The Penn State football season, and what may or may not be Joe Paterno's final year as the Nittany Lions' coach, is off to one heckuva start.
At a time when fans can just about smell the pigskin in the air, with the calendar turning to August, Penn State has been dogged with more off-the-field headlines sure to disrupt the team's focus.
It started with ESPN's "Outside the Lines," program last Sunday that chronicled the Lions' legal issues and cited a staggering - pardon the pun - 46 different player arrests since 2002 and continued Wednesday with the confirmed dismissal of the team's top two defensive tackles, Chris Baker and Phil Taylor.
The TV network's investigative arm documented the troubles and included an accusation that Paterno pressured the university to reduce the punishment for some of his players, which Paterno strongly denied. That wasn't surprising considering Paterno spent the show in full denial and admitted he didn't appreciate what he called a "witch hunt."
Whether or not Paterno's posture - that the media, the police and his own university are out to get him and his program - have contributed to a shroud of paranoia and the current problems is debatable.
What is not is the fact that in some press conferences, when he doesn't want to answer questions, and for sure on "Outside the Lines," he comes off like Jack Nicholson on the stand in "A Few Good Men."
Just interchange the alleged text message mandating no players talk with Judicial Affairs with who ordered the code red.
At the same time, though he's had ups and downs with the media, especially lately, Paterno has long held that "nobody has ever come after us."
That's no longer the case as ESPN clearly took its gloves off, had solid if dated information and delivered Penn State with the biggest hit it's ever taken nationally.
And it's not going away. ESPN, which has replayed the report all week on its various channels, won't let it.
Meanwhile, the removal of Baker and Taylor, who had been on suspension but were expected to play this season, represents a damaging blow to the Lions' defensive front.
Then again, does it? Given past criminal transgressions, at least in Baker's case, it's surprising the walking papers took this long. These players had plenty of chances, and if they were on double-secret probation and apparently violated it, maybe the team will be better off.
And maybe, just maybe, the attention will shift to the field - at which point even Coastal Carolina, the season-opening opponent, will be an attractive alternative to these latest developments.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.