Somehow, "72 days until football" seems like a very short time, but it's still ten full weeks until Penn State takes the field against Akron. Either way, football will be dominating every aspect of our lives before we know it, so it's time for your trusty BSD writers to pick at some issues that will not only impact Penn State, but the college football world at large. It's a little something we'll call Inside, Outside.
Inside: We've already heard a significant amount of (completely justified) ragging on Penn State's schedule. With no serious non-conference competition and Iowa and Ohio State having to visit Beaver Stadium, some PSU fans are already dreaming of an undefeated season. The Lions have only four away games in 2009 -- at Illinois, Michigan, Northwestern, and Michigan State -- which road trip is most likely to leave us heartbroken?
Kevin HD: I still get an uneasy feeling in my stomach whenever I see the all-whites, so seeing that short list is definitely comforting. I've got my answer pretty quickly, though: the Zookers. They were horrible last season but I'm not convinced it was because of talent; a lot of their problems seemed be revolve around doing stupid things at the worst possible times.
This year I worry about two main themes: them having play-makers and us trying to play it too safe on the road. It's only Penn State's second legit game, week two of the conference schedule, and I worry our O-line might not be ready for what some are calling one of the best D-lines in the nation (ranking clearly questionable, but the point that they have talent stands). That's not to say I don't think we can pull a decent set of blockers together in 2009, but it is going to take time and if we start getting flustered on the road, just like we did in 2007, I worry.
Their offense also has the ability to be scary. Williams and Benn are back and represent by far the largest (and perhaps only) threat to our green secondary all year. Now Williams is usually good for a couple of dumb mistakes, but if he can string together competence for a full football game we're going to have a tough time stopping them. They'll also use backup QB Eddie McGee as a king of 2004 MRob this year, adding another playmaker. And they get a new offensive coordinator this fall, from TCU, and for some reason our coaches don't seem to do well with change. All in all I think Illinois is a bit of a sleeper, if only because they played so poorly in 2008.
BSD Mike: Can I say all four? Illinois always gives us problems in their house (2005 not withstanding). Even the 1994 team had to come back from a 21-point deficit. We haven’t won in Ann Arbor since 1996. We’re 4-2 at Northwestern with three of those wins coming by less than a touchdown. Plus we get the Wildcats sandwiched in between the Wolverines and the Buckeyes, so there may be a hangover/looking ahead factor there. But I’ll say Michigan State is going to be our toughest road test. Dantonio has them coming around. Their defense is going to be nasty, and weather conditions in East Lansing in late November could keep the Spread HD grounded making it a close game. Plus I think they’re still pissed about the 49-18 drubbing we gave them last year, so revenge is going to be a major motivator for Sparty.
RUTS: I'm torn on this one -- Sparty's clearly improving and the schedule argument re: Northwestern is certainly compelling -- but I have to go with Illinois because they'll have the ability to take advantage of Penn State's soft spots. And yes, that's assuming that Good Juice shows up instead of Bad Juice. To borrow a golf term, if Illinois can essentially "post a number" (say, 24-27 points), Penn State's offense could coincidentally have one of their infamous (Wisconsin '08 notwithstanding) slow-starting road games and never quite be able to catch up. With a player like Benn on the field, Penn State can't afford too many mental screwups in the secondary. We'll definitely need to have all of our issues along the offensive line and in the secondary (not to mention placekicker, which everyone seems to be forgetting) fixed by October 3. All four road games will be solid tests for PSU. Yes, Michigan too.
Outside: This is the year Charlie Weis and Notre Dame make the Great Leap Forward, right? Normally, it would be easy to dismiss the national media's annual fawning over the Irish, but even Phil Steele has Notre Dame in his preseason top ten, at #7. How seriously should we really be taking Notre Dame as a national title contender?
Kevin HD: In reality? I think about as seriously as we should be taking Iowa as a national title contender. As far as how the media treats them, though, different story, obviously.
The saving grace in all of this is that they play USC, and outside of that game played on a fully harvestable corn field in 2005, they've consistently dominated the Irish now for a while. All it would take for them to get the discount is a blowout from the Trojans, which hopefully end the nonsense that we deal with every time Notre Dame beats Michigan.
After that they have Washington and Washington State, both not technically winless by pretty much. Also: Stanford, Nevada, Purdue...on and on with teams that don't sound awful but aren't really threats either.
Except for MSU, and that's the key. If Notre Dame wins this game I'm not sure they'll lose more than one all season, and if that happens consider me terrified. This game, for me, will determine if we'll have yet another season of Notre Dame awakening the echoes (but not really, of course).
BSD Mike: Please. The only way Charlie Weis is going to the National Championship game is if he buys a ticket for each butt cheek. Everyone talks about how easy their schedule looks, but there are eight games I could easily see them losing. They are @Michigan, Michigan State, @Purdue, USC, Boston College, Navy, @Pitt, and @UConn. Charlie Weis has proven he can recruit, but give me the Notre Dame name brand, a working cell phone, and all the money in the world and I could probably bring in a top ten class myself. He has yet to prove he can coach up talent or call a good game. Jimmy Clausen is a head case, and the defense plays like sissies. But they’ll manage seven wins and beat up another Mountain West team in another crappy bowl game and we’ll all be back here next year saying this is the year Notre Dame returns to glory. I just pray I never have to see Charlie Weis in another Hawaiian shirt.
RUTS: What else are fat guys supposed to wear? Oh, and...
Okay, okay, it's a new year. Fine.
Notre Dame's schedule isn't the most imposing one you'll find this season (I know, /Akron'd), but the early games against Nevada and Michigan State (both played in South Bend) will tell us a lot about the Irish. If they can survive those games, not to mention a road trip to Ann Arbor, and go into their game against USC at 5-0, they'll easily be ranked in the top ten and the hype will be positively unbearable. As long as we're talking Phil Steele, comparing his preseason rankings with Notre Dame schedule reveals the following possible tripwires: Nevada (#35), Michigan State (#29), USC (top three, minimum), and Pitt (#23). The Washington/Wazzu combo are horrible, Navy and Boston College don't look to be great this season, Purdue blows. The game at UConn could be interesting, I suppose, as could the finale at Stanford. But yeah, beat Nevada and Michigan State (AGAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIN.), then check back in with us. Just prepare yourselves for the media onslaught if they're successful in September.