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Giger: PSU not great, but may not have to be in weaker Big Ten

Commentary

September 24, 2012
By Cory Giger (cgiger@altoonamirror.com) , The Altoona Mirror

It's taken just four weeks to realize one blatant fact: The Big Ten is weak this season.

That's terrific for Penn State, which is not a great team by any stretch but, as things stand now, would appear to have a chance to beat any team left on the schedule entering conference play.

OK, having said that, the Nittany Lions also could lose to any team on the schedule, especially if they keep having key players get injured.

In a typical Big Ten season, this Penn State squad would be in a lot of trouble. And who knows, maybe that still will be the case.

But maybe not, given that in the Big Ten:

* No team has a shot at the national title.

Fact Box

Aerial default
Where Big Ten teams rank out of 120 Division I teams in passing offense:
TeamRank
Indiana13
Penn State45
Purdue50
Michigan State61
Nebraska66
Minnesota69
Michigan85
Iowa91
Illinois92
Ohio State96
Northwestern104
Wisconsin110
Note: Temple is 117th, Navy 114th.

* Only three teams are ranked in the Top 25 (Ohio State at 14, Michigan State at 20 and Nebraska at 22).

* The league already has suffered embarrassing losses, with Illinois getting routed by Louisiana Tech, 52-24, and Iowa losing to Central Michigan, 32-31, on Saturday.

* Ohio State, which is ineligible for postseason play, has looked downright average for the most part, and Wisconsin is nothing close to the offensive juggernaut it was last year.

* Nebraska and Michigan State arguably are the Big Ten's best teams, and both already have lost (the Cornhuskers to UCLA, Sparty to Notre Dame). Penn State doesn't play Michigan State, either, or Michigan.

No one should get ahead of themselves and think the Lions are better than they really are, or at least have proven yet.

Beating a bad Navy team and below-average Temple team hasn't cured all of PSU's ills. Neither of those teams could throw the ball - at all - and any team that can do that likely will be problematic for Penn State's still-suspect secondary.

Temple ranks 117th out of 120 Division I teams in passing offense. Navy is 114th.

Indiana ranks 13th in the nation in passing offense. The next-highest rated team in the Big Ten? Penn State at No. 45.

The league is even weaker than usual when it comes to efficient passing quarterbacks, and as long as PSU's defensive front seven stays healthy, running teams aren't likely to have much success.

It's questionable how much success Matt McGloin and the Lion offense will have playing against better athletes and schemes in the Big Ten. Still, if McGloin can continue to play within himself and the offense avoid turnovers, it seems doubtful that Penn State will be completely out of any game, with the possible exception of the trip to Nebraska.

Again, that's if the Lions stay healthy, which they haven't been able to do so far.

And to win any games, Sam Ficken probably will have to make some big field goals, which he has not proven he can do.

This still could be anywhere from an 8-4 season to a 4-8 season, depending on many, many factors, but at least the Lions have the comfort of knowing the rest of the league doesn't appear to be that much better than they are.

Afterthoughts ...

* Illinois getting crushed by Louisiana Tech could turn out to be a good or bad thing for Penn State. Obviously, the Illini aren't very good - their two wins are over Western Michigan and Charleston Southern, and they also were blown out by Arizona State (45-14) - but players getting humiliated like that often have a way of bouncing back with spirited efforts.

* Illinois opened up as a 1 1/2-point favorite.

* The best thing about Bill O'Brien's coaching so far is that he plays to win. Temple coach Steve Addazio could learn from that after making a very passive decision Saturday.

Faced with fourth-and-5 from the Temple 41 early in a scoreless game, O'Brien went for it, and McGloin threw a TD pass to Allen Robinson. Great decision.

When trailing, 14-3, and facing fourth-and-5 from the PSU 43 early in the third quarter, Addazio punted. He said afterward he never even considered going for it.

You'd think when you're at Temple, playing on the road against a team you haven't beaten since 1941, your passing game is non-existent and the offense is doing virtually nothing against the Lions, the coach would have tried taking a risk with the good field position.

That's what you call playing not to lose instead of playing to win.

* A note to the Penn State students who were yelling a certain expletive at Temple and later to the refs on Saturday: You're better than that. The students do so many wonderful things such as THON and usually represent the university in a great way, but when thousands of you - not all, but enough to be heard - yell that at a football game, it makes you look bad. How would you like to be sitting there with your children and have to explain to them what the crowd was yelling?

Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.

 
 
 

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