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Fun while it lasted: Might be a long time before PSU plays another game as meaningful as this one

October 28, 2012 - Cory Giger
Last week was fantastic. Big game. Big stakes. Big crowd. Big enthusiasm.

The totality of it all felt, well, normal from a traditional Penn State football standpoint.

Things probably won’t truly be back to normal at PSU for many years, but everything leading up to and including the game against rival Ohio State at Beaver Stadium epitomized what’s magical about big-time college football.

Now that it’s over, it’s hard not to think about one depressing reality: Penn State football might not see anything as exciting as last week for a long time.

The Nittany Lions are on the road the next two weeks — at Purdue and Nebraska. There’s the inevitable letdown possibility against the Boilermakers, who are not very good (3-5, 0-4 Big Ten) but are a desperate team, and while the Cornhuskers offer PSU a chance at a big win, there’s just not the same level of excitement for a road game 1,110 miles away.

The next home game against Indiana in three weeks won’t fire up many people.

The last game of the season, at home against Wisconsin, will be a very emotional day for a group of seniors who have shown phenomenal character in leading the team during the past tumultuous year. To downplay the significance of senior day would be disrespectful to what it will mean for Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Jordan Hill, Michael Zordich and the others who will wear the blue and white uniforms for the final time in their careers.

But the Wisconsin game itself probably will have little meaning in the standings for Penn State (see breakdown below).

This is a good Lion football team, one that still could finish 9-3, which seemed unthinkable to virtually everyone — except the guys in the locker room — after an 0-2 start.

The sad reality, however, is that after this season, the future of the program is anybody’s guess.

The scholarship reductions kick in starting next year and will have a major impact for at least six seasons, perhaps longer. The overall quality and depth on the team will not resemble anything close to what Penn State fans have known for decades.

Many people will say that the team is competing well this season despite having only about 70 scholarships and that it bodes well for the future when the maximum will be 65 from 2014-17. But the team will be losing future NFL players in Hodges, Mauti, Hill and center Matt Stankiewitch, plus quarterback Matt McGloin will be a major loss after the success he’s had running Bill O’Brien’s offense.

Replacing those guys under normal recruiting circumstances would be tough but at least doable for a program like Penn State. Under this crippling new recruiting reality, however, and the other NCAA sanctions, it’s hard to say when the program will be able to attract those caliber of players.

There was every reason to believe Penn State could beat Ohio State on Saturday because there’s really not that much difference in the teams from an overall talent standpoint. That won’t be the case in the coming years.

For what it’s worth, the next potential megagame for PSU might be when Michigan visits Beaver Stadium in week six next year. The Lions have a manageable schedule to start the season — Syracuse at New Meadowlands, home against Eastern Michigan, Virginia and Kent State, then at Indiana — and if O’Brien can work some magic, the Lions could go into the game against the Wolverines with a good record.

Following a bye, Penn State travels to Ohio State in week seven next year, and that game could be the biggest indication of how much the Lions’ talent level will have dropped off.

O’Brien is the right man for the job, and under normal circumstances he might have been able to get the program into national championship contention within five years.

It’s such a shame, though, that from a big-game standpoint, the highlight of O’Brien’s first handful of seasons at Penn State probably already came and went this past weekend.

SUBHD: Afterthoughts ...

* This week’s game at Purdue will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and air on ESPNU.

* Penn State opened up as a 4-point favorite over the Boilermakers.

* Purdue coach Danny Hope appears to be on the hot seat with his team winless in the Big Ten. There’s even a fake ad on Craigslist looking for a new head coach, posted by someone obviously frustrated by Hope’s performance. Under job duties responsible for in the fake ad, it lists, “Recruiting quarterbacks [no fewer than 8 allowed on the roster, none allowed to be talented],” “Running on passing downs,” “Passing on running downs,” “Ability to destroy FCS and MAC teams,” “Inability to play Big Ten teams” and “Inability to play at night.”

* Robert Marve will start at quarterback for Purdue, replacing Caleb TerBush, Hope announced. TerBush has thrown eight interceptions while completing only 58 percent for 142 yards per game. Marve, who has battled injuries throughout his career, has completed 65 percent with six TDs and two interceptions in five games.

* Ohio State can win the Leaders Division by beating Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. Penn State can still tie for the division title by winning out and having someone beat the Buckeyes.

* Wisconsin (3-2 in league) has a bye this week and can lock up the Leaders Division’s spot in the Big Ten title game by beating Indiana (1-3) in two weeks. If the Hoosiers beat Iowa this week and then upset the Badgers, they would still be in the hunt for a chance to go to Indianapolis and play for the Big Ten title. That would make Indiana’s trip to Beaver Stadium on Nov. 17 a very meaningful game.

* A Wisconsin win over Indiana in two weeks would bring up an intriguing possibility. Since they already would be assured of a berth in the Big Ten title game, the Badgers could decide to rest their key players in the season finale against PSU. That kind of thing happens a lot in the NFL, but it’s not common in college football.

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.

 
 

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