SportsProf

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Happy Valley Again

They're singing different tunes in State College, Pennsylvania, now that the Nittany Lions have beaten two ranked teams in consecutive weeks, one of whom they most certainly were not expected to beat (unless, of course, you were Lou Holtz on ESPN and called the win). Two weeks ago, Joe Paterno's squad thrashed an up-and-coming Minnesota Golden Gophers team, and two days ago they beat Ohio State.

6-0.

Cracked the Top 10 in the polls.

The Lions have a very tough schedule remaining. They're at Michigan next, and they also have Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan State on the schedule. Sure, you can toss in perennial Twinkie Illinois, but the other schools on the schedule are formidable.

All of this success, no doubt, is sure to rekindle the debate whether Joe Paterno has outstayed his welcome in Happy Valley. I am sure that there are many fans who are newly reconverted to the JoePa cause, while they're remain diehards who believe that despite this recent burst of success, Joe still should go. Some of those fans will particularly recall a season the team had within the past 10 years, when they got off to a torrid start just like this one, only to lose three games to the likes of Michigan State, Michigan and Purdue at the season's end to knock them out of a serious bowl game. In other words, the start's important, but so's the finish, these folks would argue, so let's not get too giddy right now.

(Some giddiness, though, is perfectly acceptable).

Here are my thoughts:

1. This is quite an accomplishment for a team that came into the season with a confidence problem.

2. The Penn State defense could well be the best in the nation, as I thought they were last year. My reasoning is that the Penn State offense is iffy enough that the Penn State defense is probably on the field more than any of the nation's other top defenses, which means they have a higher probability of getting tired (as the old adage goes, to win you need to keep your defense off the field). As such, per minute this could be the best defense in the country.

3. I don't really think that the 6-0 record sheds much light on the Joe Paterno debate. He should not get an extension beyond his current contract, and he should not act like he's larger than the school in controlling this debate. He did a bad job with his succession planning, and he shouldn't get any ideas about turning the reigns over to his son, Jay, the way Bob Knight and Eddie Sutton are in turning their college hoops reigns over to their sons. Joe Paterno is an outstanding man and has been a great coach, and no one can take those facts away from him. But in the end, it's past tense when someone says he should turn over the reigns to someone else.

4. The Lions do have a tough road ahead. Win out, and they're in the national championship game discussions, depending on what USC (which still has Cal and UCLA on the schedule in a surprisingly tough Pac-10 race this year) and Texas (somehow always finding a way to create a blemish on its record), among others do. There remain a plethora of undefeated teams, something that should change in the ensuing weeks. Lost two or three of the remaining games, it still will prove to be a nice year and improvement over prior years.

But right now, all of that is conversation. For Penn State fans, the proof is in the record, and the Lions are undefeated and in the hunt for a national championship.

And that's all that matters.

Because when you keep winning, the conversations, as they should be, are rather simple.

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