It's the offseason which means news is few and far between. Hence, we're (hoping on) going to the far reaches of the internet to interview those who will give us that warm, cuddly feeling of college football. First up is Ty Hildenbrandt, co-host of the top college football podcast on the web, The Solid Verbal.
BSD: You're a 2004 Penn State graduate. Tell us a little about your time at the university.
Ty: Well, after an exhaustive college search that usually involved my mom dragging me away from baseball games, I ended up at Penn State, mostly because I had close friends going to University Park. I also wasn’t sure what major I wanted to pursue and main campus had options. Ultimately, the allure of a big campus on a football Saturday was what sold me.
I started in broadcast journalism and later switched to something else. Along the way, I had the chance to hear Rich Gardner give a curious speech about diamonds in Speech Comm, to see Austin Scott’s attendance drop sharply after his first 100-yard game, and to shake Joe Paterno’s hand on a random Friday afternoon along Heister Street. I saw peaceful celebrations in Beaver Canyon after the Lions made the Sweet Sixteen in 2001, and drunken mobs after they lost two days later. I have fond memories of Acme Pizza, La Bamba Burritos and The Big Onion, and remember to roar of Beaver Stadium before they messed up the seating. I could go on and on, but I’m confident I got a good taste of what Penn State has to offer.
Perhaps it’s cliche, but those were four of the best years of my life.
BSD: You went to Penn State, and yet, you grew up a Notre Dame football fan. What was that dynamic like?
Ty: Everyone asks this question. Somehow, I was raised in Pennsylvania to root for a team other than Penn State. I realize that this is difficult to comprehend and that it doesn’t endear me to the fan base. I’m OK with this. When you grow up with a Catholic family, the Notre Dame influences are always a factor. I ended up sticking for the same teams as the rest of my family.
As you might expect, this wasn’t a popular decision once I got to college. Over time, I evolved as a sports fan to include the Nittany Lions, and when the ship went down at the end of 2011, I was on the airwaves doing my best to assure people that Penn State wasn’t the horrible place that it’d been portrayed.
So, I’ve maintained my original allegiances and grown to include another. If this makes me weird, then so be it.
BSD: Taking a look back at the 2012 Penn State season, what grade would you give them? What impressed you the most about this team? Did they overachieve, underachieve, etc.?
Ty: Overall, I have to say a solid A-. I’m still dumbfounded by how Bill O’Brien turned Matt McGloin into potentially the best dropback passer in the entire Big Ten. ESPN will need to do a 30 for 30 to explain this someday. A little over two years ago, McGloin threw five interceptions in a bowl game and could EASILY have thrown three more. This season, he finished two yards shy of Matt Barkley’s passing total. I can’t get over this.
Given the transfers of Silas Redd, Justin Brown and Anthony Fera, and the strange circumstances under which Penn State was forced to play its first post-Paterno season, an eight win season is an absolute overachievement. My biggest fear moving forward is that fans will use this season as a baseline for the next three years. If Governor Corbett can’t pull a rabbit out of his hat, the NCAA’s restrictions are going to make it more difficult to win, not easier.
BSD: Obviously the focal point of the 2012 team was BOB and the offense, but the defense was one of the tops in the Big Ten and the country once again. Ted Roof is now gone, though, so what will become of that unit?
Ty: Good question. Nobody knows much about new defensive coordinator John Butler, other than the admirable job he did with last year’s secondary and his very visible passion along the sidelines. I’m comfortable that he’ll demand accountability and discipline on defense, which has been a staple at Penn State for many years.
I have confidence that Larry Johnson can coach up this defensive line, but he’ll most certainly have his work cut out for him. While Deion Barnes should continue his progression, Johnson will need to navigate through inexperience and depth issues to get solid play along the interior line. It really hurts to lose Jordan Hill.
Also, I was never a Ted Roof fan. A friend of mine would send out "leaky roof" text messages every time Penn State gave up points last season, and we were convinced he was going to be a disaster. I’m glad we were wrong.
BSD: What did you think about Bill O'Brien's flirtation with the NFL? It's obvious that we'll never see the likes of another Joe Paterno, but how long do you think BOB stays at Penn State?
Ty: Excellent question. I remember thinking that O’Brien would be at Penn State forever when he first took the job. Now, I’ve convinced myself otherwise. I don’t think this was the standard flirt-to-get-more-money trick that has become popular in today’s coaching circles. O’Brien had leverage even without an NFL interview. He’s smart enough to know this.
I think this was legitimate interest from O’Brien in the NFL and he probably tested the waters with a few interviews as a precursor to an eventual move. It’s no secret, but if he keeps doing what he’s doing, the overtures will grow louder and louder, and if his heart is with a job at the next level, it’s going to be harder and harder to stay at Penn State.
Long story short, I’d be surprised if he lasted another three years in State College.
BSD: It's only January, but looking at the schedule and looking who's on the team now (and hoping none of them leave before August), what is your 2013 outlook for the Nittany Lions?
Ty: I’m saying 7-5 with losses to Virginia, Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. I have too many questions about the quarterback situation and the run defense to commit to anything better than that. I can also see road games against Indiana and Minnesota being dogfights. Both those schools should be improve from 2012.
BSD: Now let's look nationally. Alabama returns a strong team that has won two straight titles. Ohio State comes off of a perfect season. Oregon will be good again. Who wins it all next year? Who is the darkhorse we should look at? Who will go from top team to tire fire?
Ty: At this point, it’s almost inconceivable to bet against Alabama. The Tide will be loaded once again and the odds-on favorite to win the championship. Ohio State, Oregon, Texas A&M... all of these teams should be in the hunt as well.
My darkhorse is Stanford. The Cardinal brings back 16 starters and hit its stride in the second half of the season after Kevin Hogan took over at quarterback. This is also a team with a lot of recent success against Oregon and USC.
As for a top-ten-to-tire-fire candidate... I’ll say Florida State, just because there’s a 50-percent chance of this happening to Florida State every season. Plus, they’ll have to replace E.J. Manuel and most of their defense.
BSD: The Solid Verbal has been on for five years now and has turned into the Internet's biggest college football podcast. What's it like? What has been your favorite memory of it?
Ty: The Solid Verbal has been an incredible ride. Truthfully, we never expected it to last five weeks, let alone five full seasons, but here we are. Though it’s a lot of work, it’s still a ton of fun talking college football all year long. Our goal is to learn something new from each podcast and to give people a voice. So far, I think we’ve accomplished that, but we’re always trying to get better. We have yet to bring on anyone from Black Shoe Diaries, which we’re going to work on changing over the next few months.
My favorite memory was interviewing Houston Nutt, because I’m fairly certain he did the entire first half of the interview while using the men’s room. We didn’t realize it while we had him on the phone, but after the fact, we noticed a distinct echo-y sound for the first five minutes or so, followed by a loud whooshing sound (at the 9:53 mark, to be exact), followed by the sound of a door closing and a completely different acoustic profile. The only logical conclusion is that Coach Nutt was in dispose.
Thanks, Ty! If you aren't listening to The Solid Verbal already, make sure to go to the website or subscribe to their channel on iTunes.
Also, if there are any interviews that you want to see on the site, let us know. We're in the process of compiling a list of potential candidates.
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