Here at Black Shoe Diaries, we like to think that we know Penn State. And though we'll do our best to preview the Nittany Lions' season-opening matchup with the Bobcats of Ohio, we have to admit that we're not experts on the MAC favorites. Thankfully, that's where the illustrious Matt Sussman comes in. As editor and writer at Hustle Belt, the nation's
only premier blog dedicated to covering the Mid-America Conference, Matt's uniquely qualified to offer us an insider's perspective on how the Bobcats will attack Penn State. And be sure to follow him on Twitter--not for his musings about the Big Ten's little brother, but because he's genuinely one of the funniest guys out there. Thanks again for helping out, Matt!
Black Shoe Diaries: Ohio seems like the internet's underdog of choice this year. SI's Holly Anderson predicted an undefeated season, and the Bobcats seem to be on a bunch of BCS-buster shortlists this year. But given how MACtion seems to take its toll even on the best teams in the conference, realistically, what's the best case scenario for this team?
Hustle Belt: In fairness to her, that prediction was before the Travis Carrie injury. A perfect season requires everything going right, and so far losing the MAC's top cornerback is not a jovial start. But 12-0 is their realistic ceiling. Last year, even Pre-Snap Read said the Bobcats's realistic best case was an undefeated season, and they finished 9-3. The reason I never expect this much out of any college football team is it's tough to bank on 21-year-olds to do everything right.
BSD: Granted, given his success at Nebraska, Frank Solich has a profile that few MAC coaches can match, but what has he done to take the Ohio program to new heights as one of the conference's premier teams? How much pressure is there to build off last season, and the devastating collapse in the MAC title game?
HB: If I told you that prior to Solich getting there, Ohio was a triple-option team and Athens is not a military academy, would that clear everything up? I do think the fact that Solich was wildly successful at Nebraska and fell into the right situation is why they're winning now. He is recruiting not just in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but also in Nebraska and Oklahoma (such as Tyler Tettleton and Beau Blankenship). But I think that was half the battle: pulling the offense out of the Bronze Age and adapting many offensive philosophies into his own.
There's plenty more with Matt after the jump. And the title is a reference to the David Foster Wallace book. They made it into a movie, starring John Krasinski. Yes, Jim, from The Office. And I know you didn't see it. But seriously, the book is great.
BSD: QB Tyler Tettleton returns from his monster sophomore campaign, but loses most of his weapons among the offensive skill players, especially 1000-yard receiver LaVon Brazill. Which players are going to be asked to take big steps forward to maintain the dominance of Ohio's passing game?
HB: Yes, four of their top six receivers graduated. The other two are Donte Foster and tight end Jordan Thompson. If I've learned anything about OHIO over the years it's that they never rely on one or two people. It's next man up for this team. Senior Tyler Futrell and redshirt sophomore Chase Cochran are projected to be those next men, but even the players behind them will get involved. If Tettleton is as accurate and capable as he's being advertised, he'll find them if they're open.
BSD: Last year's defense was good, at least by MAC standards, finishing 32nd in the country in points against per game. But the loss of all-conference CB Travis Carrie seems like it could devastate that unit. How good can the Bobcat D be without its best player?
HB: Yes, "best MAC defensive player" can sometimes seem like "tallest dwarf" but Carrie was not only a gamechanger in the secondary but a threat on punt returns. What helps soften the blow is that they have veteran safeties despite one, now two new starters at the corners, but they all have enough game experience to make do. Also Jimmy Burrow has been Solich's DC ever since 2005 and is one of the top coordinators in the conference and doesn't get enough pub.
BSD: The Vegas line has Penn State as the 6-point favorites. How do you think this will shake out? Would a win over Penn State be the biggest in the history of the program?
HB: This summer I thought Penn State would win by two touchdowns. Today, six points sounds about right. It might be an even game in a neutral field. I'll say Penn State ekes out this game, 27-23.
In terms of this being potentially the biggest win in program history, I don't like using such grand statements ... but come to think of it I can't think of a bigger win other than Utah State last year in the Idaho Potato Bowl, their first postseason victory ever. They had an undefeated regular season in 1968, their last MAC title, but never even a win over a ranked opponent. Pittsburgh in 2005 might be the closest I can think of as a marquee victory. Yes, I'm going to say if the Bobcats pull this off, this one goes atop the leaderboard.