northwestern football. Under the leadership of head coach Gary Barnett, Northwestern had its “Cinderella Season”. “Expect Victory” was the motto. On November 4, 1995, when Penn State played them at Ryan Field, Northwestern had lost only one game – oddly enough to Miami of Ohio. They had won against Notre Dame, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois before they played us. The atmosphere on campus when I met with Kellog to recruit an MBA was electric. There was purple fever everywhere. We wound up losing that game 21-10, and Northwestern won the Big Ten Conference title that year and headed to the Rose Bowl to play USC. Their record for the year was 10-2, after losing to USC.

Parking at the stadium in 1995? Forget about it! The stadium was sold out for every game, and parking there was out of the question. We were advised to park on campus and take the shuttle to the game.

So we did park on campus. We were directed to park near the Natatorium. The shuttle worked well from campus to the stadium. However, on the way back, after a miserable loss, the shuttle took a different route, and the bus driver didn’t announce the stops. I guess he assumed that everyone on the bus knew where to get off. Everyone, that is, except us. We stayed on the bus too long, and finally asked the bus driver where we were.

The bus driver dropped us at the very south end of campus. The Natatorium was near the north end of campus. On a very bone-chilling cold windy November night we had to walk a very long way – my guess close to two miles – along Lake Michigan – asking directions from whomever we could – to find our way back to our parking spot. It was a miserable experience!

Since then, we have not driven to Evanston for a Northwestern game. The games have been much better attended, and the away team section is relegated to the corner of the end zone. Parking is impossible.

We find it easier to stay in downtown Chicago – preferably near the Magnificent Mile - and take the “El” – the purple elevated subway line – to the game. That leaves us about 3 blocks from the stadium. It works very well, and we don’t have to fuss about parking! The Penn State Pep Rally is also close to that “El” station in Evanston. So it’s convenient to stop by there before the game.

This year, it will be more interesting than usual. We will play Northwestern on Halloween. What are we likely to encounter on public transportation to and from the game? I’ll be sure to have my camera ready!

One thing I’m not too worried about this year is winning the game. As long as the Penn State team doesn’t overlook them!

Despite our winning record against them, we’ve had some very close battles with Northwestern – most notably in 2005. Towards the end of the game, Northwestern was ahead. Michael Robinson completed a 4th and 15 pass to tight end Isaac Smolko in order to keep our chances of winning the game alive. To me, that was the key play of the incredible 2005 season. A pass to Derrick Williams five plays later secured our victory, with 51 seconds left on the clock.

At the end of that game, Terry and I had our first clue that the 2005 team would be special. How special we couldn’t predict, but at that point we knew that the team could at least find a way to win. It was a major turning point after two miserable losing seasons!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Big House Is Even More Fun When We Win!

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that the Big House is one of our favorite college football venues. In fact, it is #4 on our list. Given that until this weekend we hadn’t won there since 1996, it’s a credit to Michigan and its fans that we have enjoyed it that much. But it’s an even better experience when we win! Even if the weather included a soggy cold drizzle that was chilling to the bone. We needed, for the second week in a row, all the foul weather gear in our possession to survive that game.

The currently in progress stadium renovations at the Big House include stadium suites on the East and West sides. The net effect of building up the sides is an even noisier stadium than before, and a different look from street level. Our seats were at the top of the south end-zone – 94th row - so we had a great view of plays as they developed. Looking down from that height into a “bowl” full of mostly maize is always an awesome experience.

During the first three minutes and forty-nine seconds of the game, Michigan was in control. They controlled the line of scrimmage and engineered an 11-play, 70 yard drive. They handled our defense handily, and scored a touchdown. Terry and I looked at each other in despair. Michigan made it look too easy! And just like that, the Penn State defense allowed the first touchdown of the season in the first half. The defensive streak was broken in the 8th game.

At that point, we thought we were in trouble – serious trouble! But when Penn State’s offense took the field, they answered right away with a 68-yard, 4 play touchdown drive on their own, tying the score. From that point on, Penn State dominated the game, although there were times when I thought that Michigan just made too many mistakes. The score was 19-10 at half time.

During the second half, it was all Penn State. Our offense scored another 16 points in the second half, making the final score 35-10. Michigan could not score again. Michigan had a chance when they blocked a punt on the Penn State 30, but Penn State forced a fumble and recovered it on the Penn State 20.

The offense had a great day. Quarterback Darryl Clark completed 16 of 27 passes including four touchdowns (no interceptions). Running Back Evan Royster had another 100 yard game. The defense contained Michigan’s usually prolific running game or created turnovers – two interceptions and two fumbles.

Perhaps that first Michigan touchdown was a wakeup call to our defense. Michigan’s total offense was only 250 yards on 73 plays. We held them to 110 yards rushing on 40 attempts (2.75 yards per carry). We controlled time of possession, especially in the second half.

In other words, it was a solid win, perhaps the best and most balanced performance of the season so far. And it happened in the Big House! Finally. As John Black, editor of the Penn State Football Newsletter, so aptly predicted that morning, it would be a game to finally “get the monkey off our back” and relegate those years of back-to-back losses against Michigan to a distant memory. We've now won two in a row against Michigan. So a new streak has begun, I hope!

As for the noise in the Big House, it was much more subdued in the second half. In fact, perhaps due to the nasty weather, a lot of Michigan fans started to leave in the third quarter. Penn State fans, of course, stayed until the end, enjoying the celebration with the entire Penn State Blue Band and the football players who rushed towards the Penn State fans after the game to celebrate with us.

Before Saturday’s game, a lot of us were still wondering what type of team we would have this year. The win at Michigan gave us more answers – it appears that we have a very good team, one that might even be great if they win out the rest of the season. But of course Penn State can’t overlook Northwestern coming up in Evanston this Saturday. Ohio State and Michigan State both loom large as “must wins” against stiff competition. We still have a long way to go.

Saturday evening, back at the hotel, Penn State fans gathered in the lounge to celebrate our victory and watch the Michigan State-Iowa game. For a while, it looked like Michigan State could pull off an upset win. The Penn Staters around us were cheering the Spartans on as they could feel at least a share of the Big Ten Championship coming our way. But Iowa again managed to find a way to win! And many Penn Staters went to bed after that game disappointed. I wasn’t one of them. I found myself excited about Iowa achieving 8-0 for the first time in their history. Kudos to them! Iowa still has to play Ohio State at the Horseshoe, and their archrival Minnesota at home. So a lot can happen to keep Penn State’s chances alive.

Our team needs to be focused on winning, one game at a time. The rest of the Big Ten and other national contenders will win or lose each week and we will all have fun cheering for this team or that hoping that the right combination of wins or losses will put Penn State in position for a great conclusion to the season. National championship? There’s a very slight chance. Big Ten Championship? A decent shot at a share of the title. A BCS Bowl? It’s an awesome possibility.

Penn State has a lot to play for. There are lots of football games to be played. The team itself needs to take it one game at a time and hope that winning the rest will position them well for post-season play. That’s all we can ask of them.

Beat Northwestern on Saturday!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

2005 Was A Painful Loss But A Favorite Game Nonetheless

Enough is enough. Since we joined the Big Ten in 1993, we have played Michigan in Ann Arbor seven times. Michigan has won five times. We have won twice. The last time was 1996. I have witnessed six of those games in Ann Arbor. Terry has witnessed seven. So right now, I have witnessed only one win at the Big House in six visits. 1996. Terry has witnessed two wins: 1994 and 1996. The rest of those trips have been losses. Yet somehow we keep going back, and tomorrow we leave for Ann Arbor more optimistic about our chances that we might finally succeed in putting those losses behind us. Especially 2005!

Credit my dear nephew David for my 1994 absence. David and his wife MaryBeth decided to get married in Boston on October 15, 1994. Terry refused to miss the first ever Penn State-Michigan game in Ann Arbor. So he went to the game, I went to the wedding. My family has never quite forgiven Terry for that, but that’s another story...I digress.

In any case, since 1996 we’ve had a bad run of luck at Ann Arbor. Five times in a row we have lost there. In fact the entire series with Michigan is 10-4 in favor of Michigan. Three of those four games were won between 1994-1996. The fourth win was last year, 2008, at Beaver Stadium, and we dominated 46-17. Finally a win that broke a long losing streak!

The most painful loss, of course, was 2005. We were ahead 25-21 with one lousy second left on the clock, and Michigan found a way to win on fourth down with a TD pass from Chad Henne to Mario Manningheim. The game was over and we lost 27-25. I don’t usually cry when we lose, because usually by the end of a game it’s a slow realization that time is running out and that we will lose. But that game, I thought we might have it. Especially with only one second left on the clock, Michigan’s chances were slim. So with that incredible pass play, I found tears flowing at the end of that game. It was very hard to accept.

But I also have another perspective, and Penn State fans are going to hate what I have to say next. That 2005 game, despite the loss, stands in my memory as one of the most exciting games I’ve ever witnessed in the years I’ve been following college football. It’s definitely in my Top 5 of my all-time favorite football games. #1 for me was the 9-0 Homecoming shutout game at Alabama in 1990. #2 would be the 63-14 win against Ohio State in 1994. #3 would be the 1992 42-17 Fiesta Bowl win against Tennessee. The 2005 Michigan game would be next.

Why would a loss be ranked so high? My reasoning is simple. It was an amazingly competitive battle, especially in the fourth quarter.

Entering the fourth quarter, Michigan led 10-3. Terry and I were not happy but there was still plenty of time to win the game.

It had been, so far, a defensive battle. But the offense for both teams awoke in the fourth quarter, and the defense for both teams kept up their pressure.

With 11:56 to play, Penn State tied the score, helped by a 61-yard run by Tony Hunt. Terry and I started to have some hope, but we knew there was a lot of time left.

17 seconds later Alan Zemaitis forced a Michigan turnover and ran the ball in for a touchdown. The extra point snap was bobbled but kicker Kevin Kelly somehow managed to grab the ball and run into the end zone for 2 points. The score was 18-10.

Terry and I were ecstatic. We were ahead 18-10. That helped a lot! There was still a lot of time left on the clock, but remember it had been a low scoring game.

Then Michigan drove, scored a touchdown, and made their two-point conversion. The score was tied 18-18. 9:32 left on the clock. We were dismayed.

Penn State couldn’t move the ball on their next possession, then Michigan had another drive that resulted in a field goal. The score was 21-18 in Michigan’s favor. There was 3:45 left to play. We were distressed, but there was still enough time to turn it around.

On Penn State’s next possession they turned over the ball to Michigan. Disaster! We were running out of time! We were going to lose.

Then PSU’s defense stepped up and forced a 3-and-out. Michael Robinson led Penn State on an amazing 81-yard drive with no time-outs left, and he scored another touchdown. There was 53 seconds left on the clock.

The score was 25-21 in favor of Penn State. Terry and I were ecstatic again. Victory was in our grasp. We thought we had it. Michigan had to score a touchdown to win now, had to drive the length of the field, and the clock was in our favor.

But Steve Breaston had a 41-yard kickoff return to the UM 47-yard line. With very little time left. Michigan advanced to the PSU 10-yard line. One second left and one more play. If we can just defend one pass play, we will win. Very tense.

But Henne and Manningheim connected, Michigan scored that touchdown and they won the game 27-25. Penn State fell short. All our hope deflated. We lost.

Despite the tears I shed that day, the reason I love that game is that neither team quit. Penn State did everything they possibly could to win that game. They played their hearts out. So did Michigan. Both teams left everything they had on the field. Both teams played with soul, and incredible determination to win, on both sides of the ball. Neither team deserved to lose, but one team had to. It turned out to be Penn State. It could have just as easily been Michigan.

And that, in my humble opinion, is what great college football is all about. When you witness that sort of game it’s an amazing experience, with all its up-and-down emotion. You see your team perform at its very best against the toughest competition, and know that the team gave it everything they had.

What more can you ask for? A win obviously would have been great! We could also ask for a game that wasn’t influenced by questionable officiating late in the game. Instant replay might have made a difference if it had existed then.

But the 2005 loss at Michigan doesn’t take away any pride we felt for how Penn State played the game that day. They were phenomenal, and they went on to have an incredible season that was a complete turnaround from the prior two losing seasons. A Big Ten Championship, a BCS Orange Bowl bid, and then another stunning triple-overtime win against Florida State. It was a season that would bring Penn State back to the national forefront, turn our recruiting around, and secure Joe Paterno’s legacy in college football. It was a season that provided sweet vindication for four of five losing seasons where the patience and faith of Penn State fans (and the players and coaches) were severely tested.

Let’s go to Michigan this week and win. As Terry would say, it’s time to come home from Ann Arbor bearing our shields rather than on them!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Defense Does Its Thing While the Offense Controls the Clock

It’s not often that an opposing team gets completely shut out by the Nittany Lions. According to this morning’s Centre Daily Times, this was the 40th shutout in 44 years. Perhaps more significantly, this was a shut out against a Big Ten team with a winning record. Highly unusual! In fact, Minnesota was able to muster only 7 first downs in the entire game. The defense held them to only 138 net yards. Impressive. In fact, it was VERY impressive.

Perhaps the entire defense should get the game ball for yesterday’s win. They kept Minnesota off the field. Eric Decker, Minnesota’s highly regarded wide receiver, caught only one pass all game – a 42-yarder at the beginning of the 4th quarter that allowed Minnesota to get some offensive rhythm and into scoring position. But the defense stopped Minnesota on a 4th down play on the one-yard line and the shut out was secured.

Or perhaps the game ball should go to the instant replay system. It certainly helped us at the end of the first half! Without instant replay, the game might have turned out quite differently.

Or maybe the game ball should go to the offensive line, which has shown tremendous improvement and controlled the line of scrimmage, creating opportunities for rushing and passing.

We were worried about the offense at first. We could move the ball but we sputtered when we got into the red zone. Penalties seemed to be the primary problem. Penn State’s offense was self-destructing. Perhaps they were trying too hard to score. So we were 6-0 on two field goals by Collin Wagner. A third field goal try – a 49-yarder – was missed in the first half. Worrisome.

But then a Clark pass to Graham Zug, initially ruled incomplete, was overturned through instant replay and PSU’s final drive of the half stayed alive. With 35 seconds left in the half, Clark passed to Derek Moye in the end zone. Again it was ruled incomplete, but instant replay overruled that as well and gave us a touchdown.

So we wound up in the first half with a score of 13-0. The game was looking good so far, but it was far from over. Second half adjustments by Minnesota could easily overcome that deficit. And Minnesota is a dangerous come-from-behind team.

Credit the offense with controlling time of possession, especially in the third quarter. Our offense was on the field for 42 minutes, Minnesota’s offense was on the field for only 18 minutes. We were able to eat up a lot of clock with our rushing game, led by Evan Royster who had 23 attempts for 137 yards. Overall, the offense showed a balanced attack with 177 rushing yards and 287 passing yards. Clark had a fine performance, completing 21 of 32 passes and scoring a touchdown from the 1-yard line. No interceptions. He mixed up his passes – involving both wide receivers and tight ends. The Penn State offense had no turnovers throughout the entire game.

Basically the game yesterday was a total team effort. It was a very satisfying win. It gives Penn State needed confidence for two weeks of road trips, the biggest test of which will be Michigan in Ann Arbor. We have not won a game there since 1996. Will this be the year? Having witnessed yesterday’s performance, I’m quite optimistic about our chances.

How about you?

As Long As You Dressed For It The Game Yesterday Was Fine

Okay, it’s October. But it may as well be winter. After all, the temperature when we left for the Penn State-Minnesota game was about 34 degrees, and it was a light snow. For the rest of the day it was a light on-again and off-again cold rain, that added up to a lot of moisture. The temperature didn’t change much all day.

So how do you stay warm and comfortable? Here was my checklist:

--L.L. Bean silk long underwear
--Thin sock liners under rag wool socks, also purchased from L.L. Bean
--L.L. Bean waterproof Maine hunting shoes (low-cut) with thinsulate lining
--Nittany Lion pendant and earrings (purchased from Betsy Suhey of Aurum Goldsmiths in State College)
--Gray wool lined pants (also from L.L. Bean)
--L.L. Bean waterproof Goretex rain pants
--Penn State navy blue turtleneck purchased at Lion’s Pride in State College
--“Lions Gopher The Gold” button created by Citizens Bank
--Heavy boiled wool navy blue sweater purchased in Scotland a few years ago
--Eddie Bauer waterproof and insulated parka with hood– temp rating -20 F
--Wool navy blue felt hat with a brim to keep my glasses dry with Lion pin (gift from my mother)
-- L.L. Bean waterproof Goretex insulated ski mittens
--Driver’s license, enough money for snacks, health insurance card, one credit card in a quart-size plastic bag to be stowed in a pocket in my parka
--Automobile “key” (transmitter), and my cell phone in a quart-size plastic bag to be stowed in another pocket in my parka
--Camera case and camera with a gallon-size plastic bag to keep camera and batteries dry

I pulled out all the stops. Dressed for late November. Had to dig into closets to find all this stuff that I don’t normally look for until later in the year. Took a shuttle to the game so had to carry everything with me, wear it all day. No car trunk to store extra layers in. Left the purse at home because I didn’t want to get it wet.

Don’t mean to make this an advertisement for L.L. Bean or Eddie Bauer, but perhaps these retailers should consider a new product line of collegiate licensed outerwear. They could start with the Big Ten due to colder climates. Their stuff works, and it lasts for years. For cold weather gear, my loyalty goes back and forth between these two retailers depending on the purchase and mostly the fit. Most of the items listed above from these two retailers were purchased at least ten years ago.

Being warm at games has been a priority since November 1987 – my first Penn State football season – when we played Notre Dame at Beaver Stadium and the wind chill factor was -40 in the stands. Yesterday’s game in comparison was a day at the beach in mid-summer. Well, maybe not!

Did the clothing strategy work? Absolutely. I was dry the entire game and reasonably comfortable. But I also needed everything I brought with me! It was ridiculous to wear all these clothes in October.

But when you witness a great 20-0 win, it is all worth it! More on that later today.