The 2011 season will always be remembered by Penn State fans. It was a season that started in optimism. Even after losing to one of the top ranked teams in the country in Alabama, the Nittany Lions raced out to an 8-1 record and controlled their own destiny in the Big Ten Leaders division. It was then that the Sandusky scandal rocked the Penn State Nation. Off the field, the school was turned upside down and on the field the year was all but over. Prior to the Nebraska game, Joe Paterno was ousted after 46 years and Tom Bradley was tabbed to finish the season as Head Coach. Penn State would finish the season just 1-3 but the real story wasn't what happened on the field. The season will be remembered by fans because of the unspeakable actions of one man, the inability of a University to deal with those actions and by the death of their legendary coach Joe Paterno. In order to take a look at the Penn State 2011 season we reached out to Kevin McGuire. Kevin has the pulse of Penn State and writes (and podcasts) for such sites as Examiner.com, The Nittany Lions Den, Crystal Ball Run and No Two Minute Warning.
We spoke to Kevin prior to the death of Joe Paterno. Kevin has posted a couple of really good articles on Joe Paterno since we talked. Those links are located after the Q&A we conducted with Kevin from last week.
CFBZ: So many places to start with Penn State....the Penn State coaching search was long and exhaustive. They ended up hiring Bill O'Brien. What are your thoughts on O'Brien and what strengths does he bring to Happy Valley?
Kevin McGuire: Is Bill O’Brien THE guy? Well, that remains to be seen, and that is where a majority of the initial reaction turned negative. There are so many unknowns about Bill O’Brien as a head coach. He could come in and get things back in top gear in short time and have Penn State thinking about the Rose Bowl in 2012, or he could come in and absolutely stink. Or he could fall somewhere in the middle. I’ll go with the latter.
There are some positives that come with O’Brien. First, of course, is that it is a breath of fresh air in the program. Penn State had long since gone stale as a football power and they were good for a really strong season every couple of years under Joe Paterno and his staff. It was time for a change, which was expected in 2012 anyway, but to have it go down the way it did is a whole other story. As far as football is concerned though, the offense seems to benefit the most from the change.
O’Brien has said he will take on the task of calling the offensive plays, which will streamline the play calling much more efficiently that it had been with Paterno, Galen Hall, Jay Paterno and Mike McQuery all being a part of the process. This is perhaps the biggest change that should be noticeable on game day.
Time will tell how O'brien does as a recruiter and whether or not the pieces he has assembled for his staff will work or not.
CFBZ: The QB position was an absolute mess for the Nittany Lions this year. Who gets the ball next year?
Kevin McGuire: You are dead one with the quarterback situation. What made it a mess was not so much the constant switching in and out, but the fact that they were switching between quarterbacks who just are not very good. Right now we look to be seeing three guys coming back in 2012 that will compete for the starting job, and it is my guess that O’Brien will settle on one guy to run his offense early on. As long as he does not transfer, let’s keep an eye on Paul Jones, who redshirted in 2010 and was ruled academically ineligible in 2011. Of the three quarterbacks most likely to compete for the job, many seem to feel he has the highest ceiling. Of course, we’re all still anxious to see what he can do on the field. Hello spring football!
If Matt McGloin is the starting quarterback I would not be shocked. The offense did run better with him on the field in 2011, compared to Rob Bolden. But I would be really curious to see if Bolden can finally take steps forward in developing under an offensive minded head coach like O’Brien.
CFBZ: It was a rough year for Penn State. Give me the best on field memory from this past season...
Kevin McGuire: While the pregame meeting at midfield with Nebraska certainly will capture the season in a way no other moment will, I will go in a different direction. To me, the final moments at home against Illinois were special.
After scoring a goal-ahead touchdown late, Penn State had to have their defense hold on for a victory. Illinois moved in to position for a long field goal when this happened…
The win moved Joe Paterno in to first place in all-time coaching victories in division one, and of course it was his final victory as head coach. A week later all Hell broke loose and took the season in a direction nobody could have ever predicted. This was perhaps the last time Penn State had a legitimate reason to smile when discussing the football team.
CFBZ: Outside of Silas Redd, which players are you most looking forward to watching play in 2012?
Kevin McGuire: I’ll go defense with you and say two guys. Defensive end Pete Massaro and linebacker Michael Mauti. Both missed the season, or essentially the entire season, due to season-ending injuries. Both starters gave the defense a critical blow at two key positions and as long as they are healthy it will be good to see them back on the field in 2012. Both have already earned their degrees and don’t have to come back, but word is they will return for one more season.
A cornerback that could be on the rise will be Adrian Amos. As a true freshman in 2011 Amos found himself on the field a few times and played well in his limited opportunities. As Penn State’s secondary gets hit with losses this year, Amos should see an increased role in the secondary.
On offense Silas Redd is the show though. He is already among the best running backs in the Big Ten and while he is not Monte Ball, he’s still pretty darn good. I’ll also say the quarterback, whoever it may be just for curiosity.
CFBZ: In order for Penn State to have a successful 2012 season, what are some things that need to fall into place for them?
Kevin McGuire: We have touched on the major area of concern, which is the quarterback situation. But my opinion is that if Penn State is going to have a successful 2012 they have to find a way to win the big games. Penn State’s recent track record against ranked opponents is nothing to brag about. They get Ohio State and Wisconsin at home and make trips to Iowa and Nebraska. These are games they need to find a way to split, at least. But they also play some good non-conference games against Navy, Temple and Ohio at home and a road game at Virginia. Those are not your usual cupcakes by any stretch of the imagination. Getting off to a good start though will be critical for O’Brien’s head coaching debut.
CFBZ: Bonus Question: How does the Urban Meyer hire affect Penn State?
Kevin McGuire: Urban Meyer at Ohio State is bad news for everyone in the Big Ten, including Penn State. Meyer has already come in to Harrisburg and plucked the top player in the state, Noah Spence (who was thought to be considering Penn State until the scandal let loose). And certainly the expectations for Ohio State with Meyer are very high (after a year of postseason ban in 2012). The Buckeyes are going to be very tough to compete with, which is going to be considered the measuring stick for O’Brien.
There is plenty to compete with for O’Brien and Penn State and nothing has been easy against OSU for a long time. If nothing else, it adds something more to the rivalry between the two schools, which really has become a pretty decent series over the years.
Make sure you check out Kevin's Penn State site Nittany Lions Den as they have several different stories written about Joe Paterno. Kevin also penned this piece for Crystal Ball Run that you will want to read: Everyone Has a Joe Paterno Story, Here is Mine.
Previous 2011 Exit Surveys
Big 12- Kansas Jayhawks