Some gameday observations hoping you have access to ESPNU:
After Penn State's loss to Michigan State in the regular-season finale last year, Joe Paterno admitted that he approached the campaign thinking the Nittany Lions had a chance to win eight or nine games.
"I thought we had a shot to go 8-3," he said.
It was a rather candid statement - never mind that the Lions played 12 regular-season games - and one Paterno couldn't remember making when reminded of it this past Tuesday.
The question came up in context of the Lions currently sitting at 3-1 - exactly where most figured they'd be this morning, having disposed of Indiana State, Temple and Eastern Michigan while losing to Alabama.
While the record was expected, the way the Lions have gotten here has not been. They're still struggling to pick a No. 1 quarterback - even though Matt McGloin has outplayed Rob Bolden; they barely beat an improved Temple team but a Temple team nonetheless; their kicking game has required an early change in placekickers; their best linebacker, Michael Mauti, is out for the year; and Paterno has yet to coach a full game from the field because of his own injuries.
Still, it's a fresh start in the Big Ten, which is one of the beauties about being in a conference, and if the Lions are going to be better than the 8-4 or 7-5 record many have predicted for them, they'll need to establish themselves sooner than later.
With a trip to hapless Indiana on tap, today would be the perfect venue as the schedule will start presenting potential losses on a regular basis beginning next week with that dreaded four-letter word - I-o-w-a.
JoePa, though, sees more potential in this year's team.
"We're a better team this year than we were going into the fifth game [last year]," he said. "This team has been a little bit easier to coach. They've been a little bit more committed. They are a little bit more mature. And I think overall they have a chance to be a good football team.
"Are we good enough right now? No. We've got a long ways to go to be a really good team yet. But I think we can make it."
Paterno has steadfastly maintained faith in Bolden, even though the sophomore has not started well in three games; ironically, Bolden looked better against Alabama than at almost any point this year, save the game-winning touchdown drive against Temple.
Eventually - and this probably means next week - the Lions will have to stop the quarterback shuffle before it bites them.
Not to mention the other offensive issues the Lions need to clean up: They've fumbled seven times in the last three games and average five penalties per game and twice have been flagged seven times.
The calendar has flipped to October.
The non-league schedule is over and unless Penn State plans a move to the Mid-American Conference, it's time for the Nittany Lions to, as the Jim Rome soundtrack says, "step your game up."
n Bolden, who lacks touch, has misfired badly on some early-game screen passes. Let's see if that's in the first-quarter script today (presuming, of course, Bolden's in the first-quarter script).
n Paterno admitted Tuesday he hadn't looked at film of Oklahoma, where Indiana coach Kevin Wilson served as co-offensive coordinator last year. It wasn't that long ago JoePa would have said he had watched a couple of games in the offseason to "get a feel" for the kind of offense Indiana may be running.
n If you're looking for hints on whether JoePa will call it a career after this season, he did make a curious comment when it was mentioned that today will be the 700th game he's coached at PSU (dating back to his days as an assistant). He joked about the number of press conferences he's presided over, and said, "I've done my penance. I'm on my way."
n Switching gears: How about the ambitious scheduling LSU has done this year? Not only are they a heavyweight in the SEC, but the Tigers played (and crushed) Oregon on a neutral field to open the season before traveling to West Virginia for a Saturday night game. That kind of schedule, if the team is good enough, could result in a national title.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow his in-game comments on Twitter: @neil