Thursday, June 29, 2006

New Commits

Earlier in the week Penn State landed a trio of recruits for the class of 2007.

Chaz Powell is a running back/defensive back from Glen Rock, PA. The 6'2" 185 lb Powell apparently impressed the scouts and put his name on the map when he ran a 4.44 40-yard dash and showed off a 30 inch vertical leap during a recent combine in State College. Prior to the combine he was a relative unknown and went from a mid-level Division I program to a high level program. Penn State jumped and offered him a scholarship. Chaz accepted over offers from Maryland, Georgia, UConn, Boston College, and Temple. Penn State is lucky to snatch this kid up since he was starting to see interest from other big time programs like USC, Michigan, Ohio State, and Notre Dame after his combine performance. There is some concern over Chaz's grades in school. It was important to him to commit early so he could focus on his education during his senior year in school. He is projected to be a defensive back for the Lions.

Western PA standout wide receiver/defensive back Nick Sukay also committed to the Nittany Lions. The 6'3" 200 lb standout is a four star prospect on rivals.com and scout.com. Last season Sukay caught 29 passes for 660 yards and eight scores on offense while making 58 tackles, 7 forced fumbles and six interceptions on defense. He passed on offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Pitt, Syracuse, and West Virginia in order to play for the Nittany Lions. In speaking of Penn State, Nick said, "I have always had a passion for Penn State football. When I came to the Ohio State game last year and saw 110,000 fans I knew then that's where I wanted to be. I have never seen anything like that in my life. I can't wait to get out on that field.” He is projected to play on defense, but with his size and athletic ability he may see playing time on special teams as a true freshman.

With Jeremy Kapinos set to graduate after the 2006 season, the coaches felt punting was a need that had to be addressed. To do so, they pursued Ryan Breen from Clarkston High in Michigan. Breen is said to have a booming leg averaging 40 yards per punt and often putting kickoffs through the back of the endzone. Penn State was the first school to offer Breen a scholarship. Even though he showed interest in playing for Iowa, Michigan, and Michigan State he jumped on the PSU offer right away. Given that Penn State only has 18 scholarships to offer this year, they must have been pretty impressed with this kid. Expect a battle with walk-on Jeremy Boone to replace Kapinos.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Big Ten Channel

Yesterday the Big Ten Conference announced two huge media agreements.

In the first agreement, the Big Ten has contracted with ABC/ESPN to broadcast up to 41 Big Ten football games per year for the next 10 years. Up to 17 games will be broadcast on ABC and up to 25 games will be broadcast on ESPN/ESPN2. In addition, Big Ten games that are covered on ABC but not shown regionally will be shown on ESPN or ESPN2.

This would have been handy for me last year when I was in Nashville on the weekend of the Michigan game. The game was broadcast on ABC, but due to my region I was forced to watch an SEC game. Had this agreement been in place I could have still watched the PSU/Michigan game on one of the ESPN channels. Now Penn State fans across the country will be able to watch more Penn State football games. Also included in the deal are plans to broadcast up to 59 men's basketball games as well as up to 12 women's basketball and volleyball matches. This is a great deal for the Big Ten Conference, Penn State, and the fans.

In the second agreement, the Big Ten has teamed with the Fox Network to create the Big Ten Channel. The Big Ten Channel will broadcast 35 football games per year. Each school will appear twice including at least one conference game.

I'm trying to keep an open mind about the Big Ten Channel, but my first gut instinct is this is going to suck for me. I'm just a basic cable type of guy. Up until now, living in the Philadelphia area I've been pretty lucky in seeing most Penn State games on television. If the game wasn't on ABC, ESPN, or ESPN2, the local WB channel would pick it up and broadcast it on ESPNU. I think last year I watched the Northwestern and Illinois games on ESPNU. The only game I think I was forced to pull out the AM/FM boom box and listen on the radio was the Central Michigan game.

Under the new agreement, I will most likely have to watch these types of games against lesser opponents on the Big Ten Channel. The availability of the Big Ten Channel is yet to be determined. Currently, the only agreement is with DirectTV through their Total Choice Package. So right now, to get the Big Ten Channel you will first have to be a DirectTV subscriber and you will need to get their Total Choice Package. FOX Network will negotiate with local cable providers to broadcast the channel. So there is a chance you may get the Big Ten Channel on cable, but most likely it will not be free. It will probably be part of some deluxe package offered by your cable provider.

For Penn State fans outside of the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Maryland areas, this is great news. This will at least give them an option to see more Penn State games, all-be-it at a price. But for local fans like myself, this deal takes regionally broadcast games and forces me to pay if I want to watch them. If you're a die-hard Northwestern or Indiana fan, you might as well switch to DirectTV now. Your teams will be regular players on Big Ten TV. The bad news for PSU fans is if we have a few more down years like in the past, we might become regulars too.

I have until August of 2007 to see if the local cable provider will offer the Big Ten Channel or decide if I'm going to switch to DirectTV. Personally, I don't think I will fork over an extra $50 or whatever to see Penn State roll up the score on Indiana and Akron. I would prefer to put that money towards going to the game in person or buying a nice boom box to listen to the games on the radio. But if Penn State has another down year, you may see as many as half their games on the Big Ten Channel which may change my attitude.

Friday, June 16, 2006

How Do You Tailgate?

Last year, Sports Illustrated crowned Penn State the Ultimate Tailgating Venue. I know I've been to some doozies in my day.

Our tailgate experience usually starts around 6 AM in Jersey Shore, PA. That's where my uncle Ron lives. I leave my car at his house and we pile into his Ford F-150 usually with one of his buddies and we head down to the local grocery store where we meet Ron's lifelong buddy Cling and his dad. Then we head off for State College.

We're usually making the right at Damon's and rolling up the hill around 7 AM. We like to park right along the road so we can watch the cars and motorhomes drive through. We put up a couple of those blue pop-up tents and some tables and chairs. We get the radio going and put out the munchies.

By 7:30 AM we're mixing drinks and watching the sun come up over Mount Nittany. The drink of choice is Captian Morgans and Coke, but an Ice House beer or two has been known to disappear. It seems we always make the mistake of mixing the first one too strong. After that we spend the rest of the day practicing "buzz management." Our days of getting too hammered to find the stadium are way behind us.

If it's a late game, Cling will cook up some spam and eggs breakfast sandwiches on the grill. With some mustard and cheese they are quite tasty. I can't help but break out into the old Monty Python spam skit. How about some spam eggs sausage and spam? That doesn't have much spam in it. I DON'T WANT ANY SPAM! spam spam spam spam SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAM!

When College Gameday is in town, Ron and I have to go watch. It's kind of lame though. Unless you practically camp out over night you end up standing behind the barrier way out of sight of the set. You can see the show on the big screen they set up, but you can't hear a word of the show. I'm convinced they only set up the big screen so people can see when they are on television and start jumping up and down and screaming like idiots. But it's always fun to see Lee Corso pick the Lions to lose every time and prove him wrong.

Last year Ron got a converter that will allow you to run household electrical appliances off of a car battery. I can't emphasize enough how this device has taken our tailgate party to a new level. If you don't have one of these, get one. Now we spend the morning and afternoon playing Madden tournaments on the PS2. Ron always takes the Patriots, I'm the Broncos, and Cling has to take the Raiders. Ron and I both enjoy beating Cling. We also watch old movies like Caddyshack on the DVD player. We are clearly the envy of everyone passing by our tailgate party.

For lunch we like to mix things up. Sometimes Ron will smoke a turkey. Sometimes we'll cook up steaks or sausage on the grill. One thing is for sure, nobody goes into the game hungry.

So next time you're driving up Porter Road and you see some guys parked on the left eating spam and egg sandwiches under a blue pop-up tent next to a black F-150 drinking Captain and Coke and playing some Madden on the PS2, make sure you say hi!

How do you like to tailgate?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Big 33 Preview (PSU Edition)

This week high school kids are practicing in preparation for the annual Big 33 rivalry between high school football stars from Pennsylvania and Ohio. Featured in the game this year are a few incoming freshmen for the Nittany Lions.

Featured in the picture from left to right are future Nittany Lions Abe Koroma, Pat Devlin, Tom McEowen, Jared Odrick, Travis McBride, and Collin Wagner. Scout.com is giving reports this week on these recruits and many others.

Word on Abe Koroma is he is a solid player. He is a quiet kid that does whatever the coaches ask of him. He is drawing many comparisons to former Nittany Lion standout and current San Francisco 49'er Anthony Adams.

Pat Devlin is showing fantastic leadership on the field. He is reported to be the most poised of the quarterbacks on the PA squad. The coaches say he is going through his progressions and making proper reads. He is showing excellent touch in his passes and looks like a precision passer. There are some concerns from the coaches. Apparently his passes don't have a lot of zip like a Morelli pass and he struggled running a two minute drill in practice. These are things that may come around as he builds confidence with practice and experience. I can only imagine how hard it is to run a two minute drill with players you've never played with and an offense you've only had a few days to learn.

Coaches are saying Tom McEowen is a beast on the defensive line. He's unstoppable. Coaches have been double teaming him in practice and they still can't slow him down. On one play he reportedly split a double team, wrapped up the ball carrier and threw him to the ground. Coaches had to ask him to tone it down a bit. They told him to just wrap the guy up and they will blow the play dead. I can't wait to see this guy play.

Equally impressive has been Jared Odrick. Odrick has been playing both sides of the ball on the offensive and defensive lines and dominating wherever he plays. Coaches have been impressed with his strength and quickness. According to one of the Big 33 coaches, it's going to be tough to redshirt him this fall.

Travis McBride may remind a lot of Penn State fans of Mike Archie from the 90's. He's a quick running back that can turn the corner or hurt you catching passes out of the backfield. Coaches say he may be the most sure handed player on the team catching everything that is thrown his way.

By all accounts Collin Wagner appears to have the makings of a solid kicker. Coaches are impressed with his work ethic. He reportedly narrowly missed a 49 yard field goal in practice. He doesn't have a booming leg, but he hits his marks and is pretty accurate.

I'll try to take some time to report on their performance after the Big 33 game.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Fourth Verbal


Penn State just got their fourth verbal commitment for the class of 2007. Jon Ditto from Gateway High School in Monroeville, PA has committed to playing college football for the Nittany Lions.

Ditto stands at 6'3" and 221 lbs and runs a 4.55 40-yard dash. Penn State coaches envision using Ditto as a flex TE. His size presents problems for smaller defensive backs while his speed will prevent most teams from covering him one-on-one with a linebacker. Scout.com rates him a four star prospect and the #11 TE in the nation. Rivals has not yet ranked him but lists him as a WR.

In his junior year, Ditto had 29 catches for 508 yards and 5 TD's. He earned second team Class AAAA Associated Press All-State and third team PA Football News All-State honors. Ditto passed on offers from Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota, Tennessee, Pitt, and Maryland.

Jon joins the Nittany Lion family along with previous recruits Nathan Stupar, Josh Marks, and Chris Colasanti and his former High School teamate Justin King. Welcome aboard, Jon.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Hit

Michael Robinson

The Hit


It's funny how we all remember special moments in time. Certain images so searing they put a lasting imprint in your mind. You remember where you were. What you were wearing. Who was with you. Last year when Michael Robinson lowered his head and layed out Minnesota safety Brandon Owens (hereafter referred to as The Hit) was one of those moments.

I was at home in Phoenixville watching the play on television that day. I remember Owens lowering his shoulder and Robinson lowering his head. I remember Owens' body going limp as MRob stood over him glaring on the sideline. I remember calling my uncle, who was at the game, to say "Did you see that?" Later on in the season I, along with all of Penn State Nation, came to look at The Hit as a defining moment for the team. Before The Hit, Penn State seemed unsure of themselves. We struggled more than we should have against South Florida. We had barely escaped Northwestern with a win the week before. Michael Robinson was a turnover machine. We were 4-0, but before The Hit, we felt lucky more than good.

They say perception is reality. The Hit changed the perception of Michael Robinson and the team. The Hit said, we're going to fight for every yard. The Hit said Michael Robinson is tougher than anyone on your team. The Hit made us believe. The Hit said Penn State is back and we're not the Big Ten doormat anymore. After The Hit, Penn State went from pretender to contender.

In speaking of The Hit, Michael Robinson said, "I didn't think he was gonna hit me that hard. It kind of scared me a little bit. I saw him and I was like, 'Let me just buckle up, hold on to the ball and try to stay up.' I didn't know he was gonna go down like that. I hope he's OK."

Sadly, Brandon Owens is not OK. Seven months after The Hit, his arm is still in a sling after surgery in January to repair nerve damage. He will sit out and redshirt in 2006, but most likely his football career is over. I don't wish harm on any Penn State opponent. I wish every player that suited up in Beaver Stadium could go home as healthy as they came in. But injuries are part of football. Owens is a tough kid, and he has the respect of the entire Penn State Nation for his toughness on and off the field. I hope he goes on to get healthy and be successful in whatever he pursues. But man, that was some hit.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Notre Dame Hatin'

Is there anything on God's green earth more annoying than a Notre Dame? Michigan can be annoying with their smugness. Ohio State fans are annoying with their rudeness. Pitt fans smell, which can be very annoying. But nothing annoys me like the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Maybe it's the baseless optimism of their fans. Whenever they can put three wins together in a row everyone talks about their return to national prominence. Nevermind if those wins come over Army, Navy, and Indiana. No other school shares this kind of optimism. Congratulations on going 9-3, but you have a long way to go before winning the national title. But that didn't stop ESPN's Ivan Maisel from ranking them in his Post-Spring Top 10.

Maybe it's the way their people are treated like God's in the media. After one 9-3 year, Charlie Weiss is touted as a football genius, even though he won with players that Ty Willingham recruited. Going into the 2007 season everyone is practically handing Brady Quinn the Heisman. Mel Kiper already has him listed as the top pick for the 2007 NFL Draft. High School QB Jimmy Clausen made a spectacle of himself complete with the stretch limmo and 15 person entourage when he held a press conference at the College Football Hall of Fame to announce his intent to play for Notre Dame. Reporters fell out of their chairs and quickly decreed this kid will win multiple Heisman trophies to go along with his three or four national title rings.

Maybe it's their arrogance and elitism. They view themselves as being above everyone else. They have the College Football Hall of Fame. They choose to remain independant. They have their own network contract. Try arguing x's and o's with a Notre Dame fan and you are quickly reduced to listening to lectures about glory days of the past. You're forced to listen to how they dominated college football half a century ago. I can't think of any other fans like this.

Johnny Danbury compares them to Yankee fans in this regard. The difference is Yankee fans can point to recent success. The Yankees have won championships in every decade since the 20's. But even then, Yankee fans aren't as obnoxious as Notre Dame fans. Yankee fans wear their caps even during the down years. They still look at you with that quiet smugness because they know they don't have to walk around with a foam finger waving in your face all the time to remind you they are the greatest baseball franchise ever.

But Notre Dame fans only seem to come out of the woodwork after they have a little success. The sad thing is it doesn't take much success to erase years of failure. They haven't won a bowl game in something like 15 years. Yet after a 9-3 season, they are convinced this is their year to win it all. Perhaps they should focus on winning a bowl game before they think about winning THE bowl game. It's quite sad and pathetic. It's like the raging alcoholic that wins $500 at the horse track. He's at the bar buying drinks for his friends to celebrate his "success", but you know tomorrow he'll be broke again, yet still talking about the glory days.