Friday, November 12, 2010

JoePa's Achievement

I guess it is only fitting to recognize that Penn State's Joe Paterno achieved a milestone last weekend that may have the staying power of DiMaggio's hitting streak.

Paterno notched his 400th coaching victory when Penn State scored 35 unanswered points and beat Northwestern.

Nearly 30 years ago, when the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant retired, he was the winningest coach in Division I–A with 323 wins. Since then, only a handful of coaches have eclipsed him and only two were on the Division I–A level.

One of those men, Bobby Bowden, has retired, and the other is Paterno, still coaching at the age of 83. He has been coaching the Nittany Lions since 1966.

Now, I'm a student of history. I've studied it all my life, minored in it in college. And it helps me to put these things into historical perspective. So here goes ... Lyndon Johnson was president when Paterno coached Penn State for the first time. That means there have been nine presidents during his tenure, including the current one. Three of those presidents have served two full four–year terms.

Paterno had been coaching at Penn State for more than 10 years when John Paul II became pope. And John Paul's turned out to be the second–longest papacy in the history of the Catholic church (third–longest if you include the undocumented duration of the papacy of the first pope, St. Peter).

Whenever Paterno does retire, literally generations of Penn State football fans will face a coaching transition that is all too familiar to followers of other sports teams but will be entirely new to them.

Culture shock of the highest order.

That's still sometime in the future, though, and some Penn State fans may prefer to occupy that cozy cocoon of denial — but the realists, like those who acknowledge that their parents are in a period in their lives when what once was deemed impossible seems not only possible but probable.

There have been whispers and rumors going around for years. As an example, Kevin Scarbinsky speculated in the Birmingham (Ala.) News more than three months ago that Paterno's days were numbered.

Indeed they are. All our days are numbered. JoePa, as I say, is 83. He is a mortal man, and, like all mortal men, he will die one day. Whether he has retired by that time or he collapses on the sidelines at a Penn State game remains to be seen.

It is certain, though, that his achievements will endure long after he is gone — and probably long after I am gone, too. I doubt that I will ever see another coach reach the milestone Paterno reached on Saturday. His nearest rival among active Division I–A coaches is Ohio State's Jim Tressel, who is a little more than halfway there.

Tressel, by the way, is Paterno's opponent this week.

Tressel is quite comparable to Paterno. For instance, JoePa has won about three–quarters of his games and so has Tressel.

When JoePa started at Penn State — and for a few years thereafter — college football teams only played 10 games in a regular season. There were fewer bowl games in those days, and there were years when truly deserving teams did not get to play in a bowl.

All things considered, though, Paterno has been remarkably successful at getting into bowls. He has done so about 80% of the time.

Tressel coaches in an era when teams can play in as many as 12 games during the regular season. Some conferences (not, at the moment, the Big Ten) play championship games at the end of the regular season so, with bowl bids and conference championships, some teams have the opportunity to play in as many as 14 games in a season.

Tressel has been coaching for about a quarter of a century. He is currently 57 years old. Think he can keep coaching for another quarter of a century?

Of course, it doesn't have to take quite that long to match Paterno. Tressel needs about 160 wins. Currently, he can't coach in 14 games in a season because the Big Ten does not presently play a championship game, but he could coach in 13 games per season.

And if he wins every game every year, he could, conceivably, pass Paterno around the year 2023. That's an unrealistic expectation, though.

On the other hand, if he wins about three–quarters of his games each year, as he has been doing — in other words, about 10 wins per season — he could get to 400 by 2027.

Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer is next on the list, only a few wins behind Tressel, but he had to work harder to get them. His winning percentage is around .667.

You'd have to figure that Beamer is a long shot to catch Paterno. He's 64. He does coach in a conference that plays a championship game, so he could, conceivably, coach in 14 games a season. But, at his present winning rate (which wasn't helped by that loss to James Madison earlier this season), he would need to coach about 18 more seasons to match Paterno — and Beamer would need to take Tech to the ACC title game and to a bowl game in each of those seasons for that to be possible.

Texas' Mack Brown is somewhere in between. He is 59 years old so he is a little older than Tressel, but he coaches in a conference that has a championship game so he could coach — at least in theory — in 14 games each year. His winning percentage is slightly better than Beamer's but he has farther to go. At the rate his teams have been winning, he could expect to catch Paterno in about 20 years.

No one else in Division I–A is even halfway to Paterno's total.

When Bryant retired at the age of 69, he was asked what he would do with his time. I'll probably croak in a week," he replied. And then, four weeks after his final game, Bryant did in fact die of a heart attack.

Bryant was only 69. One has to think that, if Paterno does retire, a similar fate may await him. Coaching gives him a sense of purpose.

Watch JoePa while you can. He is the last of a vanishing breed.

Tenth–ranked Michigan State is idle this week. All times are Central.

  • #4 Boise State at Idaho, 8 p.m. on ESPN2: Let's be clear about what this is. This is a mismatch.

    True, it is a conference game. But it is still a mismatch.

    Boise State has won its last 11 against Idaho and is really in no danger of losing this week.

    Idaho's defense is one of the worst in the nation, and it must try to stop the fourth–best offense, which is led by the nation's #1 passer, Kellen Moore. Idaho, meanwhile, is mediocre at best on offense and certainly no challenge for Boise State's defense.

    Boise State should make this its 12th straight win over Idaho.
  • #1 Oregon at California, 6:30 p.m. on Versus: Oregon has won six of the last 10 meetings, but Cal had won three in a row before Oregon won last year, 42–3.

    I guess everyone knows by now that Oregon has the best offense in the country, but did you know that Cal is ranked 12th on defense? That could produce something of a draw when Oregon is on offense. Maybe not — but it could.

    Cal's coach was once on Oregon's coaching staff"the offensive coordinator for one of the greatest teams in Oregon football history," writes Ron Bellamy in the Eugene (Ore.) Register–Guard.

    And that factoid might really be more than the trivia item it is if he had been on Oregon's staff a year or two ago when most of the young men who are playing now were recruited.

    But Jeff Tedford has been coaching at Cal for nearly a decade now, and he has no first–hand insights to share with his players and staff. He can only marvel at what has been

    Seems to me this game may well be decided by what happens when Cal has the ball — and, in that regard, Oregon's advantage is more decisive.

    I pick Oregon.

  • Georgia at #2 Auburn, 2:30 p.m. on CBS: This must be one of the more competitive ongoing series in the South. Since 1980, Auburn holds a 15–14–1 advantage over Georgia.

    Recently, the momentum has been with Georgia. The Bulldogs have won the last four encounters. And that includes the last two games played at Auburn.

    Plus, there could be some distractions for Auburn this weekend. Tom Fornelli writes, for CBS Sports, that the investigation into the recruitment of Heisman Trophy prospect Cam Newton is continuing. That could get in the way.

    If Auburn beats Georgia, the Tigers will clinch the SEC West, regardless of what happens in their season finale against Alabama. But that may not be an easy task.

    Clearly, Auburn's offense has been very productive. Newton has propelled it to #6 in the nation. But Georgia's defense may well be up to the challenge. It is ranked 15th in the nation, 13th against the run.

    Newton is a multi–faceted quarterback, but his ability to run has befuddled many defenses this year. It might not be so troublesome for Georgia.

    Meanwhile, Georgia's offense, ranked 54th, has been mediocre, but it might not have too much difficulty with Auburn's defense, which is 52nd in the nation. Even more interesting, Georgia's strongest offensive attribute, its passing game, might roll up some yardage against Auburn's porous pass defense, which is 95th in the nation.

    This is bound to be considered an upset, especially since the SEC East has struggled against the West this year, but I'm going to pick Georgia, which has won four of its last five after getting off to a sluggish start.

  • San Diego State at #3 TCU, 3 p.m. on Versus: TCU is 5–0 against San Diego State since joining the Mountain West Conference.

    With the nation's #1 defense and #8 offense, TCU looks too powerful for San Diego State, even though the Aztecs have been pretty good on both sides of the ball — probably better than you think.

    There has been talk that TCU might wind up playing for the national title. Perhaps it is a long shot, but rumor has it that, if Auburn stumbles against Alabama or in the SEC championship game, TCU would be next in line to face Oregon in January.

    Seems to me that such talk amounts to jumping the gun, and, as long as TCU doesn't allow itself to be distracted by talk of what might be, TCU should win this game.

  • Louisiana–Monroe at #5 LSU, 6 p.m. on LSU hasn't been terribly impressive on offense, but the Tigers' defense is sixth in the nation. That's a lot better than Louisiana–Monroe.

    With LSU coming off its victory over Alabama, it's probably a good thing that the Tigers get what looks like a breather this week.

    LSU should have little trouble winning this one.

  • Indiana at #6 Wisconsin, 11 a.m. on ESPNU: Indiana has lost five in a row to Wisconsin, and it has been nearly 10 years since the Hoosiers won in Madison.

    If that isn't enough, Wisconsin has been a lot better on offense and defense — especially defense — than Indiana.

    Couple that with the home crowd, and I expect a Wisconsin win.

  • #7 Stanford at Arizona State: For all intents and purposes, this has been an evenly divided series since 1993.

    But, in this series, it's worth noting that &mdash at least in the last 14 or 15 years — teams tend to win in threes.

    For example, Stanford won last year, but that snapped a three–year Arizona State winning streak. And, before that, Stanford won three in a row (from 1999 to 2001). And Arizona State won the three before that (from 1996 to 1998).

    Does that mean Stanford is about to embark on a three–year run of its own? Not necessarily. ASU has beaten Stanford at home every time they have met in Tempe in the 21st century.

    But the numbers suggest that history may be about to change for Stanford. Stanford is 13th in the nation in offense and should be able to handle Arizona State's 48th–ranked defense. When ASU has the ball, its 26th–rated offense may have more difficulty with Stanford's 37th–ranked defense.

    I expect Stanford to win.

  • Penn State at #8 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN: Penn State has only beaten Ohio State six times in the 17 games they have played since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993.

    But the Nittany Lions won the last time they visited Columbus, snapping a six–game losing streak at The Horseshoe.

    I doubt that Penn State can duplicate that accomplishment, especially with its average–at–best offense and defense going up against Ohio State's units, which are in the Top 20 in both categories. it must be particularly daunting for the Nittany Lions' #68 offense, which must try to score against the Buckeyes' #3 defense.

    I'll take Ohio State.

  • Kansas at #9 Nebraska: It would be hard to imagine a more one–sided series than this one.

    In the last 40 years, Nebraska is 38–2 against Kansas. And, in fact, Kansas has not won in Lincoln since 1968. Richard Nixon had not yet been elected president. The hits on the radio were "Hey Jude" and "Mrs. Robinson." Gas cost about 30 cents a gallon.

    Obviously, a few things have changed since then.

    Statistically, it doesn't seem that Kansas has a prayer. Nebraska is in the Top 25 in both offense and defense. Kansas' offense is 90th in the nation, and its defense is 87th. I pick Nebraska.

  • #17 Mississippi State at #11 Alabama, 6:15 p.m. on ESPN2: Mississippi State has only won two of its last nine games against the Crimson Tide, and the Bulldogs hardly ever win when they travel to Alabama.

    Does that mean the Bulldogs are due? I don't know, but one thing I can say for sure. Coming into this game, Mississippi State is the team with the momentum. The Bulldogs have won six in a row. Alabama, meanwhile, lost to LSU last week, its second loss this season.

    'Bama is ranked higher in both offense and defense, and Alabama is at home. I'm guessing that Alabama will win, although I wouldn't be surprised if Mississippi State keeps it close.

  • #12 Oklahoma State at Texas, 7 p.m. on ABC: Texas has won 12 in a row against Oklahoma State, and the Cowboys haven't won in Austin since Franklin D. Roosevelt was president.

    It's been a topsy–turvy kind of year for Texas, though. If the Longhorns lose to OSU, I think it will be the first time that Texas has lost to both OU and OSU in the same season. After Texas played for a national championship last January, I didn't think such a thing was possible.

    Of course, I wouldn't have thought that Baylor and Iowa State could beat Texas in Austin, either. Or that the Longhorns would go to Lincoln, Neb., and handle the Cornhuskers better than they did in last year's Big 12 title game.

    Brandon Chatmon has five reasons why Oklahoma State is winning, and he lists them in The Oklahoman.

    First on his list is the offensive line, and it's obvious the impact the line has had on the offense's productivity. OSU's offense is third in the nation, thanks to Kendall Hunter's running and Brandon Weeden's passing. But my guess is that OSU's offense will have its hands full with Texas' fifth–ranked defense.

    That's the marquee matchup, but the game may well be decided by what happens when Texas has the ball. The Longhorns' offense is an unimpressive 65th in the nation, but OSU's defense is a dismal 89th.

    Still, I feel more persuaded by Chatmon's observations — that OSU is only allowing one sack per game, that the Cowboys' defense hasn't been spectacular but it leads the Big 12 in turnover margin, special teams are better and key players have avoided injury this season.

    What's more, if you're Texas, home hasn't been the friendliest place to be this season.

    I'll go with Oklahoma State.

  • #13 Iowa at Northwestern, 11 a.m. on ESPN: There was a time when Northwestern was an easy mark for Big Ten schools. But Iowa has struggled against the Wildcats, losing four of their last five encounters, and the Hawkeyes haven't won at Northwestern since 2001.

    Well, that's what is working against the Hawkeyes — along with the fact that the teams are both ranked 42nd nationally in offense.

    On defense, however, Iowa is eighth in the nation. Northwestern has been struggling and is 75th.

    I expect defense to be the difference, and Iowa will win the game.

  • Texas–El Paso at #14 Arkansas, 6 p.m. on ESPNU: The last time these schools met, Arkansas was still in the Southwest Conference. It was 1989, and Arkansas handled UTEP, 39–7.

    As far as I know, that is the only time they have faced each other in football.

    QB Ryan Mallett has the Arkansas offense ranked 10th in the nation. The Arkansas defense is 27th. Meanwhile, UTEP's offense is 64th, and its defense is 66th. Advantage, Arkansas.

  • #15 Utah at Notre Dame, 1:30 p.m. on NBC: I don't think these teams have ever played each other in football.

    Statistically, it doesn't appear to be much of a contest. The offenses are reasonably comparable, but Utah has the clear edge on defense. The Utes are 13th in the nation, while the Irish are 77th.

    I'll go with Utah.

  • #16 Virginia Tech at North Carolina, 2:30 p.m. on ABC: Virginia Tech is 5–1 against North Carolina since joining the ACC in 2004.

    The exception came last year, when North Carolina won at Virginia Tech. Now, the Hokies are trying to return the favor on North Carolina's home field.

    The teams are about even on defense so the deciding factor should be offense. And, in that regard, Virginia Tech has the clear edge. The Hokies are 38th in the country; the Tar Heels are 61st.

    I pick Virginia Tech.

  • USC at #18 Arizona, 7 p.m. on ABC: Arizona snapped a seven–game losing streak to USC last year with its 21–17 win in Los Angeles.

    Now, the Wildcats will be trying to do something they haven't done in nearly 10 years — beat USC at home.

    Since both teams are in the Top 20 nationally in offense, the pressure will be on the defenses to perform. USC, which is 97th in the nation in defense, simply can't keep up with Arizona; the Wildcats, on the other hand, are ranked 20th in the country in defense.

    Because they have the stronger defense, I'm picking Arizona to do something it hasn't done since 1999–2000 — and has rarely done since it joined the Pac–10: Win back–to–back games over Southern California.

  • Texas Tech at #19 Oklahoma, 2:30 p.m. on ABC: For the last six years, the home team in this game has been the winner, and the Sooners have won their last six home games against Tech.

    The Sooners were humiliated last week by a Texas A&M team that may well be better than expected, even a few weeks ago. This is their opportunity to prove they are as good as their preseason hype. And, no doubt, OU has come through on offense, boasting at #16 national ranking. But Tech has been decent on offense, too, ranking 21st in the nation.

    If there is little difference between the two on offense, then it may come down to which defense does the job, and it looks like OU has a decisive edge in that category. Neither team has been spectacular on defense, and OU seems particularly suspect. The Sooner defense outranks the Red Raider defense, 68 to 106, but I have to wonder about any defense that is only 68th in the nation after facing the relatively light schedule that OU has faced.

    Well, anyway, OU's two losses this season have come on the road, and they'll be playing their last two games at Baylor and at Oklahoma State. Both games will be challenging. This one, though, is being played in Norman.

    I expect Oklahoma to win.

  • Kansas State at #20 Missouri, 11:30 a.m. on FSN: For 13 straight years, from 1993 to 2005, Kansas State dominated Missouri, winning every year.

    Most of those weren't very good years for the Missouri football program. There were few winning seasons during that time for the Tigers, while the Wildcats were usually ranked and sometimes played for the Big 12 championship.

    But the roles have been reversed in recent years. Today, it is Kansas State that is lucky to break even, and it has been Missouri that has been ranked. Missouri is currently riding a four–game winning streak against Kansas State, and the Tigers have won their last two at home against the Wildcats.

    What's more, Missouri has a clear advantage on both sides of the ball. I pick Missouri to extend its winning streak against K–State to five in a row.

  • #21 Nevada at Fresno State: Nevada is 8–4 against Fresno State since the teams became members of the same conference.

    Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick is sixth in the nation in passing efficiency, and common sense would tell you he should enjoy some success in this game. It could be challenging, though. Fresno State's defense, overall, is 38th, but its pass defense is rated higher than its run defense.

    Fresno can't afford to focus all of its attention on defense on stopping Kaepernick, though. Vai Taua has been running for well over 100 yards a game for Nevada.

    I'll pick Nevada to win.

  • #22 South Carolina at #24 Florida: South Carolina is aiming for its first SEC East title and a berth in the SEC championship game.

    The task it faces this week is formidable. Even though Tim Tebow is no longer on Florida's roster, the Gators have virtually owned the Gamecocks since South Carolina joined the SEC in 1992. In the 18 games they have played, Florida has won 17 — and the only exception came at South Carolina in 2005.

    Florida is 9–0 at home against South Carolina since they became conference rivals.

    Obviously, history is solidly against South Carolina.

    For that matter, so are the numbers from this season. Both teams seem to have the advantage over the other when they're on defense, but the Gators' defense is seventh in the nation. That should make things interesting when South Carolina has the ball.

    I know the Gamecocks are eager to win the East, and one of these days they will. But, this week, I expect Florida to win. It may be closer than it has tended to be in this series, but I still think this is the Gators' game to lose.

  • #23 Texas A&M at Baylor, 6 p.m. on FSN: These schools were Southwest Conference rivals so their history goes back well before the current incarnation of the Big 12.

    Since 1980, the Aggies are 22–6–2 against the Bears, and they have only lost to Baylor twice since the two teams became part of the Big 12. But both of those losses have come in Waco.

    Both teams have Top 20 offenses so the outcome may depend on which team has the more effective defense. And, in that regard, Texas A&M clearly has the edge. The Aggie defense is 47th in the nation; the Bear defense is 96th.

    Baylor's had a good year, but I think the Bears will struggle to stop the Aggies. I'll take Texas A&M.

  • Southern Mississippi at #25 UCF, 11 a.m. on CBSCSN: The two teams became conference rivals in 2005, and Southern Miss is 4–1 against UCF in that time.

    UCF's only win came on the road. UCF is still looking for its first win at home against Southern Miss.

    Southern Miss is 25th in the nation in both offense and defense. Based on the numbers, UCF, with its 18th–ranked defense, will have a slight edge when Southern Miss has the ball, but Southern Miss should have a considerable advantage over UCF's 57th–ranked offense.

    I'll take Southern Miss.
Last week: 12–6

Season: 162–34

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