Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Penn State Football: Anticipation and Apprehension Characterize September

For several weeks now, my husband Terry has been counting the days until the first Penn State football game.  He has learned, though, not to share his daily, and sometimes hourly, count with me. 

I dread his count because the beginning of the football season also means the end of summer. 

That means that I have fewer days before my teaching job starts again. 

It's not that I don't love my job.  It's just that I love my summers as well.

Summers off is the third reason why I chose to leave corporate marketing behind and teach marketing at Penn State.  The first reason of course was Penn State football, and the second reason was the job itself. 

Between mid-May and mid-August,  though, I'm free.  The only schedule I have is self-imposed and dedicated to having as much fun as possible.  It's a lifestyle I've come to embrace and cherish after too many years of having only 2-3 weeks of vacation time per year.   Working hard for 9 months per year and playing hard for 3 months suits me just fine.

When mid-August comes around, though, it's time to get organized for the fall semester and for weekends devoted to football.  So I'm always a bit sad when the lazy days of summer come to an end.

Penn State classes start on Monday.  Once I'm over the shock and preparation related to getting back into the classroom and gaining control over an always busy schedule, I too will join Terry in counting the days until the first football game. 

Also, the postings on my blog will become more and more frequent.  I've been, well, mostly silent this summer.  But with a game each week to look forward to, there will now be a lot to discuss.

The anticipation will build even further once the students return.  How quickly they will return is debatable, when most of the students in my classes are seniors, and the first football game isn't until September 4. 

They, like me, hate to leave summer behind.  And some of them won't.  They will come up with excuses - some legitimate having to do with internships - for missing the first few classes.  Unfortunately there are no excuses for me.

You can feel it in the air in Centre County.  The talk about the football season escalates as soon as fall practice begins.  The postings by Penn State fans on Facebook intensify.  Everyone is excited.  Always.

The focus of Penn State sports news is starting to change from speculating about Joe Paterno's health and career to speculating about which players will come forward to make a difference on the team.  

And that's a very welcome change!  It's been a bit too much this summer reading all the sportswriter speculation about the end of Joe's career.  

But the fact is that nobody, probably not even Joe, knows how his career will evolve from 2010 onward.  What we do know is that it will evolve!  Change and transition are in the air, but Joe is still in charge.  That's what matters right now. 

As far as this year's team, there's a lot of anticipation and apprehension for September. 

Our first game against Youngstown State will give us the first glimpse of the newly formed team and, most importantly, who has won the 4-way quarterback battle between Sophomores Kevin Newsome or Matt McGloin, or Freshmen Paul Jones, and Robert Bolden.

 I'm placing my bet on Kevin Newsome.   It would be highly unusual for them to choose a true freshman quarterback over either Newsome or McGloin.  The coaches are still insisting it's an open battle.  We'll see.

We should win the game against Youngstown State, as long as the team doesn't overlook them because they are too excited about Alabama.  I don't think the coaches will let them do that.  A team like Youngstown State can play a team like Penn State tough for about 30 minutes.  Then depth of talent takes over.

Who can help but anticipate and be excited about September 11, when Penn State travels to Tuscaloosa Alabama to take on the pre-season #1 defending national championship team?

There's also a great deal of apprehension.  Most people I know are shaking their heads and saying that we don't stand a chance at Alabama.  But there's always a chance!  Penn State is never ready to concede defeat.  That's why they play the game!  And neither am I.

Playing Alabama at Tuscaloosa, win or lose, will be very good for this Penn State team.  It is forcing the players and coaches to be more focused and organized than usual and they may be making different decisions that might not be made if they weren't facing such a formidable opponent so early in the season. 

In my most optimistic moments, I think that Joe Paterno and his coaches are playing it pretty close to the vest in terms of revealing the kind of talent that Penn State really has.  Part of their public and media strategy may be to obfuscate, not enlighten, us or Nick Saban.

It's not impossible for Joe to out-coach or out-smart Saban.  He's out-coached  him in the past when Saban was head coach at Michigan State.  But at the time Michigan State did not have the talent that Alabama appears to have this year.  And Saban is more experienced as well.

Ultimately, with so many new Penn State players in key positions so early in the season, a lot of things will have to go Penn State's way for us to pull out a win.

After Alabama, comes Kent State, then a much improved Temple squad, both home games that we should win. 

Then we travel to Kinnick Stadium on October 2 to play Iowa.  More apprehension.  Iowa is pre-season #6 in the country and our first Big Ten opponent. 

There would be nothing sweeter than to start our Big Ten season with a big upset in Iowa City. 

It would be especially sweet for us given the disastrous loss at Kinnick Stadium two years ago that took us out of national championship contention.  This is where Alabama, win or lose, might help Penn State by getting us better prepared for the Big Ten.

But our somewhat weak home game schedule before October 2 may not help Penn State improve after Alabama in order to outwit Kirk Ferentz and outplay a talented and very experienced Iowa team.

As for the rest of the season, I don't dare to speculate.  The first 5 games - 3 that we should definitely win and 2 for which we will be declared under-dogs and might realistically lose  - will tell us a lot about this year's Penn State team.

As for pre-season #2 Ohio State, another formidable away game trip, that's too far into the future to speculate about, with a lot of other Big Ten games to be played before then. 

By November, though, no matter what happens in September, Penn State most likely will have a vastly improved team.  It's just what happens usually in November!    But so should Ohio State...

So I won't even speculate now, because there's too much that can happen between now and then. 

Of course, you can say that about each week of the college football season!  That's what makes it so much fun!

The anticipation for September is very high.  So is the apprehension.  We will either have an awesome start to the season or Penn State's success will be limited very quickly.  Either way, it should be a fun month.

College football is upon us…bring it on!!!  Even if that does mean I have to go back to work!

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