Joe Paterno won't admit it. The national media is ignoring it. No one on the team wants to jinx it. But history cannot deny it.
Joe Paterno and the Penn State Nittany Lions are attempting to tie the late, great Eddie Robinson's Division I (A and AA - or FCS and FBS for you youngins) record of 408 wins.
It's almost poetic that the 6-1 Lions enter Evanston, Illinois with a throwback team of top 10 defense, grinding vanilla offense, and strong special teams. Paterno won two National Championships with that formula. The formula rigidly adheres to fundamental principles: focus on academics, solid tackling, unselfish play, and a sense of family.
Many people point out that JoePa is merely an administrator now. He is not heavily involved in the recruiting or game-day Xs and Os. He wanders around the sideline looking grumpy or sits in the booth without a headset. There's no question that the fiery sideline tyrant of yesteryear is gone. Rare is the facemask grab of the offensive lineman who held on third down. Joe no longer stirs the crowd into a frenzy, punishing a referee with a legendary Sicilian/Brooklyn-style tirade.
JoePa's coaching influence goes beyond the superficial actions caught on camera. There is a sense of purpose on the Penn State sideline no matter how well or poorly the team is playing. There is a sense of family. No... it goes beyond family. I can't name a family of 100+ members that shows this much solidarity.
Joe Paterno's greatest accomplishment is not measured in wins and losses or years. The greatest accomplishment is the Paterno family at Penn State.
I'm in the Paterno family. My parents went to Penn State when Joe Paterno became head coach. I was at Penn State when the 1994 team won the Rose Bowl. I have a relative who played under Paterno. I met my wife at Penn State. I took my son to visit Penn State. My kids know the fight songs and We Are chants. They jump to Zombie Nation. And they scream "Joe Paterno!" when the cameras cut to Joe on the sideline. 407 Wins span three generations of my family.
The Paterno family unites all living Penn Staters. Joe Paterno's most impressive stat is that 26 Father-Son combinations played for Penn State.
- Frank Ahrenhold (1969-71)/Tyler Ahrenhold (member of 2007-10 teams)
- Rich Buzin (1966-67)/ Mike Buzin (1996, '98)
- Bob Campbell, stepfather (1966-68)/Ryan Pinckney (2002)
- Dan Delligatti (1983-84)/Nick Delligatti (member of 2009-10 teams team)
- Fran Ganter (1968-70)/Chris (2002-04) and Jason Ganter (2005-07)
- Mike Guman (1976-79)/ Andrew Guman (2001-2004)
- Kevin Hart (1976)/ Mike Hart (2004-06)
- Tom Hull (1971-73) and Mike Hull (2011)
- Pete Johnson (1967-69)/ Tim Johnson (2003)
- Dave Joyner (1969-71)/ Andy (played 1993-94) and Matt Joyner (1996-98)
- John Kulka (1966-68)/ Todd Kulka (1995)
- Ed Lenda (1965-66)/ Tyler Lenda (1999-2002)
- Rich Mauti (1975-76)/ Michael Mauti (member of 2008-11 teams)/Patrick Mauti (member of 2005-09 teams)
- Charlie Pittman (1967-69)/ Tony Pittman (1992-94)
- Bob Rickenbach (1970-72)/ Eric Rickenbach (2000, `02)
- Jerry Sandusky (1963-66)/ E.J. (1991-92) and Jon Sandusky (1998-99)
- Mickey Shuler (1975-77)/ Mickey Shuler (2007-09)
- Terry Smith, stepfather (1988-91)/ Justin King (2005-07)
- Steve Stupar (1979)/Nate Stupar (member of 2007-11teams). Three of Nate's uncles, Ron, Doug and Jeff Hostetler, all played for the Nittany Lions in the late 1970's and early1980's
- Matt Suhey (1976-79) /Joe Suhey (member of 2007-10 teams). Two of Joe's uncles, Paul and Larry and Suhey, played for the Nittany Lions in the 1970's
- Paul Suhey (1975-78)/ Kevin Suhey (2006-07)
- Victor Surma (1968-70)/ Vic Surma (played 2002-05)
- Tom Williams (1973-74)/ Tom (2001) and Casey Williams (2002-03)
- Tom Wise (1978-80)/ Brent Wise (2003-05)
- Leo Wisniewski (1979-81)/Stefen Wisniewski (member of 2007-10 teams). One of Stefen's uncles, Steve Wisniewski, was a two-time first-team All-America guard during his outstanding Penn State career (1985-88)
- Mike Zordich (1982-85)/Michael Zordich (member of 2008-10 teams)
Leo and Stephen Wisniewski
The casual fan may not care if JoePa ties Eddie Robinson's 408 this weekend. Joe Paterno will downplay the accomplishment for the cameras. I guarantee that Joe will appreciate it when he starts receiving congratulatory calls from the rest of the Paterno family.
The calls may never stop.
Nebraska over Minnesota
The Big Red Combine almost came to a screeching halt two weeks ago against Ohio State. If you're looking for fingers to point, blame falls squarely on the surprisingly ineffective Blackshirts defense. Good defenses don't yield 20 points in a half to the struggling Buckeyes and 48 points to Wisconsin. Actually, a good defense may yield 48 to Wisconsin anyway. The signs of potential struggle were there prior to the Big Ten schedule after surrendering 38 to Washington and 29 to Fresno State.
However, Nebraska had a bye week to bandage their wounds and get healthy. It has a second straight bye week against the hapless Golden Rodents of Average Size (ROAS) before the Michigan State battle for the top of the Legend-board. The Gophers have been outscored 103 to 17 in the last two games. They'll long for the days of Caddyshack when they were only hammered with plastic explosives.
Iowa over Indiana
With all due respect to our weekly host, the Indiana-Iowa matchup features one team that is 0-3 on the road vs a team that is 4-0 at home and celebrating Homecoming. Although Freshman QB Tre Roberson had a decent game against Illinois (11-17 for 148 yards), I seriously doubt he can carry the struggling Hoosiers. They can't run. They can't pass. The only hope here is that Iowa's defense struggles even more.
Teams can score on the Hawkeyes. They gave up 31 points to Northwestern, 27 to Pitt, 44 to Iowa State, and a season-high 13 points to Penn State. (Kidding. Sort of.) Indiana will get a few points early and in garbage time to make the final look almost respectable. Iowa wins fairly easily.
Purdue over Illinois
When the Illini faced the Buckeyes, it reminded me of a game I played back in college. During the second quarter, I would call the play in the huddle and line the team up. Our center started announcing the play, which player was getting the ball, and which direction we were running. I decided against audibles and allowed the play to happen as called. We piled up huge chunks of yards and first downs and drove for a touchdown. The other team was completely demoralized and the victory was physical and psychological.
The joy of Illinois' six early victories and high ranking evaporated in a physical beat-down by the Buckeyes. One pass completion to 51 rushing attempts. This game is the proverbial gut-check for the Zookster and his warriors.
Purdue, on the other hand, played fairly evenly against an uninspired Penn State team. The Boilermakers left with a loss but felt like they should have won. A stopped 2-point conversion, a missed field goal, a missed extra point, and a 92 yard Penn State kick-off return helped Penn State escape.
This may be the best game this week in the Big Ten. I'm predicting Purdue hangs around long enough to frustrate the Illini and wins it somehow with a special teams play.
Penn State over Northwestern
Frankly, this one really worries me. The versatile Dan Persa is back in the lineup at QB. He efficiently executes Northwestern's underneath scheme of short passes and zone-option reads. The Wildcats have a tendency to rack up huge chunks of yards between the 20s and are rarely out of any ballgame. They hung around with Michigan before Denard Robinson pulled away. They racked up 495 yards of offense and dominated the box score against Iowa.
The Wildcats will continue to rack up yards against Penn State's top 10 defense. It isn't about level of talent. Northwestern always has success moving the football against PSU's scheme. The Nittany Lions love to generate a vertical push into the backfield with the interior defensive line and contain with the outside rush. Northwestern prefers to move horizontally and effectively secures the ends. PSU lets the talented linebackers move in space and keep the play in front of them. Northwestern gladly takes the short routes that PSU gives them and dinks their way down the field.
When Northwestern gets to the Red Zone, the PSU defense will tighten up and keep the Wildcats to field goals. PSU attempts to force long drives of 10-15 plays to generate drive-killing penalties or turnovers. While Northwestern racks up yards, the aggressive secondary makes key stops and PSU escapes with win 408 for Paterno.
Wisconsin over Michigan State
The SEC looks towards the titanic LSU-Alabama collision. The Big 12 streets have cleared anticipating the Oklahoma - Oklahoma State shootout at the OK corral. The West Coast may actually get East Coast eyeballs for the Oregon-Stanford matchup.
The Bee One Gees BCS hopes are Stayin Alive in the latest Game of the Year du Jour.
Nothing seems to stop or even slow the relentless attack of the Wisconsin Badgers. This team has incredible balance and talent that defies the slow white guy stereotype. This is not Barry Alvarez's 5 yards and a cloud of dust offense. What makes this team really scary is the efficient passing game.
Who is the top rated QB in the country? Robert Griffen 3.0? Andrew "Suck For" Luck? Kellen Four-Moore-Years? (Objection, your honor! Defense is leading the witness!).
No. The highest rated passer in the NCAA is Russell Wilson. He averages 12.2 yards per attempt and 14 touchdowns to one interception. Teams load up to slow the run and Wilson easily burns the over-matched secondary.
This is a dangerous combination for Michigan State. The Spartans succeed by generating a massive interior push from Jerel Worthy leading the front four. That line must hold its own for four quarters and slow down the Badgers attack. Given enough opportunities, Kirk Cousins can sling the ball around and keep this game close. The key for Michigan State is to force punts. Every punt forced is worth a touchdown in points. The Spartans won't keep the Badgers out of the end zone forever, but they may keep Wisconsin under 35 points.
Wisconsin should score enough to win. The balanced offense faces the nation's number two defense but Michigan State has not faced Alabama's quality of competition. The D is great, but can take that step up to elite by holding down the Badgers. More likely, Wilson and the Badgers expose the MSU secondary. The lines should be even enough that Monty Ball won't generate Heisman stats on Saturday but Russell Wilson will. Wisconsin sways a few computers and wins 38-31.
The Next Best Three
#1 LSU over Auburn
I can't find any reason why Auburn can stand toe-to-toe with the relentless grinding of LSU's offense and defense. I don't think LSU's offense is as relentless as Wisconsin or Boise State. I don't think the defense is as oppressive as Alabama. But LSU is without significant flaw on either side. Even Les Miles is making all of the right moves but it is easy when the team is simply more talented than everyone except Alabama. LSU is definitely more talented than Auburn.
Oklahoma over Texas Tech
Can you have a trap game at home? Texas Tech shouldn't hang for four quarters with Landy Jones and the Sooners. But the Red Raiders annoy the Sooners with tons of yards and way too many wins. It the line really Oklahoma -29? Take the Red Raiders to cover in my Stone-Cold-Death-Grip-Lead-Pipe-Ball-And-Chain-Lock-Of-The-Week (SCDGLPBCLotW). Oklahoma wins a wacky one 48-34.
Notre Dame over USC
There are storylines all over the place in this long-standing rivalry. Two coaches, Brian Kelly and Lane Kiffen, look for signature wins to keep the alumni happy and their seats as cool as a Minnesota bleacher. Matt Barkley and Tommy Rees hope to establish themselves among the national (and more exclusive) Program elites. Both secondaries have been exposed this season and the offenses are salivating. I expect another classic game but don't trust the Trojans 105th rated pass defense to shut down the Irish.
It's been a blast making a guest appearance in the B1G-NB3. Thank, Rude and I look forward to your column next week.