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The Season Ahead: Penn State

Head coach Bill O'Brien certainly has his work cut out for him with all of the sanctions handed down by the NCAA (Keith Srakocic, AP)

The 2012 football season for the Penn State Nittany Lions will be a season of rebuilding as the program enters its first season in the post-Paterno era. Or, depending on who you ask, it could be a season of punishment as they enter the post-Sandusky era.

Right now, the Nittany Lions are a million different things to a million different people. An example of everything that is wrong with college sports, or the victim of an over-zealous NCAA, trying to cover its own name at the expense of a once-prominent football program.

One thing we do know is that the 2012 Penn State football team is not going to matter to the Big Ten championship picture.

For the past 35 years of college football no team had been surer of its identity than Penn State. The whole country knew what to expect with Penn State: fundamental football, fundamental jerseys, gigantic polish guys at line- backer and Joe Paterno. But for now, all that is in the past.

The only thing messier than the divorce between PSU and Joe Paterno was the speed and severity at which it happened. In August of 2011, no one could have even expected that within 365 days the entire program would look and feel different. The Paterno’s are gone, the football team is under heavy sanctions, and when Penn State is in the news, it has nothing to do with football.

Matt McGloin returns to lead an offense that struggled last season (Hunter Martin/Getty Images North America)

Simply watching the Nittany Lions this year will be about so much more than football. It will be about healing, redemption, garnering some pride, and trying to rebuild what was at one time the model in college football. Or, depending on who you ask, the 2012 season will be about shame, regret, hatred, and utter disgust at what Penn State has done to our beloved college football.

Anyone who tells you that they know what to expect out of the Nittany Lions this season is lying, even Bill O’Brien. For no game on their schedule should Penn State be expected to win, yet there are a handful of games that could go either way.

Without everything that happened, home games like Ohio, Navy, Temple, and Indiana would have been sure-fire wins. But Penn State has lost (at time of writing) nine starters from last year’s team. A team that was decidedly average with those players.

I do not feel comfortable enough to make a prediction about the out-come of games this season. The only thing I do feel comfortable in saying is that Penn State will provide a challenge to the sports writers and talk-show hosts of the nation, as every game will come pre-loaded with narrative and story-lines attached.

I’m sure that senior night (November 24th) against Wisconsin will produce hundreds of columns about the ‘heart and class of the guys that stuck around’ and everyone will feel really great about themselves.

If they do win a game this year it will feel like a National Championship and the fans and students will shout things like “P-S-U” or maybe if they are really bold (or stupid) “Pa-Tern-O.”

Everyone will be watching Penn state this season, just for reasons other than football. Right now, Penn State is both a completely open canvas, waiting for the hands of Bill O’Brien, or a Jackson Pollack painting, full of chaos and disorder.


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