The picturesque mountains surrounding Beaver Stadium have begun their annual transformation into a beautiful tapestry of autumn colors, creating an absolute sight to behold.
Typically, it is at this time that the Penn State Nittany Lions begin a similar flowering on the gridiron, a metamorphosis of sorts, blossoming from an average football team into a cohesive unit capable of competing for a Big Ten title, only to hiccup it away later in the schedule.
Well, the Lions 2K11 version currently stands at 5-1 atop the Leaders Division of the Big Ten with Illinois. However, the Nits play has not been easy on the eyes by any stretch of the imagination, which has created an uneasiness amongst the denizens of Paternoville and the entire Blue and White Nation as they impatiently await this year's change to take place.
To quote a song made famous by Sam Cooke: "A change is gonna come," and I believe it just may arrive earlier than the Purdue Boilermakers do for this Saturday's noon kickoff.
The following are predictions on how I see the remainder of Nittany Lions' season unfolding.
No, I have not drank any Kool Aid, and no, I am not intoxicated. I am simply looking at the balance of the schedule with an open mind and a slight bit of optimism.
The Purdue Boilermakers will steam into Beaver Stadium this Saturday having rolled over the Minnesota Golden Gophers 45-17 last weekend at home. The steam should dissipate rather quickly, though, because this Purdue team is not that good.
The Black and Gold own three victories to date against teams with a combined record of 3-13, with an FCS opponent (Southeast Missouri State) included in that cupcake mix, and are faced with a quandary at quarterback, where Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush share the duties.
Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden will most likely share the same role again for Penn State, as Joe Paterno does not view the Boilermakers as a real threat at home. The two embattled quarterbacks have combined to pass for 218 yards a contest (84th nationally) with McGloin, the former walk-on, responsible for the majority of those yards.
However, both quarterbacks will miss their favorite target. Derek Moye, a senior wide receiver, broke a bone in his foot this week and will miss at least the next two games. Moye, arguably the most lethal weapon on the team, leads the Nits with 28 receptions for 485 yards and three touchdowns.
Silas Redd, who rushed for 148 yards in last week's victory over a stubborn Iowa team, may get a few more carries added to his workload as Paterno may opt to run a bit more with the loss of Moye. This will eventually spell doom for the Boilermakers.
Now don't get me wrong, this will not be a blowout. But it may not be a grind-out, either, like most of the games have been this season for the Lions.
After a few unsuccessful possessions, the Beaver Stadium crowd will voice its displeasure over the impasse at the position and wish that Paterno would just cut the proverbial Gordian knot already. The knot has been loosened a bit over the last few weeks, with McGloin seeing a substantial increase in snaps, but needs to be severed soon so this team and its fans can move on.
And move on it will.
Penn State 24, Purdue 10
The Lions and Wildcats will enter Ryan Field on Saturday, October 22 seemingly headed in much different directions.
Penn State should be high on a five-game winning streak and fresh off of a victory over Purdue, while Northwestern enters with their chins dipped a bit after suffering their fourth straight defeat at the hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes.
However, Joe Paterno knows better than to take a Pat Fitzgerald-coached to team too lightly and will instill this in his team the entire week leading up to this cat fight in the Windy City.
The Lions may have taken the young Cats a bit too lightly last season under the lights at Beaver Stadium, where they had to scratch and claw their way back from a 21-0 deficit to win 35-21, gift-wrapping their then 83-year-old coach with his 400th career victory.
Matt McGloin will be instilled as the full-time signal caller in practice the week leading up to the Northwestern matchup, thus providing a long-awaited end to the quarterback competition.
McGloin, dubbed "The West Scranton gunslinger" by injured Lion linebacker Michael Mauti, brings a sense of confidence to the offensive unit when he is on the field that seems to be absent when Rob Bolden is there.
This decision could be just what the Lions need to bolster them into authentic Big Ten contenders.
The defense that pitched a second-half shutout last season against Northwestern will once again be key. The Lions defensive unit currently ranks 4th in total defense and should frustrate Dan Persa, the former Pennsylvania standout playing with a chip on his shoulder.
And with a new sense of freedom, McGloin will lead the charge to a hard-fought victory on the road in Evanston.
Penn State 17, Northwestern 13
And we didn't even miss him.
Derek Moye, the senior wide receiver injured prior to the Purdue game, will return to a new-and-improved offensive unit just in time.
The Lions, showing an abundance of continuity for the first time all season long, will play host to the Illinois Fighting Illini, who enter Beaver Stadium sporting an 8-0 record on the season.
It is Halloween weekend in Happy Valley, and the Fighting Illini could be masquerading as a Big Ten contender and BCS challenger. The Illini will own only two victories of note: a 17-14 squeaker over a ranked Arizona State team and a home victory over Ohio State.
It will be up to the Nittany Lion defense to determine if the Illini are all smoke and mirrors or if they are for real.
The Penn State defense has been stellar all season long (currently 4th nationally in total yards). The loss of linebacker Michael Mauti, the captain and anchor of the unit, has not been felt as devastating as everyone predicted, due mostly in part to Devon Still. Still, a 6'5", 310-pound senior, ranks second in the Big Ten in tackles for a loss (9) and has recorded two sacks, 30 tackles and a fumble recovery.
The Lions, in front of an amped-up Beaver Stadium crowd, will use a balanced attack of Moye, Silas Redd and Curtis Dukes, and the defense will hold Nathan Scheelhaase, the Illini's dual-threat quarterback, in check.
When the party is over and the helmets and masks have been removed, it will be the Nittany Lions looking more like a Big Ten contender and a possible BCS selection.
Penn State 35, Illinois 17
On Saturday, November 11, the Nittany Lions will welcome into Happy Valley the rival, and newest member of the Big Ten, Nebraska Cornhuskers for what should be a nationally televised "White Out" contest.
Joe Paterno would probably not admit to it. The legendary coach downplays everything but his next opponent, even if it is the Indiana State Sycamores.
Bo Pelini would probably not admit to it, either. Pelini is somewhat of a newbie to the Husker family and is most likely unaware of the pain Nebraska inflicted on the Blue and White Nation back in 1994, although they never met on the field that season.
The 1994 Lions finished the season 12-0 and, after gaining the top spot in the both national polls, were inexplicably jumped by the Cornhuskers following impressive victories, never to regain the position. The BCS had yet to be created, so the national championship was determined by a bunch of cigar-smoking, coffee-guzzling sportswriters perched high above a playing field.
As most of you reading this are Penn State fans, I will leave it at that, for I do not want to open any old wounds.
Back to the White Out.
Beano Cooke once said: "If you aren't impressed with the White Out, you're probably one of those people who think the moon landing was faked in a TV studio."
The two teams will enter this game with many similarities beyond the identical 8-1 records and unembellished traditional uniforms. Each will rely heavily on defense to contain the other's running game.
It will be the energy manufactured by the 107,000+ fans clad in white that will provide the boost to assist in that task and also in other crucial situations throughout the night. It will also torment Taylor Martinez, the young Cornhusker quarterback who is the very definition of dual threat, currently on pace to rush for more than 1,000 yards.
Martinez has been much maligned in his brief time at Nebraska. The sophomore has been a punching bag of sorts following big losses. It was Martinez who took the hits after he threw three interceptions in a loss at Wisconsin, notwithstanding a so-called "black shirt" defense giving up 48 points.
Unfortunately for him, he may take a few more as the Nittany Lions defense, led by a stellar defensive line anchored by Devon Still and Jordan Hill, may have Martinez on his backside behind the line of scrimmage much more than he could have imagined.
A crucial late mistake by Martinez and a field goal by Anthony Fera decide this one.
Penn State 24, Nebraska 21
Here is the possible hiccup.
The Ohio State Buckeyes may only be 5-5 at the time of the Nittany Lions' arrival, but this has always been a prodigious game for both programs, and the Buckeyes' substandard record should be tossed out like the trash.
The Lions will enter the "The Horseshoe" high as can be off their victory over Nebraska and riding an eight-game winning streak with visions of a major bowl game dancing in their heads—which, by the way, are a few ingredients used to make upset soup.
Not to mention...
Penn State, since entering the Big Ten conference in 1993, has only managed to defeat the Buckeyes in 6 of their 18 contests. Last season's 38-14 drubbing in Columbus can be considered a draw, I suppose, since all of OSU's victories last year have been vacated.
On the other side, the Buckeyes, with nothing more to lose and everything to gain, including bowl eligibility and a little momentum for their regular season finale at the "Big House" against their archenemy, should be poised to play the roll of spoiler here.
However, I think the Lions are playing great football by this point, and although there are no obvious flaws in the Buckeye defense, the Nits will ride the arm of Matt McGloin and the legs of Silas Redd to success once again. The Lions are just a better football team.
Had you questioned me on this date a year ago, before everything seemed to unravel in Columbus, I would have told you that the Nits would get pounced on once again.
But... well, sh*t happens.
And when it does, it can sometimes benefit someone else.
In this case, the Nittany Lions are the beneficiaries, but only by a few points as they squeak one out in Columbus.
Penn State 27, Ohio State 23
Penn State will travel to Madison, Wisconsin, on Thanksgiving weekend to try to cap off what has been an unbelievably successfull season, much to everyone's surprise.
That's something the Lions should be very thankful for.
Unfortunately, after Saturday's date with the Badgers, the Nits may not feel all that thankful for anything. A loss at the hands of a highly ranked and potent Badger team will likely end their quest for a major BCS game, something they had fought so hard for the entire season, and something no one had felt they had a snowball's chance in hell at attaining.
Countless times throughout this season, the Lions have heard the chorus of boos, sometimes so much that it must have been some sort of relief to play in Columbus in front of 95,000 opposing fans. They have had their talent and coaching questioned. They have been knocked down and, to everyone's surprise and pleasure, continued to get back up.
This, after all, was not what everyone expected.
Following a home loss to an Alabama team that seemed to be on a much higher level, and a few other lackluster performances, including a dreadful showing in Philadelphia in which they narrowly escaped with a victory over Temple, this team, of course, was destined for another meaningless bowl game.
Wisconsin will knock the Lions to the ground today, and I do not think it will be a close game.
However, Penn State will rise again, just as they have done so all season.
The Badgers, who will close out a perfect regular season, will go on to play in the inaugural Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis and most likely end up short of playing for a national championship, but instead at some preferred destination like Pasadena, California, in the Rose Bowl.
So, it is not that devastating of a loss.
Remember, you were not supposed to be here anyway.
Wisconsin 38, Penn State 14
Since when is the Capital One Bowl or the Outback Bowl meaningful?
The answer: Probably never as much as it could be this season.
Because Joe Paterno, the legendary face of the Penn State Nittany Lions, could walk off one of their fields having coached his last game.
Paterno, who will turn 85 on December 21, has had more than his share of ups and downs this season and has looked quite frail and worn at times. This has led many to believe that this may be the end of his incredible tenure.
Affectionately known as Joe Pa, Paterno has paced the Penn State sidelines for the last 62 years, 45 of them as head coach.
Yes, you read that right.
We prematurely anticipated him announcing his retirement after the 2004 season, in which they finished 4-7, following up a dismal 3-9 season the previous year.
He never wavered and was re-energized in 2005 by a resilient unit that beat Florida State in the Orange Bowl after missing out on the national championship game with a devastating late-season loss to Michigan.
None of us know what the future holds, but we do know what the past has given us.
For me, the Lion in the Fall has provided me with many great weekends and memories that will last a lifetime.
Who knows... maybe this unit, through it's success, has filled Joe's tank up once again.
We will have to wait and see.
But for the sake of this slideshow's title, I am going to say that this bowl game is very meaningful because it will be the legend's last.
Penn State 28, Arkansas 20