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Outback Bowl pregame stretch...

December 30, 2010 - Ray Eckenrode
At a glance

Florida (7-5) vs. Penn State (7-5)

Saturday, 1 p.m., ABC

Announcers: Mike Tirico, John Gruden and Suzy Kolber. Comment: Wow, three-fourths of the MNF crew. We’re only missing the one guys who’s good at analyzing football games. Kolber has already dealt with a babbling Joe Namath so interviewing Joepa at halftime should be a breeze.

Forecast: Sunny skies, 80. Comment: After the slopfest last year in Orlando, the Nits are due for these kind of conditions.

The line: The Gators opened as a 7-point favorite and the line has not budged. Comment: With everything that has happened since this line came out (rumors of Joe retiring, Urban Meyer actually retiring, Gators without four starters), it’s hard to believe it hasn’t shifted at all.

Scoreboard: Paterno 1, That Rumor 0

Has an Internet-fueled rumor ever hit the ground with more of a thud than the recent Joe-Paterno’s-health-is-rapidly-deteriorating-and-the-Outback-Bowl-is-his-last-game missive?

When Joe hit the ground in Florida looking tanned, rested and ready (and making sense in interviews to boot!), it all but laid waste to the intricately planned and executed online hoax. We don’t blame anyone, fan or media, for allowing for the possibility the rumor might be true. As with most 84-year-olds, Joe’s health seems to have fluctuated wildly these past 18 months. But we think it says something interesting and frightening about our society and current media climate that a lot of people still won’t give up on it. We’re not in a place anymore where rumors have to be proven to be true before we report and discuss them. We’re in a place where rumors have to be proven to be false before we stop reporting on and discussing them. Strange days, indeed.

We’re not going to go into a ton of further discussion about it. We’ll just revisit what we’ve said all along:

> Joe earned the right to go out however he wishes.

> If you thought that was going to be a neat and tidy ending, you either a) don’t know a lot about Joe, or b) don’t know a lot about life.

> Nothing that happens now with Joe can detract from what’s already happened with him.

> The long view of history will show this “last game” drama to be barely a blip in Penn State football history.

Recruiting hits

+ There’s no doubt the biggest ongoing issue with Joe’s long goodbye is the impact it’s having on Penn State’s recruiting, but don’t forget it’s a doubly whammy. It’s not just about what Paterno can’t do anymore and how the uncertainty about his future affects decisions. It’s ALSO about what the other schools’ recruiters can say abouot what Paterno can’t do anymore…

+ Beyond those two unsavory scenarios consider this: The unsavory Cam Newton Cash Bonanza saga illustrates another factor that could be behind the Lions’ recruiting difficulties (not to imply PSU was ever after Newton or vice versa). In 2010, PSU’s “we run a clean program, we’ll make sure your son gets an education and is prepared for life after football” pitch doesn’t work on as many PARENTS as it used to. There was a time when Penn State recruited parents as much as they were recruiting kids, but that kind of approach will continue to be less and less effective.

+ And finally on the recruiting beat, we have a hard time seeing the "Tony Dungy to replace Joepa" rumors as legit because we have a hard time seeing Dungy as a recruiter in today's cutthroat college football climate.

The pick

Cory Giger had a great anecdote earlier this week about the Penn State and Florida media and followers in Tampa reverse “battling” over their respective teams, contending “you have no idea how bad we are.” We’ll admit up front. We have no idea how bad Florida is. But we know when Penn State fans say “you have no idea how bad we are.” They mean, “You have no idea how slow our defense is.” We watched a replay last week of last year’s Capital One Bowl played on that mudpit in Orlando and both those defenses looked faster on that field than Penn State’s 2010 defense has looked all year on dry grass. That being said, these are not your father’s Florida Gators and this game will turn on whether they’re able to put together an offensive game plan that takes advantage of Penn State’s defensive limitations. The return of Michael Mauti should help PSU in that regard, but we’re not expecting a low-scoring game here. Offensively, we think the Nittany Lions were heading in the right direction in the last month of the regular season and we expect that to continue in Tampa … Penn State (+7) 31, Florida 28.

Prediction record

Last game: Penn State +1.5, win and cover, INCORRECT, INCORRECT

Season straight up: 6-6, .500

Season vs. spread: 4-7, .364

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