There are numerous concerns about this Penn State football team - not the least of which are the very real possibility of this season spiraling toward the mediocrity of 6-6 and that the coaching staff had an embarrassing night of mass confusion Saturday at Iowa - but there's one glaring issue that stands out the most.
The Nittany Lions need better players. A lot of them. On both sides of the ball.
That falls directly on the coaching staff, which includes a head coach in Joe Paterno and offensive coordinator in Galen Hall who don't make recruiting trips. There's also an offensive line coach in Dick Anderson who makes some trips but has neither brought in his share of standout recruits nor developed them into steady, reliable players.
It's bewildering how a program like Penn State can enter almost every season with major concerns on the offensive line, with the A.Q. Shipley-led 2008 unit being one of the rare exceptions.
As Penn State sits here with a team clearly lacking in experience, depth and potential stars, the fact that there are only four verbal commitments for 2011 has to make you wonder where this program is headed the next few years. Those four commitments, by the way, are tied with Colorado for the fewest among all BCS schools.
A return to the dark years of 2003 and '04 doesn't seem likely; there's too much talent for that.
But there's not anywhere near enough talent on the team or on the horizon to make anyone believe that JoePa will be able to retire with the pride of turning over a program that is primed to challenge for anything on the national stage.
What he will turn over when he eventually retires is a program that likes to boast of how it has gone 54-15 since 2005, which ranks eighth nationally in winning percentage, and 11-2 each of the past two seasons.
What the program doesn't tout is the 3-10 record against top 10 teams since 2000. Or the 0-8 mark against top five teams in that span.
When Penn State plays outstanding teams, it almost always loses.
It's in those games that the talent differential is obvious, with the opposition always possessing faster and stronger players who are better prepared. This season's 24-3 losses to Alabama and Iowa pointed out the disparity yet again, the same way the 2008 Rose Bowl against USC did.
Paterno's health and age continue to hurt the program in recruiting, while the limitations of Hall and Anderson don't help matters.
If Penn State can be a consistent top-15 program with three of its most important coaches doing very little recruiting, just think how good it could be if those guys actually pulled their weight.
SUBHD: Afterthoughts ...
* As mentioned earlier, the coaching staff embarrassed itself with several examples of unpreparedness at Iowa. There were players running on and off the field like they didn't know who was supposed to be in the game, while confusion, indecisiveness and bad decisions were evident all evening.
* The worst example came late in the first half after a 49-yard pass to Brett Brackett put PSU at the Iowa 3 with six seconds left. The coaches should have called a timeout. End of discussion. Doing so would have enabled them to regroup, set up a play and throw quickly to the end zone. If it worked, great. If not, there would have been one or two seconds left to try another play or run the field goal unit out there. The scene was a comical mess as Paterno was trying to get a timeout but couldn't relay his wishes to Mike McQueary, who wanted Rob Bolden to spike the ball, which the quarterback did. Unreal.
* How bad of a job did the PSU coaches do? On fourth-and-goal at the 1 in the third quarter, the Lions lined up in a play but had to take a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty. "They came out in that play before they [called timeout]," Hawkeye linebacker Jeremiha Hunter said. "Then they came out in the same play." Wow! That is just awful. Iowa, of course, was able to sniff out Bolden and stop him short of the goal line. You know how Paterno always talks about getting outcoached against very good teams? That's an example.
* PSU's coaches are clueless when it comes to using Kevin Newsome. Newsome is a load at 225 pounds, while Bolden is 208. If they're going to run a quarterback keeper around the end, it should go to Newsome, who could have lowered his shoulder and had a better chance of bulldozing into the end zone. Instead, Bolden tentatively tip-toed his way trying to find a gap and got drilled a few inches short.
* Let's get this straight: Redshirt sophomore receiver Shawney Kersey left the team when he planned to transfer and didn't practice for a week. Then he returned to practice last Monday, and not only did he get to go on the trip to Iowa, he was on the field several times and also on kickoff return. That is a terrible decision by the coaches, who sent a message to the rest of the players that it's OK to essentially quit the team and take off practice because you still may get to play. If ever there was a reason to be in JoePa's doghouse, Kersey should have been there.
* Speaking of the doghouse, receiver Devon Smith may find himself there after questioning the coaching staff. He was asked what the problem was with the offense after the game and said, "Kind of upstairs." He's right, but yikes!
* Penn State dropped out of both The Associated Press and USA Today coaches polls. The Lions received only one vote in the AP poll and 30 in the coaches poll.
* A surprise: PSU opened up as an 11 1/2-point favorite over Illinois. The Illini only lost to Ohio State by 11, albeit at home. A spread of 6 or 7 seems more suitable.
* A loss this weekend, and yes, this very well may be a 6-6 season - at best.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.