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Penn State Football 2011: 10 Expectations for Joe Paterno in His 46th Season

Kevin McGuireAnalyst IIMay 5, 2011

Penn State Football 2011: 10 Expectations for Joe Paterno in His 46th Season

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    COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 13:  Head Coach Joe Paterno watches his team play the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    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.

     

    Kevin McGuire is the national college football writer for Examiner.com. Follow his college football discussion on Twitter  @CFBExaminer.

1. Joe Paterno Will Coach a "Traditional" New Year's Day Bowl Game

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    STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 19: Head coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittany Lions coaches on the sideline during a game against the Temple Owls on September 19, 2009 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Im
    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    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. Joe Paterno Will Get Through a Season Without Having to Suspend a Player

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 11:  Head coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittany Lions during warmups before facing the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 11, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    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. Joe Paterno Will Beat Iowa

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    STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 23:  Head coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittnay Lions watches as his offense struggles against the Iowa Hawkeyes as Iowa defeated Penn State 6-4 during NCAA football at Beaver Stadium on October 23, 2004 in State College,
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    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. Joe Paterno Will Beat Nebraska

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    Nebraska returns to Beaver Stadium for the first time since a 2002 rout.
    Nebraska returns to Beaver Stadium for the first time since a 2002 rout.Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    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. Joe Paterno Will Reach the Bye Week in Contention for the Leaders Division

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 11:  Head coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittany Lions walks out onto the field during warmups before facing the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 11, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C.
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    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.

6. Paterno Will Finish the Season #2 in All-Time Victories

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    STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 7: Head coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittany Lions watches warm-ups before a game against the Ohio State Buckeyes on November 7, 2009 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. Ohio State won 24-7. (Photo by Hunt
    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    The season will start with Joe Paterno looking to pass the legendary Eddie Robinson on the all-time coaching victories list in college football. Paterno, with 401 career wins, already is the all-time FBS wins leader, but he remains seven wins shy of Robinson on the all-time list.

    Eight wins would move Paterno in to second place all time by himself, where he would likely remain as John Gagliardi (478 wins) is still active at St. John's (Minnesota).

    We already touched on Iowa and Nebraska, so where will the six more wins come? The season opens with FCS opponent Indiana State for what should be a lopsided victory for one. The Nittany Lions have never lost to Indiana (Oct. 1) and Temple (Sept. 17) has not defeated Penn State since 1941. If those trends continue Penn State will have a minimum of three wins before without even counting a likely win against Eastern Michigan (Sept. 24).

    Assuming wins in all of those games (five wins), Penn State has seven more games to pick up three wins and that does not include a bowl game. Penn State has only lost to Purdue (October 15) twice since joining the Big Ten (2003, 2004) and the Boilermakers have some rebuilding to do so that could be another win. Illinois, Ohio State, Wisconsin will be tough obstacles but not impossible to overcome.

    Of course, beating Alabama would certainly provide a boost on the hunt for Robinson on the all-time list.

7. Joe Paterno Will Stick with One Primary Quarterback

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 11:  Quarterback Robert Bolden #1 of the Penn State Nittany Lions against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 11, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Last season saw plenty of discussion focusing on the quarterback situation, from spring practice through the postgame press conference following the Outback Bowl loss to Florida. Whether you find yourself on Team Bolden, Team McGloin or even Team Jones, the discussion has been hot and heavy once again this spring.

    Jay Paterno recently was reported to have saying that a starting quarterback is probably ready to go if Penn State had a game to be played this week, but nobody from State College is saying anything. All signs seem to be leaning on Rob Bolden being named the starting quarterback in 2011, if the Pittsburgh Tribune Review story that was posted this week is any indication.

    Bolden was named the starter for the 2010 season, but a concussion against Minnesota effectively ended his season even though he returned two weeks later against Northwestern. Bolden was relieved in the Northwestern game by Matt McGloin, who led the offense for the remainder of the season amid controversy at the position. Bolden intended to transfer but was blocked from doing so, and all reports have confirmed that Bolden has shown great progress in spring practice.

    If Bolden is ultimately named the starting quarterback for the 2011 season opener against Indiana State and can do some good things against Alabama the following week, look for him to stay in charge of the offense for the rest of the season, win or lose.

8. Joe Paterno's Struggles in Columbus Will Continue

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    COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 13:  Head Coach Jim Tressel of the Ohio State Buckeyes greets Head Coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittany Lions at midfield following the Buckeyes' 38-14 win over the Nittany Lions at Ohio Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Colum
    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Consider 1-8. That is Penn State's record at Ohio State since joining the Big Ten in 1993. The lone victory came in 2008 when Pat Devlin stepped in to lead the Nittany Lions to a second-half rally against Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes. This year, Penn State makes a second straight trip to Columbus as a result of new scheduling in the Big Ten to allow for division play.

    The numbers are not pretty for Penn State in games at Ohio State. Since joining the conference, Penn State has been outscored 241-78, and last year's 14 points were the highest total points scored by Penn State since a 19-0 win at Ohio State in 1978.

    The Buckeyes will once again be one of the top teams in the Big Ten, and if they can survive a bizarre start to the 2011 season, Ohio State could be a team looking to make a run for a BCS appearance.

9. Joe Paterno's Assistants Will Be Targets for Head Coaching Vacancies

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    MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 3:  Defensive coach Tom Bradley of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on from the sidelines during the 72nd Fed Ex Orange Bowl against the Florida State Seminoles at Dolphins Stadium on January 3, 2005 in Miami Gardens, Florida
    Doug Benc/Getty Images

    Tom Bradley (pictured) remains one of the top assistant coaches in the game, and many feel he would be a capable head coach if the right opportunity came along. But if Bradley went through this past offseason and still calls State College home, just when might he land an opportunity elsewhere?

    Bradley will likely be a name brought up in some job searches between the 2011 and 2012 seasons, especially if the Penn State defense steps up their game a bit in 2011. Bradley was not the only assistant head coach flirting with other opportunities this offseason, but he seems to be the most likely coach to make a move to become a head coach at some point. Larry Johnson is another coach fans feel could be well suited as a head coach somewhere. Linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden was also involved with some coaching rumors as well.

    All three coaches remain on Pen State's staff and are looking forward to the 2011 season.

    Will that head coaching opportunity for Bradley or Johnson be at Penn State down the road? Perhaps.

    Regardless of what Paterno does in 2012, look for guys like Bradley, Johnson and Vanderlinden to be mentioned in some coaching rumor mills once again this winter.

10. Joe Paterno Will Return for 2012

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    TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 1:  Coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittany Lions greets coach Urban Meyer of the Florida Gators before play in the 25th Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium January 1, 2011 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Ima
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Which leads us to the looming question: Will Joe Paterno return to the sidelines in 2012?

    This is a question that I have been thinking on both sides of the situation for over a year now. With this season being the final one on Paterno's current contract, I legitimately felt that this would mark the final season in the Paterno Era, especially if he could go out a winner on the field. But the more I hear from sources close to the situation, the more I find myself believing he is not going anywhere.

    And why would he?

    Paterno has been saying since the early 1980s that he probably had five more good years in him. Today, nearly six "five more years'" later Paterno is still enjoying the coaching aspect of the game as well as the sport and the kids on his roster. He also has a fear of what may happen if he were to give up the routine of coaching, knowing that the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant passed away just four weeks after coaching his final game.

    Paterno, 84, will end this season 16 years older than Bryant at the time he retired from Alabama. Paterno turns 85 on Dec. 21, 2011.

     

    Kevin McGuire is the national college football writer for Examiner.com. Follow his college football discussion on Twitter  @CFBExaminer.

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