On this fourth Football Friday of the season, we're joined by a very special guest. ESPN college football analyst and former NFL offensive lineman Ed Cunningham is here to talk a little Penn State football. The Temple game tomorrow will be Ed's third straight Penn State game. You're not here to read what I have to say, so here's Ed...
BSD: Given the unprecedented situation inherited by Bill O'Brien, how would you assess his handling of the job so far?
ED - From the first interviews I saw with him through covering these last two games, I've been very impressed with Coach O'Brien and the entire staff for how they've handled themselves and their program on every level. From what I've observed, Coach O'Brien, his staff and team have worked incredibly hard and done it with grace and dignity.
BSD - What should be the short-term (thru the end of the football season) goals for the coaching staff and the program? Long-term goals?ED - After seeing them for two weeks, while also following the rest of the Big Ten, and specifically the Leaders division closely, I think PSU has a legitimate shot at winning the division crown this season. With the recent ruling that Ohio State and PSU - though ineligible for the conference championship game - can win their division, I think the goal should be clear - Champion of the Leaders Division of the Big Ten every year. Which will also be the main goal when the NCAA sanctions are no longer in place, which is nice.
BSD - Through the first three contests, what stands out--good, bad, or otherwise--about this Penn State team?
ED - The defense is solid and playing as well as anyone in the conference. Everyone is aware of the kicking game problems, but the surprising things to me are how solid Matt McGloin is - don't be shocked if he gets a real shot in the NFL next summer - and how many top level athletes they have in the LB & TE positions. You can build around guys like this, and when they have motors like Michael Mauti and Mike Hull, you can beat some good teams.
BSD - Who would be your most valuable defensive and offensive players for Penn State right now?
ED - Mauti and McGloin
BSD- How do you see the rest of this season playing out for the Nittany Lions? What must Penn State do to finish with .500 or better?
ED - The kicking game needs to find a way to make most FGs of 35 yards and in, the offensive line needs to clean up its mental mistakes and a few key guys - QB, any more tackles, either DT - can't get hurt.
BSD - Strictly in terms of on-the-field performance, does Penn State ever recover from what should be a very rough next four years of sanctions?
ED - I took issue with the rhetoric about how these sanctions could potentially take PSU down to the level of SMU after they received the death penalty in the '80's, with no chance at ever returning to the championship level teams of the past. The byline to all of these op-eds was - "PSU sanctions may be worse than the death penalty."
The comparison is apples to sledgehammers. By every metric studied for what helps create a university that has the right blend of human and regional resources to field a national championship level football program on a regular basis, PSU is one of maybe 10 places that nails nearly every major reason you can have a great squad regularly.
They have huge population bases within driving distance of the campus that have followed or played football since childhood, a huge, deeply engaged Alumni and a fan base that grew up in these cities and towns who show up nearly 100k strong for an 0-2 team against a struggling Navy squad after all that has transpired. They have shiny trophies and a big stadium to show the prospective student-athletes when they drive with their families out to see the campus on game day. And there are folks trying to say PSU is going to have the same outcome as SMU, or most any other place that plays at the FBS level and had similar sanctions levied against them? It's not a well-researched argument, in my opinion.
I think PSU will be modestly competitive throughout the sanctions, and will be ramping up towards Big 10 championship level teams not long after the sanctions end. PSU is a rich place for football and it appears they may have hired the right coach for this job.
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