Penn State

Beat writer Donnie Collins keeps you posted with in-depth analysis and commentary

Great history that means little to the coaches in 47th Fiesta Bowl

There will be, what, close to 100 players on both sidelines, and nine coaches per team, and however many trainers at University of Phoenix Stadium on Saturday. And only one will have ever been in a Fiesta Bowl before.

Really, Washington coach Chris Petersen isn’t just some guy who has coached in the Fiesta Bowl before, either. He’s a major part of this game’s 47-year history. He’s the guy who gave the go-ahead to perhaps the most famous college football trick play of the last 20 years, completing what probably still stands as the game that kind of made the old Bowl Championship Series fun.

Funny, though, how little Petersen seems to want to talk about that play.

read more…

Penn State (again) lands one of nation’s top talents

The NCAA and big-time college football ventured for the first time into an early signing period for recruits this morning, and Penn State has made the biggest splash in the nation so far.

Harrisburg High School phenom Micah Parsons committed to Penn State, choosing the Nittany Lions over Oklahoma, Nebraska, Ohio State and Alabama during a raucous and (frankly) partisan Penn State crowd during a ceremony in downtown Harrisburg this morning. Parsons is a five-star prospect according to 247sports, which also ranks him as the No. 4 overall prospect in the nation.

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Parsons signed his letter of intent, and he’s the 13th member of the 2018 recruiting class known to have done so on what has been a busy morning for the Nittany Lions. Head coach James Franklin and his staff are expected to now receive letters of intent from 20 players, and that number could rise of receiver Jahan Dotson, a UCLA commit who is expected to announce his decision today, flips to the Nittany Lions, which some believe could be primed to happen. Parsons, himself, decommitted from Penn State earlier in the year to open up his recruitment before circling back to the Nittany Lions when all was said and done.

We’ll have more updates as the day goes along, as well as a full recap of Parsons and the immediate effects of the early signing period in Thursday’s editions of The Times-Tribune, Citizens Voice and all Times Shamrock newspapers.

Heisman ratings keep plummeting; Is there a way to fix it?

Heisman ratings keep plummeting; Is there a way to fix it?

The bottom line seems to be this: Nobody watches the Heisman Trophy presentation ceremony anymore.

Or, at least, that’s what the numbers indicate.

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If you want to get really technical about it, the Heisman drew a 3.6 rating in 2009. It had a 3.1 in 2012, when people first started realizing that the ceremony was hardly appointment television anymore. It hasn’t been above 2.0 since, and with a 1.5 this year, that means it has lost more than half of its viewers in the last five years.

read more…

Another PSU assistant heading south?

Another PSU assistant heading south?

Penn State running backs coach Charles Huff literally tries to bat the football free from the clutches of sophomore RB Miles Sanders during an August practice in State College. PHOTO BY JOE HERMITT, Pennlive.com, via ASSOCIATED PRESS.

This is still a developing story, and there is no confirmation from either side or either party, but Chris Vannini of The Athletic is reporting that Penn State running backs coach/special teams coordinator Charles Huff will be joining Joe Moorhead’s staff at Mississippi State.

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That would be a good promotion for Huff, who has done an outstanding job at Penn State under the radar.

Sure, he was the running backs coach at a time when Penn State had a generational talent at running back, and judging his effect on that — though there certainly is one — would be difficult. But I’m not sure anyone ever gave him the credit he deserves for the time he put into making the special teams units better. Remember how atrocious that group was before Huff got there?

Huff was also one of Penn State’s best recruiters, and unlike Moorhead, he does have plenty of ties to the southern prep scene from his days at Vanderbilt and Tennessee State. He also played and coached at Hampton.

With Huff presumably on the way out, that will create for an especially busy offseason on the staff front for head coach James Franklin. He now — at least — will have to replace Moorhead and Huff, and on Jan. 9, all FBS teams will be able to add a 10th full-time coach to their staff. So, make it three hires — again, at least — for Franklin this offseason.

Mississippi State to name Moorhead head coach, according to reports

Mississippi State to name Moorhead head coach, according to reports

It’s official, and it didn’t take long.

According to several reports, Mississippi State will name Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead as its next head coach during a press conference on Thursday.

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Sports are loaded with statistics these days, but in the end, there is only one that matters: How many points do you score? And Moorhead’s offenses scored points at a record clip for the Nittany Lions. In 2015, in Penn State’s last season with John Donovan running the offense, it ranked 101st in the nation in points per game. With Moorhead running the show, the Nittany Lions ranked 21st in 2016 and are at No. 7 right now in 2017. Moorhead was also beloved by his players at Penn State, and he had a great relationship with his fellow coaches and the media.

The move has been seen as a positive hire by the national media, and there’s plenty to agree with there. When you talk about the checklist of traits programs want in a head coach, Moorhead checks the boxes.

This move for Moorhead certainly won’t come as a surprise to Penn State head coach James Franklin, and the attention around the program will almost certainly turn toward who Moorhead’s replacement will be. Franklin acted rather quickly to hire Moorhead after he fired Donovan two years ago today. Penn State officially named Moorhead offensive coordinator on Dec. 12. Doesn’t mean they’ll work that quickly again, but it’s the template for how Franklin has operated in the past.

We’ll have more on this story throughout the day as it continues to develop…

UPDATE, 11:30: Moorhead’s hiring was officially announced by Mississippi State a few minutes ago.

Here is Moorhead’s statement:  “It’s a tremendous honor to be a Mississippi State Bulldog. I am thrilled to take the reins of an SEC program that has been as successful as this one has the past decade. I look forward to getting to know the young men on our team, hiring a staff and hitting the recruiting trail quickly. My family and I are excited about being a part of the Starkville community. I am grateful to John Cohen and Dr. Mark Keenum for giving me this opportunity, and I am proud to be your coach.”

Also, classy move by James Franklin, who also added a statement in Mississippi State’s announcement:

“We couldn’t be happier for Joe Moorhead and his family. This is a tremendous opportunity for him to return to being a head coach and continue to move forward in his career. We are so appreciative of everything that he has done for Penn State Football in his two years. Joe’s combination of leadership, X’s and O’s, and, most importantly, positive attitude brought the best out of our very talented offensive student-athletes. He has been a great mentor and coach to our student-athletes and friend to me and our staff. We wish Joe nothing but success at Mississippi State.”

Bowl predictions (Nov. 29 edition)

Bowl predictions (Nov. 29 edition)

Let’s get right to it this morning, because obviously, we’re entering a big weekend that will ultimately determine who gets picked to go where on Sunday afternoon.

The final rankings before the conference title games will take a little bit of predicting and a little bit of educated guessing, because we only have a few certainties:

  1. If Clemson wins the ACC, and Oklahoma wins the Big 12, and Wisconsin wins the Big Ten and Auburn wins the SEC, this is very, very simple: They all go to the playoff.
  2. If Miami or TCU or Georgia — or, especially, Ohio State — win, there is complete chaos.

Since this is a Penn State blog, though, let’s start with what we know about the Nittany Lions.

They aren’t playing this weekend, which is their own damn fault, and that hurts their chances to finish in the top four. Are those chances dead? Well, they were on life support last week, and I’d say they’re  just about breathless now.

But, is it an impossibility? Eh…

They would need Wisconsin to beat Ohio State, and Clemson to beat Miami. They would need Georgia to obliterate Auburn. And, they would need TCU to embarrass Oklahoma. If any of that happens, maybe — and it’s a far-fetched maybe, at that — the committee thinks, “Gee, we have to take the ACC champ, We have to take Wisconsin. We have to take Georgia. But do we take Alabama, which just lost to the team (rather convincingly) that lost the SEC title game? Do we take Miami, which has just lost two in a row heading into the tournament? Do we still take Oklahoma, which has lost twice, and has just been stunningly beaten? Do we really take TCU instead, because to do so, we have to bump them up from No. 11 in our rankings, to No. 4? Maybe, Penn State’s strong finish and close loss at Ohio State and that loss in the rain in Michigan State don’t seem that bad anymore.”

So, yeah…A LOT has to happen. And it won’t.

That said, Penn State is going to be in the New Year’s six bowl projections, unless the College Football Playoff committee completely reverses the stance it has taken on the Nittany Lions in recent weeks. Fact of the matter is, you can make an argument that the above scenario might hurt Penn State, if all of that happens and the committee decides to put Alabama or Oklahoma in. Then, TCU moves ahead, and maybe Miami stays there, and TCU moves up and…you just never know with Ohio State. But as unlikely a scenario as it is that Penn State makes a playoff semifinal, it’s just as unlikely that they fall out of the top 10.

So, here are this week’s bowl projections:

CFP No. 1

Sugar Bowl

CFP No. 4

Clemson

Jan. 1
8:45 p.m.

Alabama

Analysis: The way it turns out, the big story on my predictions list comes out first. I don’t really believe that, if Ohio State beats Wisconsin, it will automatically jump ahead of Alabama.

Listen, people: Losses have to matter. They have to be considered. They can’t just look at, “Well, who did you beat yesterday? What was your schedule like?” You have to consider the schedule has nuances.

Alabama beat Florida State at a time when just about everyone figured Florida State would be a top contender. But guess what: The Seminoles lost quarterback Deondre Francois for the season in that game, and Alabama really gets punished for that team kind of collapsing without its best player. But, when they had that player, Florida State couldn’t beat Alabama.

Alabama beat Fresno State from pillar to post, and Fresno turned out to be pretty good. The Tide beat A&M and Mississippi State and LSU, and no, none of those are season-defining wins. And yes, Ohio State has wins over Penn State and Michigan State, and it has a chance to beat Wisconsin on Saturday. But if Ohio State pulls out the Big Ten Championship Game, the committee would have to do what it did last season, and judge a one-loss team that didn’t win a conference title and a two-loss team that did. And that two loss conference champion has a really nasty loss on its schedule, just like last year. And last season, the one-loss team that didn’t win the conference title got in, and the two-loss conference champion went home.

I’m just not sure Ohio State can have this both ways. Not when the other team is Alabama.

CFP No. 2

Rose Bowl

CFP No. 3

Oklahoma

Jan. 1
5 p.m.

Auburn

Analysis: Oklahoma can be the No. 1 seed, and should be, if it beats TCU for the Big 12 title and Clemson loses to Miami, which probably puts them against Alabama or in a rematch with an Ohio State team they already throttled in Columbus.

At-large

Cotton Bowl

At-large

Penn State

Dec. 29
8:30 p.m.

Texas Christian

Analysis: The bottom line with Penn State is that it can probably go anywhere. If it winds up ranked No. 5, it goes to the Orange. If Stanford beats USC this weekend, it can go to the Fiesta Bowl. If the committee wants to shake things up and send Alabama out west to take on USC in the Fiesta, Penn State can go to the Peach Bowl. The Nittany Lions are in a good position to go just about anywhere, because they have national appeal and no real close-to-home ties with any bowl at the same time.

They still look best for the Cotton Bowl in my scenario, though. And fans will rue the day that Notre Dame couldn’t handle Stanford, because that looked like a prime bowl matchup. Instead, the Horned Frogs outlast Washington for that final spot.

At-large

Fiesta Bowl

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Southern California

Dec. 30
4 p.m.

Wisconsin

Analysis:This matchup is a good bet if the Trojans win the Pac-12 and the Badgers fall to Ohio State. If the top four in the final regular season CFP poll all win, this becomes the bowl with the most different possibilities. Ohio State seemingly goes here every year, and the committee would like to avoid that, if it has a chance. Penn State played USC in the Rose Bowl in January, and the committee also likes to avoid rematches.

It will be fascinating to see how the Fiesta shakes out if there are no upsets this weekend. Could wind up with the SEC title game loser out here, just to avoid repeat appearances and matchups.

ACC Champ/Replacement

Orange Bowl

Highest ranked Big Ten/SEC nonchamp/Notre Dame

Miami (Fla.)

Dec. 30
8 p.m.

Ohio State

Analysis: Seems a certainty that the loser of the ACC title game will be the highest-ranked ACC team and thus head here. So, that’s Miami’s spot. The highest-ranked team of those left, from the SEC or Big Ten, also goes to the Orange. Since there is no automatic bid to the Rose Bowl this year for the Big Ten champ, the Buckeyes could fall in here if Alabama is selected ahead of them.

At-large

Peach Bowl

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Georgia

Jan. 1. 2017
12:30 p.m.

Central Florida

Analysis:The committee will want a more regional matchup for the non-Power 5 rep, which will be either the Golden Knights or Memphis, and this is probably the best locale for either. Georgia obviously will be a good draw in their home state. But if the chaos surrounds the Fiesta, this could also get interesting.

Report: Moorhead a candidate for Mississippi State job

Report: Moorhead a candidate for Mississippi State job

Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead works with two of his best weapons, quarterbacks Trace McSorley (9) and Tommy Stevens (2). Moorhead is reportedly a candidate for the head coaching job at Mississippi State after leading the Nittany Lions’ offense to new heights in 2016 and 2017. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

It’s that time of year, when our worlds turn red and green, when we celebrate love and and hope for peace, when we embrace giving, when we wonder what’s going to become of Penn State’s coaching staff in the coming weeks.

Predictably, the talk of Joe Moorhead moving on to a bigger job has already started in earnest.

read more…

Bowl Projections (Nov. 16 edition): Will Penn State be in a major bowl?

Bowl Projections (Nov. 16 edition): Will Penn State be in a major bowl?

Two things I really do like about the current bowl structure with the College Football Playoff:

  1. It’s no muss, no fuss, once the final rankings are announced. You go where your ranking says you should go, according to the formula. You can argue the ranking, but not the destination.
  2. You still have to predict the final rankings to predict the major bowls, so it keeps fun discussions like this in play. And, that’s important to college football.

Anyway, this in many ways is as much a prediction of what the final CFP rankings will look like as it will be a prediction of bowl matchups, considering Penn State is firmly in the running for a New Year’s Six bowl game. It wound up ranked No. 10 in this week’s CFP committee rankings, which of course puts it on the cusp of that practically guaranteed area for a trip to the Fiesta, Cotton, Orange or Peach.

Penn State, for what it’s worth, is going to be a difficult team to gauge for those of us outside the committee down the stretch, which is why I doubt there is going to be very much consensus on where this team will play its bowl game before the final rankings are released on Dec. 3. Right now, the Nittany Lions are ranked essentially as the fourth-best two-loss team, and it would be totally on them if they lost one of their final two games, to slumping Nebraska at Beaver Stadium on Saturday or at lowly Maryland next weekend. But, I don’t know if even two blowout wins guarantee them very much, especially considering USC is right behind them in the rankings and has UCLA and the Pac-12 title game (coming off a bye, mind you) to play. The Trojans can easily vault PSU, which then has ???? paths to possibly rise significantly in the standings.

  • Auburn losing once, which would give it three losses. It would seem strange, in a year when the SEC is down, to give a three-loss team from that conference a ranking ahead of Penn State, which has lost twice in the Big Ten*, on the road, by a combined four points, to two teams that are ranked.
  • Wisconsin losing big, to either Michigan or Ohio State in the conference title game.
  • Georgia losing big in the SEC title game, which would give it two lopsided losses.
  • Notre Dame losing to either Navy or Stanford.
  • Ohio State losing one of its final three.

*And whether you like it or not, losing twice in the Big Ten is not going to be a terrible thing in the eyes of the committee. After all, it ranks four Big Ten teams in the top 17. Only the SEC has as many. And the Big Ten has six teams in the top 25. No other conference has that many. … In the committee’s eyes, the Big Ten is a pretty competitive conference, even in a year when it seems to be down. But as always, you can debate whether it’s down because everybody seems to be losing a couple of games, or up because anybody near the top of the standings legitimately can beat anybody else.

From purely a Penn State perspective, those are the most likely scenarios to move up, without a team near the top of the rankings completely falling apart. (I guess it’s conceivable Miami can lose two out of three, but who would predict that at this point?)

That said, here is my prediction for the top 15 of the final CFP committee rankings:

  1. Alabama
  2. Miami
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Ohio State
  5. Clemson
  6. Notre Dame
  7. USC
  8. Penn State
  9. Georgia
  10. Wisconsin
  11. Auburn
  12. TCU
  13. Oklahoma State
  14. Washington
  15. Michigan State

How do I come to this? I’ll try to explain briefly.

Alabama – Wins out.

Miami – Beats Clemson in ACC title game. But essentially, that game decides the 2 and 5 seeds.

Georgia – Loses to Alabama in SEC title game, handily.

Wisconsin – Loses to Michigan and Ohio State.

USC – Beats UCLA and wins the Pac-12 title game

Ohio State – Climbs the rankings with wins over Michigan and Wisconsin. Gets in as a 2-loss team because it wins a conference title and Clemson and Notre Dame don’t. Essentially, a year after conference championship didn’t matter to Buckeyes, it will be all that matters now.

This is the part that is going to change the most as we go through this exercise week by week, obviously. But, as we sit here today, that’s where I can see this going. And once you figure that out, it’s simple to figure out the rest of it, because it’s just following the formula.

CFP No. 1

Sugar Bowl

CFP No. 4

CFP No. 2

Rose Bowl

CFP No. 3

The next game in line this season to get filled would be the Orange Bowl.

This is a unique season when two of the three bowls with tie-ins to conferences are both hosting national semifinals, which leaves the Orange as the only bowl with a conference tie-in to fill.

Only, the ACC champion in my projection — Miami — is already going to Pasadena.

So, the bowl would fill that spot with the highest-ranked ACC team, which in this scenario is simple: Clemson is No. 5 and the last team out of the playoff. So, they are in.

So, too, is the highest-ranked non champion out of the Big Ten or SEC, or Notre Dame (if the Irish rank higher than the highest-ranked Big Ten or SEC team). So, that should yield a rare fortuitous matchup for the Orange.

ACC

Orange Bowl

Highest-ranked Big Ten/SEC non-champ OR Notre Dame

The next three bowls are going to be a crapshoot, because it’s pretty much the committee’s job to furnish the best matchups possible out of what remains.

Geography is always a big deal — it’s supposed to be, anyway — with the committee, and there are two geographical locales that make sense for two teams that are going to wind up earning top bids.

USC will be the Pac-12 champion in this scenario, and the Fiesta Bowl is at least in Los Angeles’ backyard. The Peach Bowl is played in Atlanta, and Georgia at No. 9 would be a big draw there. It makes more than a little sense for the committee to slot these programs close to home.

Penn State, of course, can fit in either of those games. But, only one problem there: Georgia and USC happen to be the last two bowl opponents for Penn State, and the committee is supposed to take that into consideration, too. So, I doubt Penn State slots anywhere at this point but the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex.

The question is, who would PSU’s opponent be?

Well, that might be pretty easy, too.

The three other teams in line for spots are No. 10 Wisconsin, No. 11 Auburn and the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion (if there is one). And, I’m projecting there will be — Central Florida, even if it loses to a game to Temple, South Florida or even Memphis in the American Athletic Conference title game).

Obviously, the committee isn’t going to pair Penn State against Wisconsin. And, if I were the Cotton Bowl committee, I’d be making a frantic pitch to keep UCF out of a matchup with Penn State.

Penn State is carrying that matchup from an interest perspective, frankly. And the bottom line is, Penn State fans might not pay en masse to go to Dallas over the holidays to see the Nittany Lions play a team they just paid to see play in Dublin, Ireland, in 2014 at the Croke Park Classic. It would also be the third time in five seasons the Nittany Lions and Golden Knights have met.

The Cotton Bowl hosted the forgettable Wisconsin-Western Michigan tilt last year, which drew a few more than 59,000 fans into a 100,000-seat stadium. If ever there was a bowl that would ask for a favor, it’s this one, and they might get it.

So, here are my projections:

At-large

Cotton Bowl

At-large

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Peach Bowl

At-large

At-large

Fiesta Bowl

At-large

It’s not exactly a dream matchup for Penn State fans, who are undoubtedly pining for Notre Dame at this point. Plus, if you really want to see Penn State play Auburn, you’ll be able to in three years at Beaver Stadium. So…as it stands now, not the type of game I can see Penn State fans jamming the travel agencies to get to. But, we’ll see.

If you’re interested in where the rest of the Big Ten is heading, I have these predictions, too:

Citrus Bowl: Michigan State
Outback Bowl: Michigan
Holiday Bowl: Northwestern
TaxSlayer Bowl: Minnesota
Pinstripe Bowl: Iowa
Foster Farms Bowl: Indiana (assuming it beats Rutgers and Purdue to win out)

Everyone else falls short of the six wins, I believe.

A deeper look at PSU’s rushing issues

A deeper look at PSU’s rushing issues

Running room has been difficult to come by lately for Penn State’s star running back, Saquon Barkley. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

Once, a few years ago, I spoke to a group of young students looking to break into sports journalism, and one asked me a questions I really loved:: “What’s the one thing about your job that you didn’t know about before you got it, and that nobody outside of the business could ever understand about it until they are in it?”

I had a lot of answers, most of which I won’t get into here. But, I will mention one, because it pertains. I told her this: The amount of research I do for stories that doesn’t actually get into a stories would surprise a lot of people.

I wrote a story for today’s Times Shamrock newspaper editions on James Franklin’s assertion that the Penn State offense — most specifically, its offensive line — has been “too finesse” this season, and what you’re going to find is the brilliant research I did that I figured would pound the point home about the running game’s struggles with a windmill slam dunk. Penn State has struggled in short-yardage situations recently, and maybe to a certain degree all season, I figured.

Get some info on what plays Penn State has been calling in short-yardage and goal-to-go situations on third and fourth downs — when you’re most likely to benefit most by being physical up front. Let that tell the story of the struggles.

Turns out, they’re struggling just as badly on first and second down as they are on third and fourth, statistically. So, difficult to make the assertion I was thinking I could make. But, there’s no question after looking at these numbers, that it goes beyond just being an inconsistent running team for Penn State.

It is, frankly, an unconfident running team. read more…

My predictions: The first CFP rankings

My predictions: The first CFP rankings

Well, tonight is the night, and while it doesn’t hold quite the joyous air of possibility that it seemed like it would most of Saturday afternoon for Penn State fans, the release of the first College Football Playoff rankings by the CFP committee tonight does still have significance for the Nittany Lions.

After all, one loss, on the road, to a top-notch program coming off a bye week, isn’t going to fare all that poorly in comparison with many of the other one-loss teams the committee will be considering in its initial top 15.

To prepare, I’ll be offering my guesses as to who will be ranked in the top 10. But, disclaimer: They’re only guesses. The beauty of a night like this is, you get to see the beginnings of what the committee values, how it will operate moving forward. These initial rankings are hardly predictors of who will finish in the top-4  come December — in fact, they’ve never come closer than halfway to a correct guess — but they do show what the past has meant.

Before we get to my prediction, though, let’s talk a little about where Penn State is going to land.

read more…