Most people do not believe in destiny, and I was among them until this football season began to unfold.
For many in Nittany Nation, this season was an enigma from the beginning: two unproven quarterbacks battling it out for the top spot on the depth chart, an ESPN story questioning our famous slogan “Success with Honor,” dismissals of key players, and a flurry of off the field incidents.
With all of this going on, many folks doubted if this team could regroup and post eight or nine wins. When a lot of friends and others asked me what I thought this team’s record would be this season, I looked each one of them in the eye and simply said, “12-0.”
This Penn State team had way too much talent and a favorable enough schedule to win at least nine games, but the question marks are always the big three of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State.
I never quite understood how a Wisconsin team that Penn State throttled 38-7 last year was ranked ahead of us, after it looked like we only improved and they had lost their starting quarterback.
Michigan lost everyone, and we knew if there was a year that we could end our streak against “them,” as they have been named here in Happy Valley, this would be the year.
That left Ohio State—the old Buckeyes. Jim Tressel has done as good a job of recruiting and coaching as anyone in the country since he took over at OSU. Sure, they have lost some big games in recent years, but keep in mind those were some great teams, and Tressel also took down a Miami team in 2002 that looked unbeatable.
This season was going to come down to a trip to the “Shoe.” Admittedly, I had my doubts about a road game up there, especially after GameDay reviewed our previous seven losses up there. But this team was not to be denied.
After a dramatic 13-6 bruising victory against the Buckeyes, PSU now sits at 9-0 and third in every poll, including the only one that really matters, the BCS standings.
Unfortunately, Penn State does not have a chance of jumping an undefeated Big 12 or SEC team. Once again a great Penn State team could be on the outside looking in when it comes to the national title game.
It seems unfair, but this is what we have, and no one can argue with the fact that the Big Ten is not very good this season.
With all of this being said, there is no reason that Joe Paterno should not be the Coach of the Year. It seems that Penn State has developed a system where every three seasons they make a run with a group that grows up together (see 1999, 2002, 2005, and now 2008).
Among all the distractions concerning contract talks and retirement questions, Paterno has held strong. Battling through a hip injury and a brutal October schedule, Paterno and the Nittany Lions enter November with a great shot at yet another undefeated season.
This team of destiny has been nothing but a pleasure to watch, winning every way imaginable. They have won with an explosive offense (Syracuse, Temple, Oregon State), a smothering defense (Ohio State), with all three phases (Wisconsin), playing ahead (Purdue), and coming from behind (Michigan).
This is the toughest and most disciplined team I have seen this season and for a long time here at Penn State. Against the Buckeyes in Columbus, the Lions were held in check on offense but committed no turnovers and did not have one penalty enforced against them. I do not know if anyone else ever can make that claim.
What is even scarier about this Penn State team is to think about what they have lost. The defense alone took hits when the all-time career leader in tackles, Dan Connor, graduated, cornerback Justin King took his game to the NFL a year early (whoops), Phil Taylor and Chris Baker were dismissed from the team, and Devon Still and Jerome Hayes were lost to season-ending injuries.
Those five guys who could have been with Penn State this year could probably start on any other team in the country. And there was one more...oh yes—Sean Lee, the best linebacker in the country, was also lost in the preseason to a knee injury.
Through the injuries, the media attacks, the Paterno succession question, the player dismissals, and all the doubters, the Nittany Lions continue going strong—and yet they may not get a chance to play for the crystal football. Taking nothing away from what Mack Brown, Mike Leach, and Nick Saban have done, Paterno deserves to be honored.
Although I never really like to root for people to lose, nothing would be better than watching the 82-year-old legend carried off the field as a national champion one last time down in Miami this January.
Now that is a destiny I can believe in.