July 8, 2010

Thursday Question: Beating Alabama, Iowa, or Ohio State

Be sure to vote in the reader poll at the bottom of the post!

Kickoff is less than two months away, so we thought it would be good to start up our Thursday Question feature again. So, over the next few weeks, the LBU staff will each give their own take on a variety of topics heading towards the 2011 football season.

Today's Thursday Question: Alabama, Iowa, Ohio State--which is the best chance for a Penn State win?


I’ll do this in the order of probability of victory (from least to most), which is to say that I don’t think Penn State has much of a chance against any of them but that wasn’t the question.

Alabama - the tide have the returning Heisman Trophy winner, 9 offensive starters and oh by the way, did I mention they won the national title last season? Yeah Penn State optimists like to point to the retooled defensive line and loss of all but two starters on defense but Nick Saban is a master recruiter and they will reload this year. Now they will drop off a bit but the offense will bail them out until the D gets their legs. I don’t think this is close, if Penn State can run the ball, eat some clock and Newsome doesn’t turn the ball over the Nittany Lions have a chance to keep it close but that’s way too many ‘ifs’.

Ohio State – looking at OSU’s schedule it’s not a very big leap of faith to believe the Buckeyes will be undefeated when they take on PSU late in the season. An early game against Miami (of the Florida variety) might prove difficult but it’s in Columbus. The only other game that stands out is a mid October trip to Madison to take on the Badgers, get by that and they probably will be at worst a one-loss team. Throw in the fact that Penn State has to travel to Columbus and I don’t have a very good feeling about it.

Iowa - as sorry as am to say this, I believe the early game against the Hawkeyes will be the best chance of the trio for victory. Penn State will have three cupcakes sandwiched around the mulling in Tuscaloosa while Iowa’s toughest test will come against Arizona in Tucson. If they lose to the Wildcats they may be ripe for the picking. Iowa had a great year last season and I don’t want to take anything away from what they accomplished but let’s face it they won a LOT of close games that could have gone either way. They had a bunch of good things go their way until the end of the season when Stanzi got hurt. I’m not saying they were lucky, you sometimes create your own luck but they just had things all go their way for most of the year. In the end I think Penn State loses to all thee but if you are gonna force me to choose which team is the best chance for victory I choose you, Iowa Hawkeyes.


Don't hate me for saying this. Penn State has a better shot at beating Alabama, than it does at beating Ohio State or Iowa. There is only one reason why I went with the Crimson Tide: Defense. Alabama will be the consensus No. 1 to start the season. But would they really be No. 1 if they didn't win the BCS Championship Game last season? Doubt it.

Let me run off some names here: Terrence Cody, Rolando McClain, Javier Arenas, Kareem Jackson, Marquis Johnson, and Brandon Deaderick. What do they all have in common? Well, first they all started on defense for Alabama in the Rose Bowl. Second, they were all drafted. And third, none of them are back in 2010. But those aren't the only players on Alabama's Rose Bowl starting defense that won't be on the field when Penn State visits Tuscaloosa on Sept. 11. In fact, it's much easier to tell you which defensive starters will be returning for this season: safety Mark Barron. That's it, folks.

This game will come down to a choice between two battles. Penn State's offense vs. the Alabama defense. Or Alabama's offense vs. Penn State's defense.

I will gladly take Penn State's offense. That's not going to be the popular answer here, on the message boards, or anywhere else in the Nittany Nation. But compare what Penn State will go up against in Tuscaloosa, to what will take the field in Columbus and Iowa City. Ohio State will return six starters on defense, eight on offense; Iowa returns eight on defense, six on offense. And we already know what most of those starters are capable of. Each side of the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes has a majority of its starters returning. Meanwhile, Bama's 2010 defense will be the single most inexperienced unit the Nittany Lions will face all season, period. No other team has to replace ten of eleven starters on one side of the football.

There will be, undoubtedly, a home-field advantage for Alabama. The Tide will have the benefit of a good quarterback, a good running back (or two), and a great receiver. And the loss of Navorro Bowman, Sean Lee, and Jared Odrick will of course give a bonus to the Tide's offense in this game. However, it won't be nearly the bonus given to the Nittany Lions offense by the Alabama defense. Do you seriously think that the Tide run defense will be remotely as good as last year, without Cody and McClain? Or that the pass defense will have nearly the shut-down ability, without Javier Arenas or Robby Green?

This pick could turn out to be the worst I've ever made. But I'm sticking with it. I could break down every individual matchup of this game (that's for game week), but of all three opponents we asked in this week's question, Penn State has the single most favorable unit-vs-unit matchup of them all. No other game offers Penn State such a wide open chance to take pressure off its defense, than by going up against a defensive unit that's going to be arguably worse than Penn State's offense.


I'm highly tempted to say "Ohio State" or "Alabama" just to simply spite everyone and shake things up. Alas, I can't do it...Yes, PSU finally exor-ciiiised the demons in Columbus back in '08 but let's face it: If it weren't for then-frosh and already-annointed world-beater of a QB Terrelle Pryor's youthful indiscretion, the long losing streak at Ohio State would remain active as of today. Expect the offense to go into its typical conservative shell at Ohio State and get shellacked in mid-November by a Buckeye team that will be peaking at just the right time.

As for Bama: Sure, they've lost all but two defensive starters but let's remember that 1) Saban's been stockpiling talent over the past few years, which means those new defensive starters will have to rely solely on their own physical gifts. This is not exactly a worst-case scenario for a head coach. 2) Every key player from last year's offense is back, including Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, who will be likely splitting carries with stud backup Trent Richardson. The Crimson Tide may have some trouble stopping their opponent from scoring, but they should have very little trouble doing so themselves. If Penn State is going to keep this one close, they will need to find a way to get a couple of turnovers and create a short field for the offense which, mind you, will be led by a QB making his very first road start. Yeah, let's forget about this one too, shall we?

This brings us to Iowa, a game that I'm also pretty confident we're going to lose. Kirk Ferentz owns JoePa the way Lloyd Carr did back when he coached at Michigan. Like he used to do when facing Lloyd Carr's teams, JoePa tends to stick to a conservative gameplan that plays right into the hands of Kirk Ferentz, whose Iowa squad tends to come up with those one or two clutch defensive plays that turn the game around in their favor. Last year, you had the safety and the blocked punt, in 2008 there was Tyler Sash's interception which ultimately set up the upset-clinching field goal, in 2004...Okay, we're not re-hashing those painful memories but you get my drift.

With all of that said, Iowa is the game I would pick as the one PSU is most likely to win. Let's remember that the Hawkeyes had to win numerous tight games that could have gone either way in order to even remain in the national title discussion heading into November. What if that safety and/or blocked punt against PSU never happen? What if Indiana finally learns how to defend a lead while Ricky Stanzi continually tries to hand them the game? What if Michigan State's notoriously shitty pass defense held strong one final time and kept Iowa from scoring their first touchdown of the night (which also happened to be the game-winning TD)? Can we continue to expect the Hawkeyes to be on the winning side of such contests? Surely, they're going to end up on the wrong of things if they keep up these bi-polar performances, and oh how sweet it would be if PSU were the team to finally bite them in the ass...


This is a tough one. All three of these teams expect to enter the season ranked among the top 10 teams in the country, with Alabama and Ohio State likely 1 and 2. None of these teams will be an easy task for a Penn State team that will struggle against the middle of the Big Ten, let alone the cream of the crop. Playing these teams on the road makes winning even more improbable, especially with a first year (and likely mediocre) starter at quarterback.

Alabama -- ESPN is going to hype it up. Two of the great traditions in college football. The shadows of Bear Bryant against the legendary Joe Pa. Game Day will be in attendance. And Lee Corso will certainly not put on the Lion head. Understandably so. This game should be over in a hurry. Heisman Trophy winning running back Mark Ingram will be foaming at the mouth to go up against the brand new linebacker corps. Julio Jones comes into the season as one of the best receivers in the country, better than any receiver any of the Lion cornerbacks have faced, save maybe Eric Decker.

Then there's the Crimson Tide defense. Sure they have to replace Rolando McClain and Mount Terrence Cody, but the rest of the unit is coming back in full force. It will be the first start against a Division 1-A opponent for whoever will be starting at quarterback for the Lions. Royster will get more than his share of carries (finally) but this game won't be close. Too early in the season for the Lions newcomers to get on the same page, and 'Bama will win by at least 20.

Ohio State -- Holy Buckeye is Ohio State going to be tough to beat, again. This late season match-up will feature Pryor vs the Lions, Part 3. This one in Columbus, where the Buckeyes rarely lose. Ohio State brings virtually their entire roster back from a year ago, with one exception: their secondary. Lucky for fans of the sweater vest, Ohio State won't be facing much of a passing existence, let alone a threat. I expect Cameron Heyward to pressure the quarterback early and often, and will propel the possibly undefeated Buckeyes even closer to a return to the BCS National Championship.

Iowa -- When Iowa is the best chance for a Penn State victory, you know there's problems. Just ask Daryll Clark, or Jamelle Cornley for that matter. They fiend for blue and white blood, and if Adrian Clayborn, was able block Jeremy Boone, imagine what he can do against punter TBD. Special teams will be an issue for the Lions in this game, but if PSU can avoid the dumb mistakes, they may actually have a shot. While Iowa features a daunting front four, including Clayborn and Karl Klug, they also have a few new linebackers to break in. Defensive back Tyler Sash will eliminate the deep ball, but the short passing game could be open for McGloin or Newsome to exploit.

As for the Iowa offense, well Ricky Stanzi is no Joe Montana, and the Penn State defensive ends are fully capable of pressuring and rattling the veteran quarterback. If Devon Still amounts to the hype he is receiving, then he and Ollie Ogbu should be capable of holding the Iowa running back tandem in relative check.

If given a choice, I'd say Penn State goes 0-for-3 against these top teams. But being forced to pick one, the Lions will edge out the Hawkeyes in a low scoring affair on the road.

Which is the best chance for a Penn State win?

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  1. After reading all the other answers I'm now thoroughly depressed.

  2. It's simple. Joe can't beat Iowa, so there is a L. Joe will play "not to lose afraid to win" against Bama, so there is a L. Lastly, Ohio State pretty much always has a better team, so chalk up another L. Hate to be a wet blanket, but until Joe goes, we'll be average most years with a decent run only every 4 years or so. It's always been that way.

  3. "Gee Fellas tell us how you really feel"...LOL

    Funny thing is if the Nits win all three, somehow the media will say they got lucky ; )
    Will it happen, most assuredly not, but.....ya never know. Feel better Galen? LOL


  4. I know Bama lost a lot of starters but Nico Johnson, Dont'a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick and Marcell Dareus all had lots of time last year. Hightower was starting before going down with an injury. They may be missing starters, but they are not short on experience.

  5. Thanks NittanyLionFootballFreak. That's the optimism I'm looking for. Amazing that none of us think alike on this site.

  6. "Amazing that none of us think alike on this site."

    That's the best part about it!

  7. Just added a poll to this post... Should have had it included in the original, but oh well. We will surely have a poll in every Thursday Question from here on out. So get those votes in!