In Which I firejoemorgan Livingston

Alright, I pretty much shirked all other responsibilities today to write this.  I really can't control myself when I'm faced with the confluence of the unholy triumvirate of rage-inducement: poor logic, hidden agendas and a complete lack of factual support.  

This is probably best read as a complement to the post on the main page and the brilliant comments below, which parse out a lot of the statistical arguments that I didn't delve into.

Here is the original article, which honestly doesn't deserve your pageview

In Joe Paterno’s 400 wins, there are some lessons for BCS busters Boise State and TCU

Interesting. I have literally no idea what he might say in this article. Let’s read on.

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Penn State was the first Boise State, the original TCU.

A solid lede from a viable, important newsource in a vibrant and important Rust Belt Metropolitan Area. I will read on.


Joe Paterno, now the face of the college football establishment with his 400 victories, used to be the coach of a good team that, critics contended, really didn’t play anybody. The Nittany Lions would lay a scoreboard rebuttal on scoffers in their bowl game. Paterno, in fact, has won a record 24 bowl games.

 Brilliant job in pointing out how now, after victory #400, JoePa has finally vaulted to become the face of the college football establishment. This was clearly the win that separated him from the ranks of the run-of-the-mill college head coaches that we’ve seen come and go over the past 44 years. I will reserve judgment on the rest of this paragraph for now, since I’m not really sure where he’s going with this…

Penn State then was like Boise and TCU now. The Broncos and Horned Frogs can beat absolutely anybody in one game. The problem is, the bowl game and an early-season intersectional game against a good, not great, opponent is the extent of their tests.

OK, so you’re saying that Penn State was a team that was good enough to beat anyone, but didn’t play very many good teams. Maybe this is true. I was born in the 80’s, so I don’t know exactly what was going on in the early days. Guys didn’t even wear facemasks, right? But what period of time are you talking about?

From 1966, when Paterno, now 83, became the head coach, until 1992, the Nittany Lions were an independent. In that time, they won two national championships, had four unbeaten, untied teams and five times lost only a single game.

 Wait, you’re talking about the whole time? You’re going to write an article that compares Penn State to TCU and Boise State (that’s the purpose of this piece, right? RIGHT?), recent upstarts who have had great success over the past 3 to 10 years, and discuss a 26-year period to support this proposition?

 You’re also going to include the fact that during that period, Penn State actually won two National Championships? You’re losing me on this PSU = BSU/TCU…

Here’s a suggestion – why not just just compare present-day BSU and TCU to Penn State from I don’t know, say, 1966 to 1977? It might not be perfect, but that is a comparison that could be made, and who knows, maybe it could work? Penn State had a few undefeated seasons and didn’t play for the National Championship. That’s a similarity. Nevermind that:

 a. The BCS didn’t exist yet, for better or worse

b. In none of those years did a 1-loss team ever leapfrog Penn State in the polls (though technically there was no such thing as a Championship Game, see a, so this didn’t matter as much as it would now)

c. Penn State was ranked #2 and unequivocally would have had a chance to play the #1 team, but for Dick Nixon and a bowl selection fiasco that resulted in us playing in the Orange Bowl in 1969.

d. In 78 and 85, Penn State was #2 going into their Bowl game against the #1 team, which is a scenario similar to what is commonly now known as a Championship Game.

These are minor quibbles, and an interesting article could still be written that made this comparison and showed some of the similarities. But why, you ask, would a Cleveland newspaper want to write on this topic, as opposed to one in Pennsylvania or Idaho?


They joined the Big Ten in 1993. Since then, they have had no national titles, one undefeated team, and a single one-loss team.

Ok, there is something more sinister going on here. But what is he saying? What are these "lessons" that BSU and TCU can learn from Paterno’s 400 wins? Am I missing something?

Also, Penn State has had an undefeated season since joining the Big Ten? And no national titles? Hmm, I have amnesia. Let me look that up…

 Yep. It says here on Wikipedia (which, by the way, is a free and more-or-less accurate resource that I suggest you use in your next article, Mr. Livingston) that Penn State won EVERY SINGLE game in 1994. As a Big Ten team. And didn’t win a national title. It doesn’t seem to make any sense, but that’s what it says here. Apparently there were literally things named the "Bowl Coalition" and the "Bowl Alliance" going on back then. And writers used to determine championships! Writers! No offense, of course.

They have won one Big Ten title outright and have shared two with Ohio State.

That is SO CUTE. Sharing like what you tell your 3 year old child to do with HIS toys when another kid comes to play in the sandbox, right? So the other kid doesn’t start crying and his mom gets upset and then people think your kid doesn’t have manners. That kind of sharing, right?

Because it is fashionable to knock the Big Ten, this is considered a serious blot on Paterno’s record. But it is the strength of a league Penn State was at first expected to dominate that explains the Nittany Lions’ downturn.

First, was Penn State really expected to dominate the Big Ten? If so, how does this relate to BSU and TCU? Are they joining a new conference? I’m seriously asking, I don’t read newspapers. If so, are they expected to dominate it?

The dropoff also shows what would happen if Boise State or TCU played in the big boy conferences. Boise and TCU would be good, but not as good.

Oh, so Penn State’s relative struggles since joining the Big Ten are the lesson for BSU/TCU?

That’s cool, I like making hypotheticals and analyzing them in a vacuum, too. Here’s an example:

"Miami has had less success since moving from the Big East to the ACC. All those teams filled with future pros and chock full o' swagger might have flown against the effete East, but serves a lesson for what happens when you start facing the meat grinder schedule of a big boy conference"

The reason this is logical is because Miami hasn’t been as good since the joined the ACC. I think that’s enough to support the inference that their weak schedule in the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s was the real reason they had so much success. I’m also an literally too stupid to insult.

There are a lot of reasons why Penn State has (relatively) struggled since moving to the Big Ten. I’d venture to guess that only a few of those reasons involve "moving to the Big Ten".

So let’s skip ahead and see what else he has to say…

 Syracuse played in a crumbling wreck called Archbold Stadium, where coach Ben Schwartzwalder couldn’t suit up Jim Brown anymore. Pitt was terrible until Johnny Majors arrived in the early 1970s, etc. etc.

I don’t feel like arguing this. I just want to note that you tailored this argument very very narrowly to serve your point. Where is the mention that Pitt was a perennial national title contender in the 70’s and early 80’s?


What about all the times we played Notre Dame, Alabama, Miami, Nebraska, etc. during that era?

Against the two ACC schools, the three service academies, and the six traditional Eastern independents the Nittany Lions were a combined 164-18-2 (89.7 percent, counting ties as a half-win, half loss).

 Against everyone else: 83-39-1 (67.9 percent). Clearly, a great measure of Paterno’s record, not to mention much of his mystique, came against the creampuffs and eclairs of the effete East.

We could parse anybody’s schedule out in a similar way to make an argument. Cherry-picking stats is easy, and sometimes fun. Like, did you know that from 1976 until 1982, the only ranked Big Ten opponent Ohio State played was Michigan?

That kind of reminds me of TCU, whose only ranked opponent these few years has been Utah. Hmm...

It’s not worth my time to go through Ohio State results and find the actual numbers, but trust me that similar parsing of their opponents would yield similar results. Take out Northwestern, Minnesota, a Michigan State program that struggled under Muddy Waters and George Perles from 1980-94, an Illinois program that didn’t play in a Bowl between 64-82, etc. etc.  (Edit - You may find this link informative)

Here’s another one: did you know that Penn State played Big Ten opponents 13 times from 1971 – 1992 and went 9-4, including 2-2 (with a Bowl win) against Ohio State.


This is college football. Over half of every team’s opponents every year are going to be unranked, even today, EVEN IN THE ESS EE CEE! If you’re really steering this article – an article that is obviously about the lessons TCU and BSU can learn from Paterno’s wins – towards tainting and discrediting Penn State’s success from 66-92, get some more support. Tell me whether their schedule would have been appreciably more difficult in the Big Ten than against the flotsam and jetsam that they indeed did play? Would they have lost a lot more games? Would they not have won the championships they did win? That’s gotta be the case, right? If that wasn’t true, then why would you write this article?

Boise State and TCU got little respect until the BCS instituted reforms in its ranking system in recent years.

They were also not very good until recent years.

Just so, the Penn State program suffered as an independent.

Suffered through 2 National Championships? What?

The Nittany Lions were 12-0 in 1973, John Cappelletti’s Heisman Trophy year, and were ranked fifth in both polls.

There were also 7 undefeated teams in 1973. There were 5 teams with 0 losses who didn’t play for the championship.

 If you wanted to compare this year’s BSU/TCU with the 1973 PSU team, that might work. It would be a little premature, because who knows how the next month plays out, but it might work. Or you could compare them with any number of other teams in the history of college football that finished undefeated and didn’t play for a ’ship.

Boise State and TCU stand at the threshold of the national championship game now.

Do they now?

That is probably good for the game. A Big Ten observer, however, would like to see them play their way into it by winning out in a league in which Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State (with Nebraska waiting in the wings) present serious obstacles.

Oh yeah, like that time I read about on Wikipedia (and hold no residual hostility or bitterness about whatsoever) where Penn State played their way through the Big Ten and remained undefeated and got trapped into playing a supposedly important bowl game against a team that happened to not be the other undefeated team in the nation. The prestige of the Big Ten really sold everyone on how legit Penn State was that year.

It’s also worth noting that it’s unequivocally true that every Penn State team since 1993 has had the talent and ability of the great PSU teams in 69, 73, 82 and 86 but failed to achieve better results because of the schedule. I swear.

It’s harder than it looks. Ask Paterno.

Please don’t.

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