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The Penn State Bubble and Its Coming Crash

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The Penn State Bubble and Its Coming Crash
(Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

Mired in mediocrity, the Big Ten is only a shell of its former self nowadays and its only hope for a national championship comes in the shape of a battered Nittany Lion.

Some will blame it on the H1N1 virus, which Penn State's star RB Evan Royster has dealt with. Others will blame it on Penn State playing down to their opponent.

After a sloppy game versus Temple though, the fact remains that Penn State does not look as good as its top five ranking would suggest.

The Nittany Lions have lacked a legitimate non-conference foe in the regular season since they marched into Nebraska in 2003.

Sure, one can say that scheduling Notre Dame in 2006 & 2007 was a step in the right direction and that the Fighting Irish of 2006 still had QB Brady Quinn, WR Jeff Samardzija, and TE John Carlson.

One thing fans do not remember from Penn State's 2006 matchup with Notre Dame is that the unranked Fighting Irish laid a beat-down on Joe Paterno's squad, 41-17.

Penn State did smack Oregon State around in 2008 but the Beavers, who turned out to be pretty good late in the season, were nothing to write home about in September of that year.

As we saw later in 2008, an overrated secondary led by safety Anthony Scirrotto and poor play on the offensive line led to Penn State's first loss of the season at Iowa.

On the surface, Penn State looks like they will be in contention for a stake at the national championship throughout 2009, provided they defeat Ohio State and Michigan later on this year.

Also, while most of America has not yet seen Penn State play, they may be impressed by the box scores in their Sunday paper since Penn State has been limiting their first three opponents to a touchdown or less.

What those with blind eyes have not yet seen though is atrocious play on the offensive line, leading to poor run blocking and inadequate protection for Heisman hopeful QB Daryll Clark.

Those bleeding blue & white will also look at the scores of the first three games and state that Joe Paterno does not like to run up the score on his opponents, whether he is playing Coastal Carolina or Michigan State.

That may be the case in Penn State's season opener versus Akron, as the Nittany Lions did shut down the offense in the second half, but the next two games tell a chilling story.

A story that has investor's selling their stock in Penn State rapidly.

In front of 106,387 fans at Happy Valley, Penn State's secondary let Syracuse WR Mike Williams find space in the gaps.

If Syracuse was not still progressing under an inexperienced QB in Greg Paulus, and had Penn State been playing a better, more experienced offense, the Nittany Lions would have been exposed by the Orange in just the second week of the college football season.

Also in that game, Penn State averaged just 2.2 yards per carry versus Syracuse. The year before, Penn State averaged 5 yards per carry in the same game. Syracuse does have a good DT in Arthur Jones but the rest of their defense is very pedestrian.

The lack of success rushing the ball versus Syracuse was the first indicator to sell high on Penn State in 2009, unless they turn things around.

Yesterday, in front of a packed house, Penn State took on Temple. In their last three meetings, Penn State had out-scored Temple 123-3.

While Penn State would go on to win the game, the defensive play was less than encouraging as they let Temple QB Vaughn Charlton find a rhythm throughout the game.

The box score won't necessarily indicate that it was a hard-fought battle between Penn State and the Owls but a second look on video would convince any naysayer.

QB Daryll Clark struggled as he dealt with pressure all day long from the Temple front-seven. He threw one interception and was lucky that Temple did not pick off any more in the game since they did have the opportunity but failed to cash in.

The woes for any offense generally begin upfront with the offensive line. Since former OC A.Q. Shipley graduated and moved on to the NFL, the Nittany Lions had to shuffle stand-out lineman Stefen Wisniewski to take over the position that Shipley once held.

It appears that moving Wisniewski to the center position may end up being more detrimental to Penn State than beneficial.

Heading into yesterday, the three defenses Penn State had faced were respectively ranked No. 52 (Akron), No. 67 (Syracuse), and No. 72 (Temple) nationally.

An old motto goes "the box score does not reveal who won the game."

That stands true today as Penn State looks more and more like an overrated program.

If top 25 polls were not cast until three weeks into the season, Penn State would be hard-pressed to find themselves in the top 20 after their play over the last two weeks.

The unconvincing play versus Syracuse and Temple is also making more people non-believers than a Ufologist at a NASA convention.

It may be accredited to Penn State playing down to their opponents.

Whatever it is, the worth of Penn State as a national championship contender continues to get inflated and soon the bubble will burst unless Joe Paterno's staff can figure out how to improve the protection for QB Daryll Clark and prevent coverage from being blown in the secondary.

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