Justin K. Aller - Getty Images
Even though it's an off-week, the Penn State blogosphere discusses Northwestern, the offensive and defensive MVPs at the halfway mark, whether this team has met expectations, and their predictions for the final six games.
Blog mob . . . ASSEMBLE!
Let's be serious - last year's bye week was a disaster of epic proportions. Penn State may have been the only team in football history to actively lose during its week off.
This week is a bit better. Outside of the Sandusky sentencing that took place on Tuesday, this week has been fairly uneventful. Penn State has won four straight games, including last weekend's stirring comeback against a talented Northwestern team. The way they are playing right now, they stand alongside the Buckeyes as the class of a weak Big Ten. Halfway through the season, it's time for a look back at the Roundtable's expectations and a look ahead toward the final six games of the 2012 season.
This week's panelists - our own Cari Greene, Zach Fegely, Peter Young, Tim Johnson, Ali Soheilian, Matthew Pencek, and LB from PennLive's 50-Yard Lion Blog, Kevin McGuire from The Nittany Lions Den, and all of the D-O-double-G's from JoePa's Doghouse!
Northwestern always plays us tough, and this year was no exception. Which of the last three meetings was most memorable and why?
Cari: It's hard to pick between 2012 and 2010, but I think I'll go with 2012 since I had the fortune to actually be in the stadium for this one. Also, Pat Fitzgerald has lost a lot of respect from me after this year's game, from his habit of standing 2-3 yards in field on 75% of the plays, to the general jackassery of his coaching staff and players in the taunting of our fans and team, to him trying to get the refs to throw a flag on BOB when he was arguing with the refs over the blatantly bullshit pass interference call to his "I'm accepting responsibility for the loss but not really" attitude in the post game press conference; because of all that, this game will be one I remember for a long time. See you in five years, Patty-if you haven't been fired by then.
J Schnauzer: Undoubtedly this one. When Northwestern went up 28-17 I thought there was a chance that Penn State could come back and win the game. I thought it impossible for them to win it with a double-digit margin. It boils down to this: in previous games Penn State won in spite of themselves, this year Penn State won because of themselves.
Kevin: This most recent victory was thrilling on so many levels, with a wild fourth-quarter comeback when it seemed all hope was lost, but if we are just looking at the three most recent meetings I still have to rank the 2010 game on top based solely on the historical significance of the outcome. Down three scores late in the first half, the way Penn State drove down field in the final minute to spark the rally that would eventually hand Joe Paterno his 400th career victory was in itself something special.
Let's dig in to the digital archives...
Peter: Not to be annoying contrarian guy, but I'd argue NW doesn't always play PSU tough. In the past 15 years PSU is 8-3 vs. spread against NW; the 1998, 2002 and 2006 were PSU blowouts; 2009 looked like one on the scoreboard; and 1999 and 2008 surely would have been had they played those years. Also, PSU has won the last five meetings by 10-plus points. But that's another discussion. Anyway, 2012 and 2010 PSU-NW both are highly memorable games. 2010 was the huge comeback from 21-0 down, equaling the biggest of the JoePa era; was essential to injury-depleted PSU's bowl hopes; and was win No. 400 for Paterno, a very special milestone. This year is memorable for the big 4Q comeback as well as being the first signature win of the Bill O'Brien era. Gun to my head, 10 years from now, I go with 2010. Even though this NW team is better than 2010.
Ali: I would say this game will be the most memorable one because this was our chance to give in and fold, or prove to everyone that this team will never be out of a game. We know we can score early in the game, we've always seen the potential in this inaugural season, but this was when it all came to fruition. This is the game that cemented a full "buy in" into what Coach O'Brien and his staff are doing here at Penn State. I have a feeling that he's going to be around for a very long time.
Rowlff Dogg: The game this past Saturday was the most memorable. I can't remember a more pumped up noon crowd than what we saw in the 4th quarter. We witnessed a team growing up right before our eyes.
Who are your offensive and defensive MVPs through the first half of the season?
Rowlff Dogg: First and foremost, I believe the coaching staff is the overall MVP. They have breathed life and excitement into a stale product, and they've done it under very difficult circumstances. No way is the old staff 4-2 right now.
The easy choices, player-wise, are Matt McGloin and Mike Mauti. Despite having a second consecutive off-game, McGloin made big plays in crucial moments. His game may never be pretty, but it's undoubtedly been effective. He has complete command of O'Brien's offense and for the most part has made the right reads. McGloin's performance is the single-most important showcase recruiting tool for the O'Brien offense. Take away McGloin (or insert a Jay-coached McGloin), and this season is vastly different.
Defensively, Mike Mauti has been a monster. It has been a pleasure to watch his enthusiasm and his nose for the football. The guy is just everywhere. I would also like to give some dap to Jordan Hill and DaQuan Jones whose play up front goes largely unnoticed in the stats column, but allows the rest of the players to make plays.
Kevin: On offense it is incredibly easy to suggest Matt McGloin has been the most valuable player. That's because he has been the most valuable player. McGloin has bought in to the offensive philosophy and prepared himself for the job as much as possible, and the results have been clear. McGloin has been more dependable in throwing and protecting the football, and he has even shown the ability to take the ball and run with it when needed inside the red zone.
On defense you can have your pick of Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti. Both have been fantastic this season with what they have done on the field. I'll give a slight edge to Mauti based solely on his clear role as a leader of this team through difficult times. Overcoming a pair of ACL injuries and with those strong family ties to the program, I get a feel he is playing with a little more inside him with something to prove this season.
Zach: Offensive MVP: A lot of McGloin love by the other writers and I agree he does deserve a lot of attention but I think Allen Robinson or even Zach Zwinak deserve consideration as well. If I had to pick one though definitely going with Allen Robinson. He is putting up Heisman Trophy quality numbers with 41 catches for 524 yards and 7 touchdowns halfway through the year.
Defensive MVP: Toss up between Mauti and Hodges. I'll give the edge to Mauti.
Cari: I'm only going to go with offensive, because I think my stance on defensive MVP is pretty well documented.
(ed. note - uh...no comment.)
I'm going to go with Matt McGloin. Love him or loathe him or simply tolerate him, his play has been overwhelmingly elevated this year and without that, we wouldn't be at 4-2 right now (and our losses would likely have been more blow-outs). Going into this season, I was a detractor of his, and I think for the most part he's proven why he won the starting job. He's no Darryl Clark, though they've put up similar numbers, and he's not the biggest leader on this offense (that would arguably go to the mighty Zordstache) but his ability to adequately run BOB's offense has put us in a position to win every game we've been in, and will likely do so for the rest of the season.
J Schnauzer: Do I even need to say Allen Robinson and Mike Mauti? I doubt we've ever had a year where the MVPs on both sides were so clearly established at this point in the season.
Allen Robinson has had a few drops, but his ability to pull in catches when it absolutely matters has given this team the offensive lifeline they need to stay in games. He's had seven touchdown receptions in six games. To put it in perspective, here is the list of Penn State players with more than seven touchdown catches over an entire season since 2000:
Derek Moye, 2010 (8 TD receptions)
Deon Butler, 2005 (9 TD receptions)
That's it. Yes, it's a wildly (wildly!) different offense, but recall that the 2005 and 2008 teams had arguably the best wide receiving corps in Penn State history and markedly better passing quarterbacks than Matt McGloin. I look forward to seeing Robinson catching passes from a quarterback with a great arm and consistent coaching. He could blow up the record book.
As a leader and a player, Mike Mauti is possibly the most important player in Penn State history. He talks the talk, walks the walk, and the Rotary Club of Houston's snub of him for the Lombardi Award is a disgrace. The Rotary Club places this Lombardi quote prominently on it's website: "The achievements of an organization are the result of the combined efforts of each individual." Which individual in college football today has done more to make his team achieve-to draw out the best in every student-athlete-than Mike Mauti?
Is this team where you expected them to be after six games?
The Underdogs: Reasonably. Though looking at the schedule preseason (and not completely overvaluing our losses) I thought there was a decent chance we could be 6-0 at this point. We'll chalk up Ohio to a few bad bounces plus some growing pains under a new system and UVa to the losses at kicker coupled with continued adaptation to the system, new starters, etc. and yeah, 4-2 is just about right.
Tim: Record-wise, I thought this is where we would be, but this certainly isn't the road I expected to take. The season started with optimism, but as recently as after week 2 I figured that I would be resigned to the fact that it was going to be a long four years. Things sure can change over the course of a month.
LB: The season has turned out a little upside down from what I expected. With all the hype and enthusiasm that opened the season, I expected Penn State to win easily against Ohio and then go on to top Virginia and Navy, heading into the Temple game undefeated. As the season wore on, I expected the team's original salvo to fade and the players' performance to slow some. Instead, Penn State dropped their first two but have looked stronger and more confident as the season has gone on.
J Schnauzer: The off-season killed my interest in college football. I read no preseason reviews, watched no footage, and couldn't do much except read about transfers from the program. I was so angry and discouraged from what I perceived as a very complex injustice that I tuned college football out of my life. I watched the Ohio game more as an obligation rather than as a passion. Their performance changed me in 60 minutes. Yes, the final score was frustrating, but the team's never-say-die desire and emotion turned me from discouraged to determined.
This team's perseverance is more beautiful than any long pass from Geno Smith pass or bruising run from Marcus Lattimore. Penn State is far more than what I expected: they make it fun to watch college football again.
Cari: This is about where I expected preseason (if not a bit low)-but after the Ohio game, I wasn't expecting 4-2; I was expecting a defensive collapse and a .500 season, if we were lucky. My expectations increased moderately after the loss to UVA, and exponentially after our first win. I think we've gotten better each week, and that's shown in our current four-game win streak.
McGloin, Allan Robinson, Zach Zwinak, and the entire O-line have exceeded my expectations so far this year, as has the secondary (Stephon Morris, especially, has gotten better week to week, and last week especially looked good). The defensive line, while not racking up as many sacks as I'd hoped, has been what I expected, as have the LBs (both units have developed really well). Who I'm disappointed in, honestly, was Bill Belton; I'm not sure if it's due to injury or what (recent rumors are that he's still somewhat banged up), but he hasn't been the change of pace, shifty, elusive back I expected in the preseason.
Given what we've seen up to this point, what's your prediction for the rest of the way?
Cari: I'm expecting us to go 5-1 the rest of the way, with losses either to Ohio State or Nebraska. OSU, though the better of those two teams, comes to our house, where we've looked really good after the first emotional loss. Nebraska, on the other hand, welcomes us to Memorial Stadium, which should be a rough place to play. I'm expecting wins versus Indiana and Purdue, and though Iowa and Wisconsin, on paper, are toss ups, the key to those games (defensive pressure on their subpar offenses, for both games) looks to be a strength of ours this year. Plus, the Badgers are coming to Beaver stadium, which means they may actually be called for holding.
Kevin: Looking at the second half of the season I see some potential trouble coming up. A road trip to Nebraska could be really difficult, although the Huskers have certainly shown to be vulnerable this season. And Ohio State looks pretty fierce under Urban Meyer with Braxton Miller killing teams on the ground, but the Buckeyes come to State College and I think that could level the playing field. The Wisconsin game at the end does not look nearly as scary as it may have at the beginning of the season.
I think Penn State will take a couple of lumps in the second half of the year (upset alert at Purdue) but I anticipate them being able to compete in every game without question. The more wins Bill O'Brien can pile up though, the easier it may be to keep things together in the off-season and in recruiting.
The Underdogs: 4-2 to finish 8-4, right about where anybody sober probably would've predicted or not doused in grimy grips of schadenfreude (*those players must pay! says Gregg Doyel, probably). Having OSU at home and Nebraska on the road gives us about a 50/50 chance at either game. I'll say we either pull one of those two out and slip up somewhere else along the way or drop both and win the other four.
[*Side note] And pay they have. But consider it a down payment on the rest of their lives. Rather than take the easy way out (Fera exempted) or go be coddled at another athletic program, these kids chose to stuck it out, work hard, come together as men, athletes, and a team. I suspect they'll reap rewards for coming out the other side as stronger individuals and as lettermen long into the rest of their lives unlike whatever worth a possible Pac10 or Big12 runner-up trophy is worth. Although many of their wins and records have been wiped from memory and the NCAA's arbitrary record book, they are the Unforgettables.
Rowlff Dogg: 4-2 the rest of the way to finish at my preseason projection of 8-4. Trouble is, I really don't know where those losses will come. Penn State is capable of beating everyone remaining on their schedule, including the Buckeyes. As excited as I am for their progress this year, I think it's too much to expect them to run the table. At some point, a break will go against us and an injury here or there will expose some depth issues. Either way, 8-4 would be a tremendous accomplishment. The true measure of this year's success, however, will be in the retention of its players through free agency and the incoming recruits.
J Schnauzer: I think this team will end up 8-4, but I'll keep picking them to win each week.
Zach: There is no reason to think that it is impossible for Penn State to win out and finish 10-2. In the beginning of the year, I had them as a 9 or 10 win team and I am not going back on that now. Games against Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa, and Nebraska are going to be tough but those are winnable games. I think Ohio State gives Penn State its toughest test all season but with it being a home game and a whiteout, I really think Penn State can pull off the upset. I have them going 5-1 from here on out with them finishing the season at 9-3 and champions of the Leader's Division. Bill O'Brien also wins the Coach of the Year award.
Peter: I think 4-2 the rest of the way seems most likely barring unforseeable injuries or another Sandusky scandal (kidding!). But how exactly that 4-2 happens, I don't know, and 4-2 could become 3-3 or 2-4 very easily. The only game with a clear-cut favorite is PSU over Indiana. The others all could have a spread less than 5 points, i.e. very close. Closing out the October schedule, it has been 13 years since PSU won at Iowa (losses in '01, '03, '08, '10), and seven since the Lions beat OSU at home (losses in '07 and '09). In November, who knows what to expect from Purdue (PSU has won 5 straight over the Boilers) and Nebraska, but both surely are capable of knocking off PSU in their dungeons, and the 'Huskers offense will be a huge challenge. Then come the home finales vs. Indiana and Wisconsin, with the Badgers seeming to get on track recently but looking much more like 2007-09 Wisky than 2010-11. At this point, call for wins vs. Indiana and Wisconsin, and tossups in the other four. If PSU does actually go 4-2, and if one of those four wins is over Ohio State, then the Lions should win the Leaders Division. But that's a lot of "if"s and Nittany-colored optimism. Blame it on Bill O'Brien.
Tim: No reason to get off of the train we're on now. Every game from here on out is definitely winnable, but I'll temper my expectations to avoid a jinx. We get a signature win in the Emmert Bowl, lose to Nebraska, and drop another game to Iowa or Wisconsin for no apparent reason. Courtesy of Ohio State's last-second loss to Michigan, we're gifted the division title, which means a lot more to the program than a B1G title game appearance or middle-of-the-road bowl would in any other year. By season's end the program has stabilized, recruiting is in full swing, Dan Bernstein has been fired, and PSU fans are enjoying football in a way not thought possible a year ago.
Matthew: Channeling my inner Clubber Lang, "My prediction, pain!" for any a Big Ten defender attempting to tackle Zach Zwinak. As long as they remain healthy, I am picking Penn State to get wins against Iowa and Indiana, I think they will find a way to honor this senior class and get a win in the finale against Wisconsin. I am leaning towards picking a loss at Nebraska with the game at Purdue and the home game with Ohio State as toss ups. Add that up, and I have the Nits with at least 7 wins, which should be good enough to get Bill O'Brien the Big Ten Coach of the Year award.
Ali: I'm going with 6-0 the rest of the way because I've fully bought into this team and the product they are putting on the field. Call me blind, say I drink kool-aid, but I really don't care what you think because I'm a believer in this team. Out of the six remaining games, I would say Wiscy, Nebraska, and Ohio State are our biggest threats to close out the year. Wiscy's O-line is subpar for their standards, Nebraska doesn't have any semblance of a defense with the departures of David and Crick, and Ohio State struggles against any semblance of a somewhat functional defense. Braxton Miller is the only one that scares me, but I think this veteran defense will step up to the challenge and keep him in check.
LB: I think they'll go 5-1 from here on out. Facing Ohio State will be tough, but having a home game under the lights will boost Penn State's already strong home-field advantage and help them to a win (much like my favorite-ever game, 2005 vs. the Buckeyes). The only game I feel they may lose is against Nebraska in Lincoln, but they'll recover and win out the rest of the season for a 9-3 record.
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