Sunday, August 26, 2007

"Boy the way Glen Miller played..."

More pre-season thoughts: Penn State

I feel sympathy for your typical Penn State fan, I really do. I grew up a Michigan fan, a fan of one of the pre-eminent college football powers. All my other favorite sports teams went through good times (except maybe the Lions) and some really bad times. But Michigan football was always near the top. You could always count on at least one or two really memorable moments at Michigan Stadium every year. They always went to a bowl, usually a New Year's Day bowl. Even when they had a bad year (6-6 in 1984), they ended up playing the eventual national champ (BYU) in an exciting bowl game. Although the offensive and defensive styles changed, you could always rely on high end college football.

I'm sure it was very much the same way for someone who grew up a Penn State fan. When I was a kid, I sorta rooted for Penn State, because I felt they were similar to Michigan. Your average Penn State fan who came of age in the 70s and 80s thought of their team as "The Beast of the East," one of the top powers in the land, and their coach as the greatest of all time.

So of course, when it was announced that Penn State would join the Big Ten, most Knit-knees assumed (as did some in the general media, hello Beano) that Penn State would dominate the Big Ten, or at least be on par with Ohio State and Michigan. For a little while, that looked like it could be the case, as Penn State won the title in their second year in the league, and were robbed of a national title (a time honored tradition in State College). But after a while it became apparent that not only would they not dominate the Big Ten, they wouldn't even be on the same level as the Buckeyes and Wolverines, but instead would be struggling to keep up the Wisconsin and Iowas of the conference. I'm sure that the fall from the elite of college football has cracked the foundation of the world view of the average PSU fan. Perhaps all those years as an independent, those records were inflated by average to poor schedules. Maybe we weren't the power we always thought we were.

This is of course the reason why the Michigan game is so big to Penn State fans. When they look at Michigan, they see what their program once was, the same way that I saw reflections of Michigan in Penn State when I was a kid. The fact that they haven't beaten Michigan in 11 years only serves to illuminate how far they have fallen. This is why you can get into a pretty intense war of words if bring up the topic of favoritism towards Michigan by Big Ten refs here.

Of course it doesn't help matters when your programs patriarch has been slowly disintegrating before our eyes for the last decade or so. There have been reports that he might spend the entire season in the press box, like he did at the end of the year (closer to the bathroom and all) One wonders how much of the coaching he actually does, and how much he delegates.

So what does this all mean for this year's team: 8-4 or 9-3 and another trip to Florida for New Year's Day.