Four Down Territory: Big Ten is Back, Games of The Week and The Ultimate Penn State Season Continues
1st Down: The Big Ten is Back: The Big Ten reversed field and will try to start the season the weekend of October 24th. Increased testing is cited as the key, but it is important to note that rapid testing will not prevent players from catching Covid-19. Hopefully it will keep them from spreading it in real time. With players having to sit 21 days after a positive test, expect to see players like Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields moving around campus wearing a hazmat suit and riding in a hermetically-sealed, climate controlled pope-mobile type vehicle. Also look for more runners for bookies and gamblers to be looking to pay top dollar for inside information on testing results. All that being said the eight games in eight weeks is an incredibly optimistic schedule.
2nd Down: Nimble Schedule Makers: Houston at Baylor and Tulsa at #11 Oklahoma State (take two): In an era when schedule makers are planning games a decade in the future, Covid-19 has shown that some athletic departments can be nimble when needed. With Baylor finding an open date and an outbreak at Memphis forcing a postponement of their game with Houston, Baylor and Houston hustled to get this game scheduled. Tulsa and Oklahoma State were supposed to play a week ago and after some outbreaks here they are one week later. For those hopeful that the Big Ten can play 8-games in 8 weeks the checkerboard of cancellations, outbreaks and postponements may offer a sobering reality.
3rd Down: Rankings Adjustment: Last week the rankings changed when teams not playing were dropped. That allowed others to jump in but that will change soon. This week Syracuse at #25 Pitt is an intriguing ACC match-up. Pitt has veteran QB Kenny Pickett and a group of talented receivers. Now in year two with offensive coordinator Mark Whipple it will be fun for Pitt fans to see what an experienced quarterback and a talented set of skill players can do. The Syracuse defense played well and hung with UNC last week before a 21-0 4th quarter Tarheels' run. #14 UCF at Georgia Tech: It is surprising that Georgia Tech is not ranked here after they went to Tallahassee to beat Florida State. In 2020 where non-conference games are hard to come by, this is a rare meaningful match up.
4th Down: #17 Miami at #18 Louisville: Raise your hand if you had the Miami-Louisville game on your must-see game of the week before Covid-19 hit. While everyone has already decided that Clemson and Notre Dame are the two teams that matter in the ACC, a win here would put Miami in the conversation about teams in that next group should either of those teams falter. Last week Miami QB D’Eriq King was solid throwing the ball, avoided any interceptions and showed himself to be a dual threat picking up 83 rushing yards and a touchdown. The ‘Canes rolled up over 300 yards on the ground against a good UAB team. If they match that production on Saturday they’ll be flying home with a big road win.
The Ultimate Penn State Season Continues: We head into week 2 and here is where the ultimate season gets tricky. Because we did not want to play teams from the same schools over the course of the season we had to replace the 40-7 win over #8 Nebraska in 2002 (spoiler alert the Huskers appear later….). So looking at the best week 2 wins from 1966 until 2019 here we go….
Week #2 September 17, 1977 #10 Penn State 31 #9 Houston 14: After an uncharacteristic 7-5 season in 1976 Penn State had a good young team beginning in 1977. They faced a challenging early season schedule playing defending Southwest Conference and Cotton Bowl Champion Houston in week two and defending ACC Champion Maryland in week three. A capacity crowd of 62,554 saw a young Penn State defense successfully defend Houston’s explosive Split Back veer offense –the forerunner of the current “zone read” offense. The defensive line was led by Bruce Clark and Matt Millen who anchored that stout Penn State defense. On offense junior quarterback Chuck Fusina had future NFL stars fullback Matt Suhey, receiver Jimmy Cefalo and tight end Mickey Shuler among others as weapons. After long NFL careers both Suhey and Shuler had sons who later also started at Penn State. The Nittany Lions showed the nation that they would be a national player for 1977 and 1978. They went on to finish the season 11-1 and ranked 4th after a 42-30 Fiesta Bowl win against Arizona State.
The Ultimate Penn State Season 1966-2019 So Far:
Pre-season ’96 (11) Penn State 24 (7) USC 7 Giants Stadium
Week 1 ’99 (4) Penn State 41 (3) Arizona 7 Beaver Stadium
Week 2 ’77 (10) Penn State 31 (9) Houston 14 Beaver Stadium