There has been some media coverage of 400 this week. Last night on ESPN, Lou Holtz said something nice about Coach Paterno. He even told a funny joke; Penn State is 15 minutes from Harrisburg by telephone, I laughed. Hell, ESPN even stuck a cattle prod in Mark May’s can to ensure that he came up with something positive to say about the old man. This morning, even the Pittsburgh sports radio channel deigned to discuss Penn State.
Obviously, the initial 80% of the discussion (with a reporter from Altoona) covered when Joe Paterno will retire, and who his successor might be. This was to be expected. But then they mentioned this week’s game, and the Pitt guys asked (rather hopefully); is there a chance that Penn State losses out, and Paterno ends stuck on 399. On paper, it seems like a possibility.
So I looked it up. [ED: Has anybody accidentally clicked on the Jim and Sherry’s ancestors’ link on www.jhowell.net by mistake…creepy] I compared this squad to the dark era teams. There still closer to one of them than a post 2005 squad, and here is what I learned.
The dark era teams (2000, 2001, 2003 & 2004) were 7-8 after November 1st. The wins were against Indiana (three times ’01, ’03 & ‘04), Michigan State (three times ’00, ’01, & ‘04) and Southern Mississippi (2001). The losses were against Northwestern (twice, ’03 & ’04), Ohio State (2003), Illinois (2001), Michigan (2000), Iowa (2000) Virginia (2001) and Michigan State (2004).
Of note, there are two “never have I ever” games left on the schedule; never lost to Indiana, never lost to Michigan State at home. That’s the good news. The bad news is, no below par Penn State team has ever beaten Northwestern in November, strange, but nominally significant.
To add to the confusion slightly, the five win 2001 team did beat Northwestern, but in October. The five win 2000 team beat Indiana (also in October) but at a neutral site (Indianapolis) and in a close game (27-24).
My historical interpretation is this; the Northwestern game is a toss up, historically speaking, a probable loss. The Indiana game is a probable win, but a nail-biter. They aren’t going to beat Ohio State. Michigan State still figures as a probable win, but I’d like to see the Spartans fall apart a bit between now and November 27th before going on the record with that.
So they are probably getting 400 this year, but I don’t see it as in the bag quite yet. Incidentally, Eddie Robinson is next at 408. Just sayin’.
Footnote #1: It think what I find most interesting, is that what I see to be the difference between this team, and the 00, 01 squads that only won five games is; first, Michigan sucks, and second, the fluke in 2000 of Toledo being good, which 98% of the time would have been the sixth win.
Footnote #2: I don’t’ see this team as comparable to the 9 win Morelli teams for a couple of reasons. First, those teams had an offensive line (Levi Brown anybody?) and a running game. Second, those teams had Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor and Sean Lee playing linebacker. This team has neither of those.