Penn State’s Joe Paterno is set to coach his 46th season as head coach in Happy Valley, and fans are already wondering if this will be his last hurrah on the sidelines. Don’t count on it, but what are some realistic expectations for Paterno and the Nittany Lions this season?
Here is a look at some expectations for the legendary coach heading in to the 2011 season. Feel free to add your own with a comment.
1. Joe Paterno will coach a “traditional” New Year’s Day bowl game
Penn State is looking to play in their fourth straight traditional New Year’s Day bowl game, a feat not accomplished since playing in their fifth straight New Year’s Bowl game in 1998. With no games being played on New Year’s Day in 2012 due to the NFL scheduling (perhaps that could change?), this prediction comes with a disclaimer referencing the “traditional” aspect of the bowl season.
The Big Ten has contracts to send their conference champion to the BCS games, the Capital One Bowl, Gator Bowl, Outback Bowl and the TicketCity Bowl, which are all considered New Year’s Day bowl games. With five bowls open to Big Ten teams at a minimum (the Big Ten has a strong history of sending two teams to the BCS mix, opening up another bowl slot), the odds are always in Penn State’s favor to play on New Year’s Day.
This season will be interesting as the conference championship game could throw a wrench in the bowl picture as far as the Big Ten is concerned, with a BCS-caliber team in previous seasons being threatened to being knocked out of the mix.
2. Paterno will get through 2011 without having to suspend a player
Perhaps this is wishful thinking, especially since in this day and age, more and more players find a way to get involved with some legal troubles from time to time. Paterno has had to deal with his share of situations in recent years, although he tends to handle it better than what some coaches at other universities do. Will the police report be a rarity when discussing Penn State football this season?
For all parties involved, let’s hope so.
3. Paterno will beat Iowa
It took a while for Paterno to get that Michigan monkey off his back, and his struggles against Ohio State have started to become a trend, but few teams frustrate Penn State the way Iowa has. This year, Paterno and his squad will come out on top.
Penn State hosts Iowa on Oct. 8 in a Big Ten crossover matchup. Twice Penn State has seen their possible BCS and BCS championship dreams thwarted by the Hawkeyes, once coming late in the season and another coming early on. With three straight losses to Iowa, this year’s senior class is looking at the possibility of being swept by Iowa, a feat no other school can hold over Penn State’s Class of 2008.
4. Paterno will beat Nebraska
When Nebraska officially accepted an invitation to join the Big Ten, all eyes in Happy Valley were set on making the Cornhuskers the new top rival in conference play. That anticipation was given a reward when the Big Ten confirmed that Penn State and Nebraska would be protected crossover rivals in the new division format.
The two programs go back as far as 1920 and played some epic regular season contests in the early 1980s. The 40-7 thrashing of Nebraska in 2002 came eight years too late for many Penn State fans, who felt Joe Paterno should have been awarded his third national championship, or at least a share of it. The last time these two programs played came in 2003 when Penn State’s defense played well, but Nebraska’s defense played just a bit better in an 18-10 victory for the Big 12’s Huskers. Now that Nebraska is in the Big Ten, Joe Paterno is ready.
Paterno has been speaking highly about the addition of Nebraska from day one, but he has made no secret about how much he wants to beat them. The game will be played on Nov. 12 and could be a preview of the first Big Ten championship game.
5. Paterno will get to the bye week in contention for Leaders Division
This may be one of the easiest predictions on this list. Penn State’s bye week comes between Illinois (Oct. 29) and Nebraska (Nov. 12) and Penn State’s three Leaders Division games will have been played against Indiana (14-0 all-time), Purdue (10-2 since joining Big Ten) and Illinois (6-1 in Big Ten play at home). A 3-0 record would put Penn State in position to control their own destiny in the division with two final division games to be played on the road.
That’s where it gets tricky.
Penn State’s final two division games in 2011 will be played on the road in two stadiums that are among the toughest to play in the country, Ohio State and Wisconsin. As if that were not tough enough, both the Buckeyes and Badgers won a share of the Big Ten title in 2010 and are expected to be front runners in the division in 2011.
Can Penn State sneak by in the division? It will be tough.
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