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Penn State Football: Closing the Book on 2010

Sometime on Sunday afternoon we will find out Penn State's bowl game destination which right now is looking like either the Outback or Gator Bowl. But bowl games are just exhibitions that serve as a reward for a decent regular season. Whether you win them or not doesn't matter. It has no affect on anything other than the mood of the fanbase and the expectations going into next year. But once next year starts you can pretty much throw it out the window. By week three nobody cares what you did in your bowl game last year.

So for all intents and purposes, the 2010 season is over in my mind. It was a season of lowered expectations. Most people expected eight or nine wins. Personally I thought we could get nine. We got seven. Seven is less than nine, so obviously I'm disappointed.

Today I'm sitting here asking myself what I got right and where I misjudged this team. I would say I correctly predicted the offensive line would struggle. When you take a guy that has been a guard and center his entire career and put him at tackle, and then you take a fifth year senior that has never had significant playing time and make him your starting center, you're going to have problems. There were obvious struggles early in the season when Evan Royster could barely break 30 yards in a game. I figured these guys would eventually become serviceable, and they did despite the loss of Lou Eliades midway through the season. I thought Chima Okoli and Mike Farrell did a good job filling in there which makes me feel better about the right tackle position for next year.

On defense, I did not expect the problems at defensive end and linebacker. I thought Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore would improve from last year and they would have a pretty good defensive line. With all of his physical tools, Crawford just doesn't seem aggressive enough. And Latimore once again just can't stay healthy and missed half of the season with a dislocated wrist. Pete Massaro stepped in and looked good at times, but he's not consistent enough.

I was worried when I heard Bani Gbadyu and Chris Colasanti were going to be starting at linebacker at the beginning of the season, but I figured by midway through the year we would see Nathan Stupar, Michael Mauti, and Gerald Hodges out there most of the time by week six. But injuries to Mauti and Hodges kind of derailed that vision. So for most of the year we had to put up with Gbadyu and Colasanti. I held my breath a lot this year on third downs. These guys ended up doing okay against the weaker teams on the schedule, but teams with power running games and good short range passing games exposed them dearly.

The biggest problem on this team was leadership. We all knew this was a young team made up of 57 freshmen and sophomores. Something like 17 players made their first career start this year. You don't take a team like that and storm through a Big Ten schedule. It just doesn't happen. But due to strong recruiting classes the past two years, we knew these young players have talent. It is possible to have a very good year with young players they have strong leadership from the seniors on the team. This team didn't have that.

When the team captains were named, that should have been a major red flag. Guys like Stefen Wisniewski and Evan Royster were four year starters. They should have been locks for team captain, but instead the honor went to Brett Brackett, a career backup wide receiver with only three catches in 2009. On defense, the only returning senior that started last year was Ollie Ogbu, but you have to wonder if it went to him on default after he had to sit out the first half of the Indiana game for missing the team bus the morning of the game. That's just not something a captain should do, and it was indicative of the lack of leadership.

Of course, leadership comes from the coaches as well as the players, and the effectiveness of the coaching staff has been a pretty hot topic over the past year. Rumbling started last spring when Penn State was slow in getting offers out to 2011 recruits. Joe Paterno cancelled several speaking engagements reportedly due to an intestinal illness. He looked weak and tired at the Big Ten meetings in August. Throughout the season he had good days, and then he had bad days where he struggled to understand questions and remember events or the names of his players.

Next week we will open the book on 2011 and I'll address my views and concerns about Paterno and his future at that time. Right now I just want to focus on 2010 in this post. And without question the greatest moment of 2010 will be watching the players carry Joe Paterno to midfield after his 400th win. In a day and age where successful coaches can run a top program for 10 years and retire with $10 million in the bank, there is no incentive for people to hang around coaching until they are 83. Unless, that is, they are a special person like Joe Paterno who keeps going not for national championships, but because he likes being around 18-22 year old boys and turning them into men that go on to be productive contributors to society. Paterno established his reputation years ago before the digital age where winning today is all that matters. Because he experienced 30 years of amazing success, he has been able to survive the past eleven years where eight of them were pretty mediocre. No coach can survive today when mediocrity is the norm 70% of the time. That is why we will never seen anything like this again, and it happened on our field. All Penn State fans should be proud of that regardless of how you feel about the level of Paterno's effectiveness.

Trying to end on a positive note, let's talk about some of the things that went well. Many people predicted the quarterback situation would be a major problem for this team. Robert Bolden came out of nowhere to claim the starting job after just a few weeks on campus. He looked great against Youngstown State, but then he struggled against Alabama and Iowa. By the time the Illinois game came along he just looked to me like he had been overcoached. He wasn't taking chances down field and his fade passes were landing ten yards out of bounds. He just looked like a kid that had been told a million times to not make a mistake. He played well against Minnesota before suffering a concussion, and that opened the door for the Matt McGloin show.

I'm sure the level of competition had a lot to do with it, but all I know is when Matt McGloin got in the game, Penn State football suddenly became fun to watch again. He pulled out the win in Minnesota after he probably only got about 10% of the snaps in practice leading up to the game. He blew the doors off a Michigan team that was feeling pretty good about their chances after a 5-0 start. He relinquished the job back to Bolden for the Northwestern game, but after the Wildcats took a 14-0 lead his number was called again. He was shakey at first which allowed Northwestern to take a 21-0 lead, and then McGloin led the offense to 35 unanswered points to claim the victory. From that point on it was his team. He shocked Ohio State in the first half before the defense and poor field position put him in a hole and he made some mistakes. But then he rebounded to become the only PSU quarterback to throw for 300 yards in back-to-back games. The defense once again put him in a hole against Michigan State, and he was admittedly off in the first half, but he led a furious charge at the end to make it close showing the grit from a walk on that you would never expect to roll over and give up.

I'll share my thoughts on the quarterback situation for 2011 in a later post, but I'm glad that after this year it appears we have two good options, and Paul Jones is still sitting in reserve. We should really feel good about the quarterback situation for the next few years. Though I'm sure somebody will end up transferring and three years from now I'll be hearing, "Boy, don't I wish we has so-and-so." But not everybody will say that. Some people will just blame the crappy recruiting class of 2011. Whatever.

On a personal note, I'm feeling burnt out right now. This is nothing new. It's pretty much like this every December, and it's like this for every blogger at some point. You build up to the season. You're pumped as a blogger for that first game. You grind away for three straight months. The site meter starts off going through the roof. Then the team has some setbacks. The blog traffic tails off. The readers argue with you and each other. You end up banning some trolls. And then suddenly you're done. There are no more games. You have no idea what you're going to blog about next week. Current events have ruled the day for 13 weeks. Now it's time to get creative, but you are so drained you wonder where you will find the strength or inspiration to do it. But you know that every day thousands of people will log in hoping you give them something to discuss. Some days you wonder why you do it. I don't even want to think about gearing up for We Are Penn State 2011 right now, but that's something I'm going to have to think about in the coming weeks.

BSD will press on. Ben will keep doing the morning links. Fugi's coverage of the basketball team will take us through March. We have the bowl game, signing day, and then spring practice starts in April. Hopefully there will be some sirens along the way. Breaking news is a blogger's best friend in the offseason. August will be here before we know it. Actually, not really, but it helps me to keep saying that.

I know the offseason is depressing for everyone, but we'll get through this together. Stick with us.