Alabama vs. Penn State Football: Game of the Week Breakdown
For the moment, forget the monstrosity of the new Maryland uniforms. Forget that many college football programs across the land are scandal-ridden and that new NCAA president Mark Emmert is likely in over his head.
Alabama and Penn State will do battle this weekend in Pennsylvania. Historical powerhouses, high-profile coaches, classical uniforms and a Top 25 ranking for both schools. All that's missing is Paul "Bear" Bryant roaming the sideline wearing his trademark black-and-white houndstooth hat.
Let's take a look at what this matchup has in store.
No school in college football is currently more associated with its head coach than Joe Paterno. It's probably not too much to say that Paterno is Penn State football. 2011 marks his 64th year as a coach on the Penn State staff, and his 46th as its head coach. Nearly 60 percent of all games Penn State has ever played have been overseen by Paterno.
His career record of 402-135-3 marks him as the winningest head coach in NCAA history.
Unlike Paterno, Alabama coach Nick Saban has jumped around to several jobs in the past decade. But he was fawned over by Sandra Bullock's swooning character in the The Blind Side, when he made a cameo appearance.
Saban's impact upon college football has been indelible. Having guided the 2003 LSU Tigers and 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide to national championships, Saban joins Bear Bryant as the only coaches to have done so at two different schools.
Forbes magazine featured Saban on their cover in 2008 and extolled him as the most powerful man in sports.
His 44-11 record at Alabama is proof positive that dynasties still very much exist even in this day of 85-scholarship limits.
With Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram having departed for the NFL, Alabama's Trent Richardson now has the running back stage all to himself. The junior boasts meaningful experience, having rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns as a pure freshman in the 2010 BCS Championship Game. Last year, mostly as Ingram's backup, Richardson tallied 700 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
Penn State will be focusing heavily on stopping the Alabama running game.
Penn State running back Silas Redd hails from Stamford, CT, which is adjacent to the bright lights of New York City. He's a good example of a recruit that likely would have stayed local if the New York-New Jersey area boasted prominent football powerhouses. But they don't, so it would make sense that elite recruits like Redd would wind up on the Penn State campus.
When a reporter asked Redd in fall camp how he's changed since his freshman year, Redd said:
"I think it’s more mental than physical. I’ve gained a few pounds since last year but I think the change is more mental. This time last year, I was trying to learn the offense and learn about how everything went on. Now that I know those things, it’s just about trying to improve and contributing for my team."
Redd topped 100 yards in the season debut against Indiana State. This Saturday, the real competition begins.
Jalston Fowler might only be the third-string running back for Alabama, but he led the Crimson Tide in rushing in the season-opening win over Kent State. He also ripped off a 49-yard touchdown run.
An interesting news story emerged this week that Fowler once destroyed a porch while making a catch.
There are quiet grumblings among some Penn State fans that the quarterback play and offensive line cohesiveness have become annual issues with the football team. The fans' consternation stems from the belief that long-time assistants Bill Kenney and Dick Anderson are not being held accountable.
But like it or not, Joe Paterno holds to the same belief that of former NFL coach Chuck Knox: "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't know." In other words, Paterno is surrounded by guys he trusts and sees no reason to change.
Penn State's struggles with the offensive line juxtaposed with Alabama's superior strength and speed on defense spell probable doom for the Nittany Lion offense this Saturday. And a likely loss, even though they're playing at home.
Penn State's one hope would be for a collapse from Alabama's Achilles heel: their quarterbacks. Crimson Tide fans have ratcheted up the kvetching following the 48-7 win over Kent State last Saturday. Sophomore AJ McCarron and freshman Phillip Sims rotated at the position and both produced tepid performances.
If the Alabama running game can establish itself early and often, look for it to be a long day for the Nittany Lions.
Prediction: Alabama 27, Penn State 13
Derek Johnson is the author of three books including his latest, Bow Down to Willingham: How White Guilt Enabled a Secretly Malicious Coach to Destroy the Once-Mighty Washington Huskies. You can read a free excerpt at derekjohnsonbooks.com.