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Penn State Football: Criticism of Nittany Lions Is Nothing New

by on October 21, 2011 2:00 AM

If you stick around long enough – like coaching college football for 46 years -- everything will come back (or stay) in fashion.

Including the criticism of Penn State football and its coach.

So while the Nittany Lions are 6-1 and ranked 21st in the BCS heading into their game on Saturday at Northwestern (7 p.m., Big Ten Network), they are still on the receiving end of plenty of comments, complaints and critiques.

Many of which are not new. To wit:

1. Penn State is (only, surprisingly, an unchallenged) 6-1.

Then: Penn State was 6-1 in 1972, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1996, 1998, 2005 and 2009. Average finish of those 12 seasons: 10-2. Worst finish: 9-3 (twice).

Now: Six wins, one loss – the very best anyone could have predicted for Penn State before the start of the 2011 season.

Hard to be much better, when Penn State’s only loss is to Alabama, the No. 2 team in the country.

2. Penn State isn’t even close to Alabama these days.

Then: Penn State has never been successful against Alabama. Lifetime, Paterno is 4-10 against The Tide, including 0-4 against Bear Bryant and 0-2 against Nick Saban – both the top coach in the game when they were beating up on Penn State.

Now: Almost no one else is close to Alabama, either. No one’s gotten closer to the 16 points (27-11) Penn State lost by. The Tide has beaten Arkansas by 24, Florida by 28, Ole Miss by 45 and a rejuvenated Vanderbilt team that was featured in Sports Illustrated, by 34.

The Nittany Lions’ 11 points against ‘Bama, however woeful they may be, is the second-highest number of points an opponent has scored against Alabama in seven games in 2011.

3. The games are too close and too ugly.

Then: As Jay Paterno popularized last week, the 1985 Penn State squad won seven games by a touchdown or less. In fact, it won seven of their first eight games by a total of 28 points. And against some crummy competition, too.

In a home game in 1985 against East Carolina, Penn State was ahead 17-11 with 1:11 left in the contest. The Nittany Lion defense held off East Carolina on the final drive of the game, getting whistled for five penalties on a 71-second drive that lasted 15 real-time minutes and took 14 plays. Now that’s ugly.

Then: In 2004, Penn State lost five of its seven games by a total of 36 points – a margin of a TD a game (and it never lost by more than 14). That’s close, that’s ugly. It would seem to me that winning ugly is better, though.

Now: Indiana State and Eastern Michigan aside, Penn State has lost by 16 and won by four, six, 10 and five points.

This is college football, not synchronized swimming, a prom date (thank you, Tom Bradley) or the Kardashian sisters.

4. Penn State can’t beat any ranked teams.

Then: This is more like the Nittany Lions simply didn’t play ranked teams, not that they didn’t beat them. That was the well-deserved rap on Penn State early in the Paterno era. But when it did play a Top 20 team (the number of schools in the poll then), Penn State won.

During its 31-game unbeaten streak from 1967-69, Penn State played only two ranked teams – No. 20 Kansas State and No. 17 West Virginia – in the regular season. In the postseason, the Lions beat, but barely, a pair of sixth-ranked teams in Kansas (15-14) and Missouri (10-3) in back-to-back Orange Bowls.

Now: Penn State loses more than it wins against Top 25 teams, but it does win one out of three (.500 is a sign of a strong program). In its last 42 games, dating back to the 2008 season, Penn State is just 4-8 against Top 25 teams.

5. Penn State needs a different quarterback.

Then: Pick a year (not 1982 or 1994).

Now: Pick a quarterback.

6. Joe needs to retire.

Then: As a young, brash head coach, in his first year Paterno went 5-5. His teams lost by margins of 21, 34 and 38 points – and were shut out twice. Lots of folks thought Penn State President Eric Walker had picked the wrong man to succeed Rip Engle.

Then: Joe said it himself back in January 1979. After losing 14-7 to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, Paterno was so unsure of his future than his wife Sue booted home to Brooklyn and told him not to come back until he knew what he wanted to do. It took five days, but he returned to State College certain he wanted to continue.

Then: Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, et al wanted to talk with Paterno about a retirement plan. Joe told them to kiss his 401K, then won 64 of his next 84 games.

Now: A busted knee, torn ligaments, broken hip, battered stomach, fractured pelvis and hammered shoulder have all told Paterno to quit. Joe told them to stop being a pain in his ass.

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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