Lost in the discussion of Bill O'Brien's coach-of-the-year candidacy and why linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges were left off a list of Lombardi candidates is the fact that it's all premature.
It's nice to see O'Brien recognized for the incredible job he's done considering that he was handed the keys to the Nittany Lions' train shortly before it careened over a cliff.
And if Mauti and Hodges and Jordan Hill needed more motivation - which is doubtful - the snubs can provide it.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn?State coach Bill O’Brien greets quarterback Matt McGloin after the Nittany Lions’ first touchdown against Northwestern. Tonight’s game at Iowa figures to be another intriguing chapter in the coach’s first year.
More important, though, is the fact that almost none of it matters if the Lions lose tonight at Iowa.
After a perfectly-placed bye week smack in the middle of the season, which allowed the Lions to feel good about how they've regrouped from their 0-2 start with four straight wins, rest and reload for a daunting stretch run that almost certainly will be more difficult than the first six games, O'Brien said the team is approaching "the meat" of its schedule.
Another good call.
To suggest this is a must-win, though, and that the roof would fall in if Penn State loses tonight would lack perspective. Because we all know the roof fell in 11 months ago, and the Lions are still dusting themselves off.
That said, they can still have a great year, which, given the circumstances, would be anything better than 8-4.
And since two of those losses are already in the books, to Ohio (7-0 and a cool story) and Virginia (the reason O'Brien now goes for it on fourth down inside the 20), the Lions probably need to sweep Iowa, Purdue and Indiana and go 2-1 against Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin to get there.
All of it's possible, as Penn State has shown itself capable of beating any of the remaining teams on the schedule, but only Indiana is a virtual given.
Big picture: Regardless of record, because of the NCAA sanctions, this could well be the Lions' best team for a while so now is the time to make hay (and what better place than in the cornfields of Iowa?) as at least three seniors on defense - Mauti, Hodges and Hill - are likely to be playing on Sundays and will be difficult to replace next year.
Of Iowa, Purdue and Indiana, the Hawkeyes present the biggest challenge because they're the toughest physically and historically have been a problem for Penn State, having won eight of the last 10.
Of course, that was before O'Brien arrived with a playbook that didn't feature 4-yard short-side dumps to the fullback heading out of bounds.
When O'Brien first addressed the team following his hiring, he stoked enthusiasm by telling the players he didn't think the Big Ten would be able to handle the NFL offense he planned to install, and so far that's been true.
But Iowa has always been much tougher defensively than Northwestern and Illinois so tonight will further gauge new school O'Brien vs. old school Kirk Ferentz.
Winning at Kinnick Stadium, at night, would be five in a row and get Beaver Stadium rocking next week for the only bowl game on the Lions' schedule - Ohio State. A loss, meanwhile, would stall momentum, make 4-4 likely, and render any midseason honors totally moot.
Either way, it figures to be another curious chapter in what so far has been a fascinating start to O'Brien's first year and a new era of Penn State football.