Ben State Football: For First Time In Long Time, Penn State Not The Headline Maker
"Firsts" have been a big buzzword for Penn State fans. The first game in the post-Paterno era, the first win under Bill O'Brien, the first loss under James Franklin, the first recruiting class while the program was sanctioned.
But this weekend Penn State will travel to a different kind of first. It's the first time the Nittany Lions haven't been the team under the national microscope.
It's the first time since 2011 the bad headlines are directed at Penn State's opponent, not Penn State itself.
A coaching staff on the ropes, a team struggling to keep things together, an athletic director pressured by the national media and a program staggering to find what once was. It sounds like Penn State, but this time it's Michigan.
In just about every aspect these headlines have been the product of very different circumstances. The Jerry Sandusky scandal was a far different evil than questions about the poor judgment and management of an injured player. Nevertheless Michigan is the flavor of the week --keeping a concussed player in a game two weeks ago with coaches and administrators later admitting failures in procedures to properly monitor player health-- and as Penn State knows all too well, it makes for trying times.
The modern world of sport is cyclical in nearly every fashion. Good teams are never good for too long, bad teams find a way to reverse that trend. Coaches are only ever so hot and redemption stories are at every corner.
But for Penn State and Michigan the roles couldn't have been more reversed now than where they were nearly four years ago.
In 2011 Michigan was finishing its first year under Brady Hoke. A solid incoming recruiting class would finish off an 11-2 season that featured a 23-20 overtime victory against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. Transitioning out of the Rich Rodriguez era couldn't have gone any smoother for the Wolverines and the worries of finding the success it had with Loydd Carr appeared to be long gone.
In Happy Valley, the story is one that has been told and retold countless times. News trucks, press conferences, headlines, firings, emotional arguments and a lingering lack of closure for many that has subsided but has yet to be fully eradicated. Dozens of games erased from the record books, countless victories and decades of success questioned.
While not as severe this time around, the roles have been reversed.
Michigan now finds itself the struggling program. A concussion and player health scandal in the middle of a three game losing streak has put head coach Brady Hoke on the defensive and athletic director Dave Brandon in the crosshairs. The issues of child sexual abuse and athlete safety hardly exist in the same universes, but the gathering crowd of unhappy alums and the gathering mob of hungry news vans hardly discriminate.
On the field the tide has continued to turn as well.
After losing nine straight to the Wolverines, Penn State will look to make it five in a row against Michigan. The Wolverines held Penn State to only 214 points over the first 13 series meetings and have now given up 165 points in the last four games against the Nittany Lions. Penn State is in its first year under a new head coach with a promising future. The need to find success in a post Paterno era has seemingly been fulfilled for now. While Michigan recruits plan visits to other schools, Penn State hauls in a Top 10 class. While fans wonder how far James Franklin can take the program, Michigan fans wonder if they've hit rock bottom yet.
Admittedly this role change doesn't make a tangible impact on the game. But as Penn State continues to mark down firsts in the program's history book, the first time it is not the team under the microscope certainly is worth an entry.
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