Penn State is headed for a tough season. A 3-3 record through the first six games of 2010 in which the Nittany Lions have not been at all competitive against the better teams, followed by a mercifully-timed bye week, have proven that.
Just how tough of a season, however, will be determined further today.
If the Lions can't beat a Minnesota program that is in disarray, having fired its coach at midseason, it's possible they may not win another game until Indiana State comes calling in 2011.
That may be unthinkable, but it's true.
The Lions have played with almost no enthusiasm to this point. Their offensive leadership is nil, and their defense has been so banged up that it has not been able to carry an offensive unit that somehow has made two previous all-Big Ten performers, guard Stefen Wisniewski and running back Evan Royster, disappear.
Joe Paterno, to his credit, is always the first to blame himself. But how many times can he fall on his sword? He admitted he and his staff were outcoached at Alabama, and he took responsibility for not having his team ready emotionally to play Illinois. On Homecoming.
"We didn't have a lot of enthusiasm and didn't seem to enjoy the game," he said this past week of the 33-13 loss to Illinois. "I don't know who else you blame but the boss."
The boss, indeed, is having a bad year.
He didn't say he was outcoached at Iowa, but he didn't have to. The Lions' sideline chaos was never, ever worse than the pathetic exhibition it displayed in the waning moments of the first half. And that was before their chance to get back in the game was stuffed at the goal line early in the third quarter.
In each of their losses, and in two of their wins (Youngstown State and Temple), the Nits have gotten off to very slow starts. Even in the game they won handily, Kent State, they jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead and then mailed in a sloppy 24-0 victory.
At this point, it's fair to question not only the fact that the coaching staff is getting outschemed during the week but JoePa's ability to provide inspirational pre-game motivation.
Then again, Paterno shifted the onus from the offense this week, saying "actually, against Illinois, our problem was defense." He must have missed the little factoid that the offense had two rushing first downs.
But maybe today will be different. Maybe this will be a springboard toward a decent second half of the season and some minor bowl.
Paterno said he "challenged" his team during the off week, which included more spirited practices under the threat of starters losing their jobs. While none did - or at least no one confirmed as much - you'd think several players (read: offensive line and maybe even the quarterback) will on shorter leashes.
Penn State can only hope a defenseless Minnesota team that is 1-6 overall with a loss to somebody named South Dakota is the perfect tonic.
Don't be too sure.
The Gophers have been in every game, including against Wisconsin, and may be breathing new life under their interim coach, Jeff Horton.
Not even JoePa, meanwhile, is certain of the mindset of his team, and he admitted this week that the injuries and ensuing personnel shuffles have presented him with "probably as tough [a coaching job] as any time I've been in coaching."
If the Lions don't get well today, it's highly unlikely they'll have a winning season.
Which means JoePa will finish the year at least one game short - and maybe more - of 400 career victories.
And then what?
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com.