OK, it wasn't even close to being that bad for the Nittany Lions during last year's 7-6 campaign. Still, getting run over by Alabama, stuffed by Iowa, and (somehow) outclassed by Illinois was not a ringing endorsement of the team's leadership. The senior leadership on the defensive side of the ball were relatively competent players, but showed basically no fire. Of course, that's tough to do when you're falling backwards on tackles that were 5-yards past the line of scrimmage. It becomes a vicious cycle - players who show no fire have a difficult time performing, and poor performance leads to poor morale.
That's why we should all be particularly pleased to read quotes like this:
When Penn State safety Drew Astorino thinks about last season, the first word out of his mouth is this:
Then, he gets specific.
"We have to definitely step it up in our rush defense," he said. "We were bad last year. We had bad tackling all-around."
Then, he gets brutally personal:
"I was embarrassed last year," he said. "I think the whole, entire team was."
It's good that Astorino recognizes this. It was embarrassing. It was embarrassing for a Penn State defense to allow Alabama's backup tailback run like he was Larry Johnson circa 2002. It was embarrassing to watch a
true redshirt freshman quarterback look impressively efficient while running and throwing for 202 yards. And the Florida game? Both teams were just flat out embarrassing.
Thankfully, Astorino, a player who has shown his heart and soul the past few years while playing with a litany of shoulder-related ailments, sees a better future ahead.
With the first day of summer drills only a month away, Astorino spoke passionately Friday at the players' Lift For Life fundraiser, pointing a finger at some bad work habits that might have led to a 7-6 finish -- Penn State's worst since 2004.
"It seems like guys have a better attitude every single day, not just once in a while," he said. "Almost every single person is there (for summer workouts). I feel like last year you went there when you could or whatever."
Attitude. That's where it all starts. There's plenty of talent on this team, especially the young guys. In addition to the large group of seniors that will be charged by Joe Paterno with keeping morale high, the young stars have to get loud. This team is in desperate need of some positive leadership backed up by strong on-field performance. It's tough to be a leader when you're average. This team needs to see our best guys become more vocal and our vocal guys play up to their potential.
If that happens, it won't matter what the schedule looks like. The Nittany Lion roster is as talented as any other squad in this league. The sky's the limit. If it doesn't happen? We'll be staring at another mediocre year and a miserable off-season.
 Their third string tailback is probably better and should have been the starter.
 Ditto, Matt McGloin, Drew Astorino, and Mike Mauti.