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PSU SCANDAL OVERSHADOWS SEC BATTLE
November 11, 2011

SCS.com There are some weeks in life that just make you shake your head. The events happening in State College, Pennsylvania and the resulting fallout have gone well beyond the sports world to end up being headline news on network and cable news networks. Caught up in the mess and gone before we could catch our breath was legendary coach Joe Paterno, who just two weeks ago tied the Division I record for career coaching wins with 409. Paterno will likely hold that record for a long time, as not many coaches will last anywhere close to the 46 years he led the football program at Penn State. Joe Paterno was coaching at Penn State for 61 years, which is almost as many years as days that Kim Kardashian could tolerate marriage. Rather than focus on the grimy nature of the decade-old allegations, let's look at just what Penn State has lost in the blink of an eye.

Penn State has lost a university president, a vice president, an athletic director, and a football head coach. While that may not be the end of the losses (the entire football staff is likely gone at the end of the year), the biggest hole will be JoePa. Paterno led some of the most entertaining on-campus rallies for Penn State students before big home games. Over 900 coaching changes have occurred since Joe Paterno took the helm at State College, and now Penn State will have to see whether they can find another long term solution (the Pittsburgh Steelers come to mind as a local example of a team lucky to have long term coaches), or whether the program fall into the scrum of changing coaches early and often. Penn State will no longer have the longest tenured coach in the Big Ten or the country. The experienced voice of reason in the conference now falls to much younger men like Kirk Ferentz and maybe even Bret Bielema. Penn State loses a piece of history and a rallying point. But perhaps the most painful thing lost is the public perception of the football program as a clean-living minimal problems program. Penn State was never spotless, but they were as close as it comes in the hyper-violation NCAA days of the past three decades. And all of that is gone now.

So where does the current Nittany Lions team go from here? The schedule was unfortunately backloaded to be the toughest following the bye week last Saturday, and now that appears to be a bad stretch of luck. Nebraska comes into State College with something to prove after falling at home to Northwestern in the biggest upset to date in Big Ten conference play. Road trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin follow that, and both of those teams have plenty to play for assuming Penn State stumbles down the stretch. Penn State is the only team undefeated in conference play, but now the players have to deal with one of the hardest weeks of their young lives to put aside the distractions and prepare for Nebraska. There should be no question who will be more prepared for the game this Saturday, but Penn State might rally despite the adversity. Considering that Penn State can drop a game and still end up in the Big Ten Championship, there is some room for error as Tom Bradley takes over as interim head coach. Bradley was the defensive coordinator, so expect that to continue to be the focus of this Nittany Lions team.

A few things to keep in mind as Penn State moves forward: the NCAA has absolutely no jurisdiction regarding what happened in this scandal. Considering the swift reactions of the Penn State University Board of Trustees, the NCAA could not keep up even if had jurisdiction to do anything. Thus, Penn State will not face any sanctions from the Big Ten conference or the NCAA. This is good news for current players and recruits, as the situation for them will not have a cloud of uncertainty like the cloud hanging over Columbus right now (more on that later). Pundits calling for the game to be canceled this weekend are being short-sighted. There is no reason to punish a group of young men who were in middle school when most of the problems and omissions leading to this scandal occurred. Penn State has earned its right to play for a conference title, and they will do so over the next three weeks. Current recruits may not be happy about losing Joe, but they had to know that this was a possibility with him being in the last year of his contract anyway. There will be no scholarship reductions or bowl bans here, so no reason for recruits to be scared away. The future could remain bright for Penn State despite this week from hell.

The news from State College did a fantastic job of completely covering up some major stories that would normally have filled up this column in a given week. Another domino fell in the realignment chase this week, as Missuori officially announced its intent to join the SEC and leave the Big 12. Missouri and Texas A&M likely came to the same conclusion that the likelihood of competing against Texas and Oklahoma is not much worse than competing against the SEC powers, and now they can share equally in one of the largest football television powerhouses in the country. Missouri will be shipped into the East division, which will make for a lot of long travel when it comes to Georgia and Florida. However, as the new kid on the SEC block, Missouri has no right to break up Auburn and Alabama in an attempt to keep things purely geographic. The SEC added a couple mroe solid mid-range teams, but neither of these teams is a huge add like Nebraska was for the Big Ten. It will be interesting to see if the SEC is content with 14 teams or if it goes for bigger and better. Missouri is good enough to compete right away in the East division, which perhaps makes this move a good one for the Tigers.

Speaking of the SEC, there was a little big game on the field last weekend, but that seems to be entirely forgotten. That may have something to do with the lackluster offensive performance by both LSU and Alabama. LSU capitalized on all their opportunities and watched Alabama squander most of theirs to eek out a three point win 9-6. Although both teams have outstanding defenses, there is simply no excuse for a lack of touchdowns out of both of these teams, especially in overtime when the odds are stacked in your favor. Alabama wasted too many opportunities to be allowed to get a rematch in the BCS Championship. Just like other great teams such as Michigan in 2006, Alabama had their chance and now should make way for someone else, be it Stanford, Boise State, Oklahoma State, or Oklahoma. Besides, the SEC should have to earn their national titles so that they can actually brag about winning six in a row instead of being awarded it by the poll voters and the computers. Thankfully if a rematch does happen, the offenses will have a full month to figure out how to actually score a touchdown. All things being equal, that will not rank as the game of the year, let alone the game of the century. But it was an important game and LSU won another big one.

Late this week the news finally became worse for Ohio State as well, as if the Big Ten needed more scandal news. Ohio State has now been slapped with the Failure to Monitor allegation by the NCAA Committee on Infractions. It appears that Ohio State will request an expedited hearing, but even that will not allow for a ruling before the Big Ten Championship. Considering that a bowl ban, unlikely as it is, would not come until too late this year, the program will be looking to avoid long term sanctions like USC received. One thing is for certain: athletic director Gene Smith cannot afford to have hangers on like OSU booster DeGeronimo hanging around the program at all anymore. The repeat offender status is one that this program needs to shed in the next decade.

Turning to the games of the week, I will be enjoying the huge Big East clash between West Virginia and Cincinnati, but there's a longer preview of that game below. The weekend started with a bang as Virginia Tech beat Georgia Tech in a wild game in Atlanta, but the first game of the weekend is just down the road in Athens as Georgia hosts Auburn. The youth has finally caught up a bit to Auburn, as the Tigers have fallen to 4-2 in the SEC after a hot start. That being said, Auburn would love to upset one of their next two SEC opponents following the bye week as Georgia and Alabama come calling. Sophomore quarterback Clint Moseley has filled in well the past two games, but this game will be a little tougher on the road in a hostile environment. Michael Dyer will need to put Moseley in manageable third down situations or else the Georgia defense will pin their ears back and knock out the Auburn offense. When the Bulldogs have the ball, look for Isaiah Crowell to come back strong after a week suspension. Aaron Murray should find the passing easy against the Tigers secondary, although Crowell must be a threat to truly open things up. Georgia may falter a bit now that the pressure is on to lock up the division title, but the Bulldogs will prevail at home with a 10 point win.

The second game of the week is Nebraska at Penn State, which lost some luster but is still a very important Big Ten game. Nebraska was upset by Northwestern after being dominated on the line of scrimmage, which is surprising considering how well the Blackshirts defense has played the previous week. Thankfully this week they get one of the easiest offenses to stop in the Big Ten, as Penn State has struggled to put up 24 points per game this season. Matt McGloin has all but taken the starting job finally for the Nittany Lions, and McGloin will need to be the leader as most of the offensive coaching prowess is gone from the sidelines. Penn State will take advantage of the holes Ohio State and Northwestern found earlier this year, hopefully breaking Silas Redd out for some big gains on the ground. As long as Penn State gets a couple of turnovers, the offense will do just enough as usual to pull this game out. However, Nebraska does not have to deal with the most hectic and distracting week for any team in college football in recent memory like the Nittany Lions do. Although Rex Burkhead is clearly showing signs of fatigue in the Big Ten grind, Taylor Martinez should be able to find some openings to keep the chains moving on certain drives. Penn State will hold Nebraska well below their season average, but the Huskers will still escape Happy Valley with a win by 4 points.

The third game of the week is Oregon at Stanford, the game everyone west of the Mississippi has looked forward to since the opening week of the season. Oregon may not be able to leapfrog the Bedlam game winner in the final rankings, especially with LSU sitting in the title game, but the Ducks could likely lock up a Rose Bowl berth with a win here as the schedule becomes much easier after this weekend. This will be a contrast of styles as Oregon spreads the ball out horizontally and plays quickly with RB LaMichael James and QB Darren Thomas pushing the pace. Even backup running back Kenjon Barner has been successful this season, rushing for nearly 7 yards per carry. Stanford lived off turnovers against Oregon for three quarters last year, and those turnovers might be critical once again. When Stanford has the ball, they will look to dominate time of possession with a power running game backed up by the best quarterback in the country, Andrew Luck. Luck has thrown 26 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions, so Oregon will have to rely on stopping the run to slow the Cardinal attack. The key to the game is likely whether Stanford's injured offensive line can keep Oregon out of the backfield consistently. If the Ducks get to Andrew Luck regularly, then there could be enough mistakes for Oregon to run away with it. Stanford will be tough to knock off at home, but Oregon has what it takes considering the injuries Stanford has suffered. Another undefeated team goes down as the Ducks win by 10.

OTHER GAMES OF THE WEEK - WEEK 11

(10) Virginia Tech def. (21) Georgia Tech (Thurs.)
(11) Houston def. Tulane (Thurs.)
(1) LSU def. Western Kentucky
(2) Oklahoma State def. Texas Tech
(3) Alabama def. Mississippi State
(5) Boise State def. TCU
(8) Arkansas def. Tennessee
(13) South Carolina def. Florida
(14) Kansas State def. Texas A&M
(16) Texas def. Missouri
Iowa def. (17) Michigan State
(18) Wisconsin def. Minnesota
UCF def. (22) Southern Miss
Illinois def. (24) Michigan
(25) Baylor def. Kansas

2011 GOTW Record: 14-4
Last Week: 3-0
2011 Overall Top 25 Record: 108-21
Last Week: 14-6

Fitz Top 10 - Week 11

1. LSU
2. Oklahoma State
3. Stanford
4. Boise State
5. Alabama
6. Houston
7. Oklahoma
8. Arkansas
9. Penn State
10. Oregon

Just Missed: Virginia Tech, Clemson, Kansas State, Georgia, Michigan State

Rather than signing off as usual, let's take a preview of another big game of the week: West Virginia at Cincinnati. This game will be played at Paul Brown Stadium, which is a relatively common location for big games for the Bearcats (played Oklahoma there in 2010 and Louisville there earlier this year). Cincinnati has a virtual two game lead in the chase for the BCS berth and conference championship thanks to being the only undefeated conference team with a win over the sole one-loss team Louisville. The Bearcats are back in a big way following a disappointing 4-8 season in coach Butch Jones's first year at the helm. Quarterback Zack Collaros has accounted for over 2000 yards of offense, with only 245 of those coming on the ground after being prone to running more a season ago. The rushing load has been taken off by Isaiah Pead, who is averaging 6 yards per carry. Pead should find some running room against the Mountaineers, who have struggled to plug the holes up front, especially late in games. West Virginia will try to rush a bit to force Collaros into mistakes, but look for Cincinnati to get some big plays to overcome the rush. Cincinnati will control the clock and hope to wear down West Virginia for another second half rally.

Meanwhile, when West Virginia has the ball, watch for Geno Smith to lead one of the more dynamic offenses in the country. The one thing West Virginia has not done well is run the ball, and the going will be no easier against the 5th ranked rush defense in the country in Cincinnati. Dustin Garrison does have the best rushing average in the conference at 6.1 yards per carry, but Garrison only has 96 carries because Geno Smith has been the focus of the wide open Dana Holgorsen offense. Cincinnati will try to disrupt that dynamic passing game with some pressure on Smith. The West Virginia offensive line has been prone to blitzes and solid defensive line play, so Cincinnati will pressure Smith often in this game. Unless Garrison can take a bit of pressure off, look for this to be a test of Geno Smith making quick reads against the Cincinnati defensive backfield. The Bearcats have been opportunistic in turning games around with their defense and special teams, so look for more of that on Saturday. Especially if West Virginia continues to miss field goals, the Bearcats have the advantage in this one.

Expect West Virginia to exploit a couple broken coverages early to take a halftime lead. However, Cincinnati is the best closer inthe Big East and will all but close out a conference championship with another big win at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bearcats win this game by 7.

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