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Pregame stretch, 09.30.11

September 30, 2011 - Ray Eckenrode

The game: Penn State vs. Indiana

When: Noon Saturday, ESPNU

Announcers: Clay Matvick, Brian Griese, Allison Williams

Annoyance factor: The good news is that after starting out on the flagship networks based on nothing but his name, the marginally talented Griese has been busted down to ESPNU. The bad news is that this game is on ESPNU.

Line: Penn State -16

Smarts say: This line opened at 16.5 and backed off a half point. An over/under of 47 means we’re somewhere in the 31-15 range.

Quick hits:

+ All signs point to the Nits sticking with the same quarterback rotation they’ve been using, meaning Rob Bolden will start. We’re going to stick with our logic that the longer PSU goes without choosing a true starter, the more that developments will preclude PSU choosing a true starter. In this case, that would mean a good game for Bolden and a marginal one for Matt McGloin. Let’s see.

+ First year coach Kevin Wilson already has taken the Hoosiers to the depths of Division I by losing a road game to North Texas last week. Mean Joe Greene’s alma mater entered that game ranked dead last in defense in the country. Having come to Indiana from the Big 12 (where he was an assistant at Oklahoma for nine years), you’d think Wilson would have been acclimated to such a defensive challenge.

+ A lot is made of how many players big-time programs send to the NFL (PSU currently has 32 alumni suiting up on Sundays), but Penn State is making inroads as a cradle for pro coaches. Seven former Nittany Lions are part of NFL coaching staffs in 2011, most notably Mike Munchak, who’s in his first year as head coach of the Tennessee Titans. Former Penn Staters who are NFL assistant coaches includes: Gary Brown (Cleveland Browns), Sam Gash (Detroit Lions), Ron Heller (Jacksonville Jaguars), John McNulty (Arizona Cardinals), Darren Perry (Green Bay Packers) and Michael Zordich (Philadelphia Eagles).

The pick: As alluded to last week, the first quarter of this game will be big, not from a physical or game-planning standpoint, but to see what kind of emotional state PSU is in after the frustrating and scary injuries suffered last week by Michael Mauti and D’Anton Lynn. Football is such a macho sport in a macho society and we don’t pay enough attention to the mindset of 20-year-old kids who have to deal with the possibility each week that they might not walk off the field they’re running onto. For that reason, we’d be very worried about the outcome of this one if the opponent were more formidable. As it is, we expect a sluggish first half before the Nits put the Hoosiers away … PSU 31-14.

Last week: Eastern Michigan’s perplexing field goal with under three minutes remaining left us at 3-1 vs. the spread (and wondering if Coach Ron English had a little action on the game, which is terrible to even joke about, but when you do something so dumb you open yourself up to those kind or irresponsible comments.) We are, of course, 4-0 straight up.

The game: Pittsburgh vs. Houston

When: 1 p.m. Sunday, CBS

Announcers: Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf

Annoyance factor: As noted here before, Gumbel has slipped a bit in the last few years but is still in the top quarter of play-by-play guys. You know how we feel about Dierdorf. He just makes stuff up to fit his preconceived notions or to match the homework he’s done for a game. Like Phil Simms, he also tends to slobber all over the winner.

Referee: Clete Blakeman

Competence factor: Blakeman is in his fourth year of refereeing in the NFL and his second year as a white hat (a meteoric rise by pro football standards) and, as such, he doesn’t have much of a history with the Steelers (or any team for that matter). Let’s see how he can get himself in trouble with us on Sunday, shall we?

Line: Houston -4

Smarts say: The Steelers stinky play Sunday night probably moved this line 1.5 points and saw them opening at 4-point underdogs. The over/under of 45 means something in the neighborhood of 24-20 Texans.

Quick hits:

+ The NFL Hall of Fame’s eligibility list came out this week and former Steelers Coach Bill Cowher is new to the process. If you’ve followed this blog since its inception, you know our take on Cowher, a very good to excellent coach who dramatically underachieved (and thus is dramatically overrated) when he had good teams. Not surprisingly, that logic compels to say that we don’t think Cowher is Hall of Fame material because that should be reserved for “elite” status.

+ You remember Super Bowl XXX? You remember how it appeared Neil O’Donnell was throwing interceptions right to the Cowboys but it came out after the game that the receivers actually had run incorrect hot routes on the blitz pickup? You remember how we all ignored that and kept blaming O’Donnell? You do. Good. Same thing holds for last week’s game where we learned afterward that Dwight Freeney’s sack/strip that resulted in a Colts TD was actually Ben Roethlisberger’s fault. The play was called as a draw in the huddle but Roethlisberger checked out of that visually with Mike Wallace and was going for a pump-and-go TD that would just about have sealed the win. Since it was a visual check, the linemen still blocked for a draw play, which is exactly what Jonathon Scott did with Freeney. Roethlisberger, however, held onto the ball too long (imagine that) and the result was disaster. Note: We’re not saying Scott isn’t terrible. We’re just saying the sack-strip wasn’t his fault.

+ With the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes already beginning in earnest in the NFL, keep in the mind the No. 1 pick next year will have REAL VALUE for the first time in a long time because the new rookie wage scale makes that pick tradeable to a large potential market. It would be nice from the Steelers point of view to keep that pick out of the AFC North and it looks like the Bengals and Browns will oblige.

The pick: Not only are the oddsmakers off the Steelers bandwagon, but just about everyone else is, as well. We’d estimate that 80-90 percent of the national “experts” are on the Texans here. Let’s remember how that worked out for the Steelers in Week 1. Of course, we’ve got a little larger body of work to judge from here, and in that context, the lack of confidence in the Steelers is probably justified. But we’re sticking with the theory that when you think you’re sure of something in the NFL you’re not sure of it. What would be required for the Steelers to pull it off? It starts with Ike Taylor continuing his All Pro-level work against Andre Johnson. Then, they'd need two turnarounds from the Indy game: Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton have to hold their ground to stall Houston’s potent rushing attack and Ben Roethlisberger has to have ZERO turnovers. If it happens (and we’re guessing it will), it’s … Steelers 24-17.

Last week: We just barely missed on our 23-16 selection, correctly noting the Colts would play better on national TV but underestimating just how badly the Steelers would play. Still, it was a double win to get us to 2-1 both straight up and against the spread.

Weekend coverage: We'll live tweet both games and definitely blog the Steelers. There might or might not be a Penn State blog because we're attending a wedding Saturday afternoon/evening.

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