Saturday, August 27, 2011

As The Penn State Football Season Opens, Questions Abound…And Not Just About the Team

It is not just who is going to be quarterback for this year’s football team that has me intrigued.  Or what the heck happened to Stephfon Green that he made it so deeply into Joe Paterno’s doghouse that he was dropped from the team, and now somehow is miraculously back. 

Soon enough we will know the starting quarterback.  We may never know what the true story is with Stephfon Green.  But I’m glad to see him back on the roster.

No, my questions have to do with what’s going to happen at the first game against the Indiana State Sycamores. 


And I’m not talking about the game outcome…are you kidding me?  We are destined to win this game, unless something really bizarre happens.   Indiana State, a Missouri Valley Conference team, just doesn’t have the talent or depth to keep up with Penn State for more than a quarter or two.

We shouldn’t be playing a team like Indiana State and I’m especially unhappy that we’re playing such a team when the following week we play host to the Alabama Crimson Tide, ranked by the AP and USA Today polls as #2 in the country.

It is said that the biggest improvement on a football team occurs between the first and second games of the season, but I just don’t get how a team like Indiana State will help Penn State improve enough to be competitive with Alabama. 

The worst part about playing a game against a team like Indiana State is if it’s a blow out, it can breed over-confidence. It doesn’t do much for Penn State in terms of really knowing where the weaknesses are, and if the point spread is too lopsided, Joe Paterno will pull its first or even second string out.  Not good for building game experience except for the younger players. 

If the game turns out to be closer than it should be, it would serve as a better wake-up call for the team.   I might actually prefer that outcome despite the loss of “face” it would entail in the media.  But never mind the polls.  We’re not even ranked!

My apologies to Sycamore fans, but I suspect they understand.  I just hope nobody from their team gets hurt for the sake of bringing home a paycheck to pay their athletics bills this year.   

But of course that’s business in college football these days, when having that extra home game is more important to the athletics decision-makers than the nature of the competition, both at Penn State and elsewhere.

Eastern Michigan may be a similarly weak home game – it’s hard to say.  They play in a solid MAC conference, but last year they won only two games. 

The rest of the schedule at home is quite good, with Alabama and Nebraska creating the most excitement as big games, followed closely by Iowa.

But I digress.  A big question mark for me is not the outcome of the game but what will the stands look like next Saturday.  It should be a good crowd just because it is the season-opener, despite the lackluster competition. 

But I doubt it will be.  For the first time in a long time, Penn State did not sell out its season tickets.  In fact, Penn State made extra tickets available for every game to season ticket holders for the first time in my memory for every game this season, at $70 each, including “big” games like Alabama and Nebraska. Some of those tickets are in prime seats, according to a friend who ordered and got some. 

And no, I didn’t order any extra.  My bad.  I should have.

We can thank the STEP plan for those extra tickets, Penn State’s attempt to extract more donations for each season ticket, especially those that are on the sidelines between the 10’s.   Many season ticket holders gave up or reduced the number of season tickets they possess. 

Also thanks to STEP, I am wondering who my neighbors will be. We already know of some friends – including the folks who sat next to us for 40 years - who have abandoned their seats because their required donation allowed them to upgrade to better seats.  They are moving closer to the 50-yard line.  Other folks in our seating area are abandoning seats because they no longer can afford to come to games.  

That first game will be a reunion where we all look around for familiar faces and wonder what happened to some folks.  Are they still coming?  Are they mad at Penn State?  In some cases, we might wonder if they’re still alive.  There are some season ticket holders who are up there in years.

Also of curiosity is the new student section, which has moved from being right across from where I sit (where I could get fantastic photos of the S-zone) to the end zone and also the corners, putting the students immediately to my right where we will share an aisle with them getting in and out of the stadium.

I am hoping that the process for student entry into the stadium is quicker for them, and that the new seating guidelines (basically first come first serve rather than by year) encourage students to get to their seats early. It was getting tiring to see an empty student section - even for 3:30 p.m. games - well into the 2nd quarter.

And I am wondering where the new S-zone will be.  In the end zone?  In the corner?  Across from me?  Or where I can’t really see it?  What new photos will emerge now that the students will be across the aisle from me?

So before we even get to what might happen in the field, questions abound about how this new configuration of 110,000 Nittany Lion fans (or perhaps it’s now going to be only 90,000 fans except for a few big games) will reform itself into a cohesive, loud, and spirited crowd.

As far as the game predictions are concerned, I am one of those folks who prefers to see how the players play before I express my opinion about this year’s team. 

I am cautiously optimistic that we will have a winning season.  I am not so optimistic that we will be a contender for the new division championship in the Leaders division of the B1G conference, which is now the first goal that the Penn State football team will have to shoot for.

That, in itself, will be a major change:  worrying and thinking about divisions, the inaugural B1G Championship, let alone the BCS standings.  We will all re-align our thinking about what other teams we root for in the Big Ten based now on how it affects Penn State’s division standings.  That will be fun and interesting...

Soon enough, the questions will be answered.  Let the season begin!

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