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Penn State Football: Turning The Page To 2011

I know everyone is excited about playing the Florida Gators in the Outback Bowl on New Years Day. I'm sure that's what many of you are looking for today. We'll have plenty of coverage on that game in the coming weeks. Today I want to look ahead to 2011 and share some of my perspective on where I see the program going.

The two biggest issues we can expect to hear about all spring and summer are the status of Joe Paterno's future and the quarterback competition between Matthew McGloin and Robert Bolden. So let's talk about them and a few other things.

I firmly believe Joe Paterno deserves the right to coach at Penn State as long as he wants to. Four hundred wins, 45 years, five undefeated seasons, three Big Ten championships, and two national championships combined with exemplary graduation rates, zero NCAA infractions, and millions of dollars of your personal money donated to various scholarships and Penn State educational projects earns you that right. Shoving Joe Paterno out the door because he went 7-5 and only went to a New Years Day bowl game would be the wrong thing to do. He built Penn State football. Heck, he has practically built central Pennsylvania. Why do you think they built I-99 through Altoona? Why do you think they expanded the narrows on Rt. 322 north of Harrisburg? Why do you think they extended 220 around Bellefonte and 322 through Phillipsburg? It's not because these small Pennsylvania towns have suddenly become industrial booms or tourist destinations. These roads were built to get people in and out of State College on seven Saturday's per year. That's it.

The man is an institution. He is an American Icon. We will never see another man like him again, so I say enjoy him while he is around.

That being said, it pains me to see him now. He struggles to understand questions in his press conferences. He wanders the sideline on game day always on the periphery of the sideline huddles. He doesn't travel to recruit anymore. He doesn't know how to email or tweet. I bet he doesn't even have a cell phone. He often cancels speaking engagements. His health has been in decline for four or five years. Common colds take him out of action for months. He's not the man he used to be, and clearly this is hurting the program.

So in my opinion, Joe Paterno doesn't have much time left as Penn State head coach. I think we all can recognize this. Some people speculate the upcoming Outback Bowl will be his last game. I don't know if this is true. Joe Paterno himself said before the Michigan State game that he intended to come back in 2011 to honor the last season on his contract. I take people at their word, so I'm operating under the assumption this will be the case.

Now this is the part where I want all of you people who accuse me of being a pollyanna to listen up. Even though I love Joe Paterno and I think he deserves to coach as long as he wants, it is clear that he is holding the program back. If national signing day for recruiting was tomorrow, the class of 2011 would be a complete failure. We can point to the small number of scholarships available and the shallow talent pool in the traditional PA/MD/NJ recruiting ground that Penn State typically pulls its talent from, but there is no denying that the staff took too long to get the offers out last spring and they did not deliver on promises they made to some kids. As a result they missed out on a lot of the talent that was available in their back yard, and you can pin the blame on this squarely on the shoulders of Joe Paterno who was suffering from illness yet insisted offers not go out until he signed off on them.

Maybe they can salvage a halfway decent class before February. They're still in the running for some of the top names in PA. And maybe they can bring in a stellar class next year when they have 25 scholarships to give and PA, MD, and NJ are loaded with talent. I know it would be a lot easier if we had a head coach that could hit the road and seal some deals in a kid's living room that the current situation we have now.

I'm also bothered by the product on the field. A lot of the problems seen in 2010 were a result of youth, but there are also some issues with the coaching. This team looks disorganized too often. How many times do they end up wasting timeouts in the first quarter because they can't decide what to do on a 4th-and-1? That is a lack of leadership on the sideline to make a split second decision. It almost looks like everyone gets together and they take a vote. by that time five or ten seconds have elapsed and it's too late to get a play in. Small things like this are evidence of the lack of leadership at the top.

There are also games where it seems like the staff comes into the game without a plan. I don't know what they were trying to do against Illinois. I'm not just talking about this year either. Last year they looked completely lost against Ohio State and Iowa. The year before that they seemingly abandoned everything they had success with when they played Iowa and USC.

It seems like the offense has made tremendous strides since 2004. They have upgraded the talent and opened up the play book, but at times it seems like there is no theme to what they are trying to do. They don't identify a weakness on the opposing defense and go after it. They just kind of throw darts on the board an call plays. They will have success running the ball, but then all the sudden they come out throwing. Or they will get stuffed in the running game, start throwing the ball with success, and then they will go back to trying to run again. I'm from the school if you find something the defense can't stop, keep running it until they show you they can. Then adjust and attack the area they compensated from in order to stop the thing they couldn't stop before.

And let's not pretend the defense gets a pass here either. I'm so sick of Cover-3 defense. I'm sick of seeing teams like Minnesota, Indiana, and Northwestern rip our linebackers to shreds seven passing yards at a time. I'm tired of cornerbacks playing eight yards off the line and missing tackles that turn five yard bubble screens into 30 yard gains. I'm sick of seeing telegraphed blitzes getting nowhere near the quarterback. We reinvented the offense in 2004. It's time to do the same with the defense. Either Tom Bradley needs to start coaching some new blitzes and coverages or Paterno needs to cut him loose to be creative.

But enough about the coaching staff. Let's talk about the players for next year. Obviously the quarterback situation is going to be the big story all summer. I don't think the Blue-White game is going to settle anything. I look for both guys to play well there just fueling more speculation. If you follow me on twitter, a lot of people think I'm firmly in the McGloin camp. This is true for the 2010 season, but once the gun fires to end the Outback Bowl, I'm considering the quarterback competition wide open, and I don't have a pony in the race. I say let the best man win whether that's McGloin, Bolden, or even Kevin Newsome or Paul Jones. I just want a fair competition, and I will support whoever the coaches choose. I think Penn State has two good options and can't really go wrong.

The wide receivers should be spectacular with Derek Moye, Justin Brown, and Curtis Drake returning. Silas Redd should have a breakout season when he picks up his share of Evan Royster's carries. Hopefully Garry Gilliam and Andrew Szczerba can return to solidify the tight end position. The big worry for me will be the offensive line. Penn State will have to replace Stefen Wisniewski and Doug Klopacz, and Quinn Barham, Johnnie Troutman, and Chima Okoli didn't exactly tear it up this year. We'll examine the offensive line in more depth in the offseason, but that's a red flag I'll be watching through the spring.

On defense I'm afraid there are more questions than answers at this point. I feel good about D'Anton Lynn at corner and Michael Mauti at middle linebacker, but that's about it. Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino should be good at safety, but these guys aren't superstars. Devon Still should do his job and eat up double teams, but he's not a guy that is going to fight through that to dominate anyway like Jared Odrick would. Solving the problems at defensive end and linebacker will be the thing to focus on in the spring. Losing Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu isn't a huge loss. It's almost addition by subraction. We'll have to see how it plays out with guys like Gerald Hodges, Nathan Stupar, Glenn Carson, and Mike Hull.

One thing I am really excited about for 2011 is the new look Big Ten. We're going to party like it's 1982 with Nebraska and Alabama on the schedule again. Get past the Tide, and things are pretty easy for a while. The Nittany Lions could roll into the month of November with a 9-0 record. But then things get tough in a hurry as they have to finish the year hosting Nebraska and then traveling to Ohio State and Wisconsin. Get through that and they might have to face the Corn Huskers again in the Big Ten championship game. I'm not sure who else can challenge them in the west division right now considering Iowa is going to be going through a major rebuilding project. Maybe Sparty, but I don't know. I'm getting way ahead of myself on that one. A lot of things have to fall in place between now and then.

I'm optimistic for the future of Penn State football. Two good recruiting classes in 2008 and 2009 have created a good foundation to support success through 2012. The 2011 class may be a flop, but I like the effort I'm seeing in the early going by the coaching staff on the class of 2012. The current coaching situation is not idea for Penn State, but as long as the staff stays together I think they can make it work. Though I don't see them getting a shot at the national championship in 2011. There are too many holes to fill, not enough leadership, and the schedule is brutal. Put a gun to my head and I'll say we're looking at a 9-3 season subject to change if some of these freshmen and sophomores grow up in a hurry. But until we see a coaching change at the top, I think 9-3 should be the expected norm for the foreseeable future.