Race for First Four NCAA Playoff Slots Intensifies as Finish Nears

Some college football experts worried out loud before the season that the 2014 Playoff would ultimately render the regular-season useless. Proponents of the newly-introduced mini-tournament made the case that it would officially end the bickering by creating a system that ultimately decides the champion on the field. As it turns out, both schools of thought are incorrect. It is clear that the playoff is a progression forward in the overall scheme of college football, but it simply makes the fifth-ranked team the new third-ranked team. Here is a compelling case for a half-dozen, very deserving squads.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

MSU entered the 2014 season with high ambitions, but even the most passionate fan could not have imagined the situation they have created nine games into their 12-game season. They’ve made easy work of their schedule to this point, dispatching of major players such as LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M. If they are able to get past an always difficult Alabama squad in Tuscaloosa next Saturday, they will pull to 10–0. If there are able to beat Ole Miss on hostile turf in the last weekend in November, they will be a clear-cut #1 heading into the playoff.

Florida State Seminole

Jameis Winston’s off field exploits have been well-documented and are the subject of substantial investigations, but his on-field play has propelled the defending National Champions to a 9–0 record with two cupcake home games left on the schedule. Simply put, the Seminoles are a lock for the first NCAA Football Playoff ever.

Alabama Crimson Tide

With Auburn losing to Texas A&M, the seas have parted for Nick Saban’s bunch to once again have a chance to make an impact on the National Championship scene. Their 20–13 overtime victory over LSU in Baton Rouge was impressive, but they still have to roll through Mississippi State and Auburn at home to preserve their one-loss record.

Oregon Ducks

By scoring 24 points in the second quarter and 24 points in the fourth quarter against on the road against an always dangerous Utah team, the Ducks pulled to 9–1 with a convincing 24-point victory, and are now on the fast-track to the four-game tournament. But pollsters historically slight West Coast schools, so we’ll see.

Texas Christian Horned Frogs

TCU is nother one-loss team that will be able to make one hell of a case for the 2014 NCAA Football Playoff if they are able to defeat the final three opponents on their schedule. Games at Kansas, at Texas and at home against Iowa State shouldn’t be much of a problem, which would create a huge problem for the panel assigned to determine the four entries.

Ohio State Buckeyes

The Buckeyes manhandled Michigan State in East Lansing this past Saturday, giving them an outside shot at entrance into the elite 4-team playoff if they win their remaining games and certain things go their way. A deserving and talented squad, they could very well end up playing the role of the first school to have a legitimate gripe for being left out of the new college football postseason.

Nittany Lions Ride Rollercoaster to Mediocrity Throughout 2014 Campaign

Penn-StateNobody was expecting PSU to make it into the first College Football Playoff Tournament ever, but many Penn State football fans were hoping that the team would at least make sizable strides behind second-year starter Christian Hackenberg, and perhaps prove themselves worthy of a major bowl game.

The sanctions and bowl ban that came in the wake of the fallout involving the horrific actions of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky were officially lifted by a rational and forgiving NCAA that decided punishing people who were not in any way involved in the wrongdoings had gone on long enough. The result was a Penn State Football squad that came into 2014 full of zest and hopefulness, and four consecutive wins out of the gate gave a passionate fan base in Happy Valley plenty of reasons to dream big.

Sadly, things fell apart once the conference portion of their schedule began. A home loss to Northwestern by a score of 29 – 6 left fans shocked and unsure about the future, and what happened over the course of the next five weeks brought the team back down to Earth with a thud. Losses at Michigan and at home to Ohio State and Maryland left the team with a 4–4 record early in November. This has left them hoping to scrap their way into bowl eligibility and make a showing in the postseason. Penn State eked out a 13–7 victory against the Hoosiers in Indiana this past Saturday, keeping their bowl hopes in place.

It will only take one win in the next three games, but at this point apprehensive fans are hesitant to count on that. A feisty Temple Owls squad will come into town hoping for another signature win in their already impressive 2014 campaign. If the Nittany Lions are unable to beat them next weekend and cannot prevail with a victory at Illinois on November 22, it will all come down to a final, season-capping affair against what is sure to be an angry Michigan State Spartans team on the final Saturday in November.

As far as individual performances go, there are players who deserve praise and others who deserve to be called out. Hackenberg has not progressed at a pace that everyone affiliated with the program hoped and expected. His seven passing touchdowns on the year are juxtaposed with 10 interceptions, and a 57% completion percentage is nothing to boast about.

Running back has been a noticeable weakness, which has equated to a squad that has had trouble moving the ball. Senior ballcarrier Bill Belton has done his best to gain just over 3 yards-per-carry on a total of 80 totes. The brightest star on this team has clearly been freshman wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, who caught 11 balls on the opening weekend against UCF and 14 passes in a close loss to Ohio State a few days before Halloween. He has officially eclipsed Hackenberg as the hottest Pro prospect in Happy Valley, a region that is full of a mix of consternation about the present and hope for the future.

Nittany Lions Selected in 2014 NFL Draft

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Pop quiz: when was the last time a Penn State Nittany Lion was selected in the first round of the NFL draft? Give up?

The Miami Dolphins snagged defensive end Jared Odrick with the 28th overall pick of the 2010 Draft. This is a bit of a surprise given just how many Penn State players are making an impact in the NFL, including San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVarro Bowman, Kansas City Chief defensive end Tamba Hali and Oakland Raiders center Steve Wisniewski.

The first Nittany Lion to be selected in this year’s NFL Draft was wide receiver Allen Robinson. The Jacksonville Jaguars are in need of talent at nearly every position, and Robinson will likely be expected to learn the offense quickly and produce results as soon as this year. Justin Blackmon’s career has been one giant question mark to this point, so the 6’3” 20-year-old out of Penn State via St. Mary’s Preparatory High School in Detroit, Michigan has an excellent opportunity in front of him.

The Tennessee Titans selected that DaQuan Jones in the fourth round with the 112th overall pick. He will also have a chance to immediately factor in on a defensive line that has been in a state of flux the past few seasons. Tennessee is clearly building a winner, and Jones represents one of many exciting draft picks for the Midwestern franchise.

The final Penn State alum to go in this year’s NFL Draft was guard Jon Urschel. Urschel was selected in the fifth round by the Baltimore Ravens, a team that was on top of the world just a short year and a half ago, but is now scrambling to put pieces together around high-paid quarterback Joe Flacco. The 6’3”, 320-pounder has bulked up over the course of the last few seasons, and will likely become even more strong and robust as a result of professional training regimens and top-flight nutrition plans.

Urschel was born in Winnipeg, Canada, attended high school in Buffalo, New York and dominated on the gridiron in Happy Valley. He will now make the short trip to Baltimore to begin training for the first year of what he hopes will be a long and illustrious professional career. Folks who follow the program closely know that the Nittany Lions roster is chock full of young talent, so it shouldn’t be long before the dry streak involving Penn State first round picks is broken.

PSU Wrestling Glides to 4th Consecutive NCAA Crown, Built to Repeat

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PSU Wrestling Glides to 4th Consecutive NCAA Crown, Built to Repeat  

NCAA Division I Wrestling was dominated by Oklahoma schools for the first 40+ years of its existence before the pendulum swung eastward toward the state of Iowa. The Hawkeyes controlled the college wrestling scene beginning in 1975 and running through the turn of the millennium. Savvy college wrestling fans know that the Oklahoma State Cowboys won four consecutive titles from 2003 – 2007, and the Iowa Hawkeyes rattled off three straight between 2008 and 2010. Now, it appears to be Penn State’s turn in the spotlight, and there is no way to determine where this building wave of greatness will crest and splash upon the shore of college wrestling history.

On a sunny spring weekend in Oklahoma City, Nittany Lions head coach Cael Sanderson was once again able to get 100% out of his troops. The fifth-year head coach asks the absolute most out of his athletes – to be fully accountable for their actions both on and off the mat. This approach has been met with enthusiasm and has resulted in record-setting results.

Commemorate The 2014 Penn State wrestling championship with A PSU wrestling champs t-shirt! Nittanyoutlet.com carries a large variety of Penn State Nittany Lions 2014 Wrestling Champs apparel!

Nittany Lions Senior Ed Ruth has an old-school name coupled with a classic approach. The 184-pound menace has carved out a larger name for himself through each of his years at the University, and he dictated the terms throughout all three stanzas against the Maryland Terrapins highly-touted Jimmy Sheptock. The theme was skillful takedowns and reversals coupled with plenty of consecutive minutes with complete control of his opponent. This pleased the many Nittany Lions fans in attendance, many of whom are ready and waiting to travel to whatever site the NCAA Wrestling Championships will be staged at in the future.

The other senior with a bright spotlight shining upon him during the final tournament in an illustrious career is the 165-pound David Taylor. The Ohio native, grad student and Hodge Trophy Award winner made his way out of old-school college wrestling country and into the heart of the modern wrestling machine after a dominating career at St. Paris Graham High School. Taylor wears spectacles when not wrestling and could easily be taken for a bookworm as opposed to a top-flight athlete, a mistake made by only the most unfortunate of opponents.

What does a fourth straight NCAA Division I Wrestling Title mean for Penn State? A few obvious repercussions include increased recruiting clout, media attention and one more win in an era where consecutive college sports championships are becoming increasingly rare.

Penn State Sends Off Potential NFL Studs to Professional Ranks

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Penn State Sends Off Potential NFL Studs to Professional Ranks

Head coach Bill O’Brien’s second year in Happy Valley didn’t go as well as first, but that was no reason for him to leave one of the most storied programs in college football history for the allegedly greener pastures of the NFL. Nonetheless, the Nittany Lions produced a number of top-flight graduates who are now hoping to make a living playing at the professional level. A 7–5 record meant the team did not exactly get the attention of the national press, but there are a handful of players who recently demonstrated their skills at the NFL Combine and cannot wait to the coached up by the best in the biz.

The cream of the crop is arguably wide receiver Allen Robinson, a strong 6’3″ pass catcher with big, sure hands. Over the course of the last few seasons, Robinson demonstrated many of the skills that make scouts salivate and anxious to get him inserted into big play offenses. Many experts have predicted Robinson going as high as the mid-first round, and a handful of teams are in dire need of big plays from the wide receiver position. His ability to run routes to near perfection and gain separation as the ball is in the air have a lot of teams interested in what he might be able to do for them.

DaQuan Jones was the top-ranked defensive lineman on the national college football radar going into the 2013 season, but a season abbreviated by injury did not allow him to showcase his skills to their fullest. Nonetheless, he ended up with 56 total tackles, including three sacks and an astounding 11.5 tackles for a loss. He has likely fallen out of the first round, but some team equipped with wise and savvy scouts aware of his skills and potential will surely snatch up and give him an opportunity to play a role in a defensive line in need of bulk.

Penn State fans are very familiar with the exploits of inside linebacker Glenn Carson over the course of last few years, and he will hope to put forth a performance that impresses scouts during an upcoming Pro Day. Carson had the most starts of any Nittany Lions player over the course of last four seasons and was a stout defender who opposing offenses often looked to avoid while drawing up their attack. He played in two bowl games in 2011 in 2012 before sanctions were implemented.

Passionate Nittany Lions fans will also be rooting for the likes of Zach Zwinak to catch on with a team if he does not get drafted in the first seven rounds. The 6’1”, 240-pound Frederick, Maryland native had a very impressive career moving the ball down the field for Penn State, as evidenced by the 2012 campaign in which he read for exactly 1000 yards in the 2013 season in which he racked up 989 on the ground. Given the series of reprehensible decisions that former Penn State coaches made which led to the recent repercussions and disciplinary actions, is a testament to the residual prestige of the great university that they were still able to put forth a handful of players well-groomed for a career at the professional level. Here’s wishing all of them the best.

TEAM REAM DAY

TEAM REAM DAY

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First Annual Team Ream Day (2014)

On March 2, 2014, the Penn State Men’s Basketball Team plays the Wisconsin Badgers.  This day typically is reserved for Alumni Day, in which Penn State annually celebrates the tradition of its past basketball student athletes.  This year Coach Chambers is starting a new tradition – Honoring the life of one of the most beloved student athletes from Centre County, Brandon Ream.  On November 25th, 2013, Brandon passed after a long and dignified battle with cancer. But Brandon’s spirit will always endure.  Team Ream is eternal; Team Ream embodies the never-give-up attitude of a winner; Team Ream is forever.

Brandon Paul Ream was born in State College, PA on January 23, 1984. A lifelong resident of Happy Valley and a Penn State Graduate, he loved Central PA and could never imagine calling anywhere else home.

As a child and teen Brandon was a standout football and basketball player. Through competition, Brandon developed an unbreakable attitude for success and a dedication to team spirit. He continued his athletic career by playing football at Penn State University where he met his wife, Samantha, a PSU volleyball player.

 After graduation, Brandon channeled his passion for success into his family’s business, Camp Woodward, an action sports and gymnastics camp. He worked his way up to become VP of Operations and guided the camp through both national and worldwide expansions. 

In November, 2011, Brandon was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Upon learning the diagnosis, Brandon drew upon his competitive drive and immediately entered “Battle Mode”. He, along with his family and friends, confronted the crisis head on with a positive attitude and a gracious spirit. Giving up was never an option and Brandon NEVER gave up! Which is why his battle continues…

 Through his life and his journey with cancer, Brandon recognized the value and the importance of a solid support system, the love of family and friends and the availability of quality resources. There is no such thing as good byes, only see you laters.

For more information or to make a donation please visit http://www.teamream.org/

Snapshot of James Franklin”: the New Nittany Lion King

The skys brighten after the rain moves out.Photo by Mark Selders

Snapshot of James Franklin”: the New Nittany Lion King

Just when things seemed to be in place for former coach Bill O’Brien to lead the Penn State Nittany Lions into the era of their next dynasty, he pulled up anchor hastily and quickly set sail for the NFL. This left a void atop one of the most esteemed and well-known college football programs in the nation. It was quickly filled by the worthy and capable James Franklin, a 42-year-old native of the state who is already poised to ultimately make this job the defining role of his coaching career.

Franklin was born in the tiny town of Langhorne in the early 1970s before he attended the local high school and starred as a four-year starting quarterback at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania. They played in a tiny division where evenly matched teams would do battle against one another for a full 60 minutes – the kind of games that help one carve out a deep competitive spirit and establish a familiarity with what it takes to win.

Like almost every head coach in major college football, he slowly climbed the ranks throughout the past decades, putting in work at small universities and gradually climbing the ladder of respect and recognition. His first paid coaching gig came in 1995 as the wide receivers coach for Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, a Division II team. He was only there one year before returning to his alma mater to coach defensive backs. His break in the Division I ranks came in the late 1990s when he was hired as the tight ends coach at Washington State University. In the following years Franklin coached wide receivers at Idaho State and eventually Maryland, a job he held onto for five years until he got the attention of the NFL and was tapped to fulfill the same role for the Green Bay Packers throughout the 2005 season.

After stints at Kansas State and big role with Maryland as offensive coordinator, it was becoming clear to the entire college football world that Franklin had the mettle to someday be a head coach. That day came at the perfect time when the Vanderbilt Commodores came looking for head coach in 2011. He went on to rack up the highest winning percentage of any coach in last half-century at Vandy, leading the school to a bowl appearance in each of the three years he was at the helm.

Throughout the 2013 season and especially throughout the last five games, Franklin showed an ability to win a football game in a variety of ways. A 52-point output in a win over the University of Alabama Birmingham demonstrated that the team could light up the scoreboard, and a 14 – 10 victory over the Volunteers in Knoxville, Tennessee showed that they could win a slugfest in hostile territory.

Franklin will likely move quickly to connect himself with the local community and a large and passionate fan base. Winning fans over is all about winning football games, and the Nittany Lions will have plenty of opportunities to do so throughout a 2014 regular season schedule in which they will likely be Las Vegas favorites in at least nine of their 12 scheduled games.

Penn State nabs stud QB and many others in impressive 2014 recruiting push

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Penn State nabs stud QB and many others in impressive 2014 recruiting push

It is true that the Penn State Football Team will be dealing with a couple NCAA sanctions in the upcoming years, and head coach Bill O’Brien made a quick departure for the NFL after it appeared that he was going to be the next face of the program in Happy Valley. Given these harsh realities, it might seem as though their 2014 Recruiting Class would suffer greatly. Luckily for fans of Penn State Football, that is not the case.

New coach James Franklin has hit the ground running and was able to lure a couple big-time recruits to campus using only the few weeks he had before the official February Signing Day. As a freshman, quarterback Christian Hackenberg came into the program and did a heck of a job in limited action over the course of the 2013 regular season, but Penn State made a proactive move by recruiting Michael O’Connor, a 6’5”, 223-pound four-star quarterback out of Florida who seems eerily similar to Hackenberg. This will obviously create a friendly rivalry that should greatly increase the stakes in spring practice.

Penn State landed a collection of four-star recruits, highlighted by De’Andre Thompkins, a 5’11″ sure-handed wide receiver with insane 4.41 40-yard dash speed and a thirst for soaking up as much of the game as he can. But the score of the entire bunch will likely end up being Saeed Blacknall, highly-touted recruit out of New Jersey who snags passes out of the air with ease thanks to his 6’3″ lanky frame and his nose for the football. What the team has in place with this trio is a young nucleus that could end up forming one of the most formative passing attacks in the nation in the next few years.

The team obviously continued its historic pedigree of defense by making an effort to land some of the strongest defensive players in the region. They didn’t exactly knock it out of the park, but young men who are expected to have an impact soon include linebacker Troy Reeder out of Wilmington, Delaware and defensive back Christian Campbell out of a small-town in Alabama. Both are big men expected to grow a few more inches, and both have posted staggering 40-yard dash times that have defensive coaches dreaming up possible schemes.

To have a change of the guard in terms of coaching during a critical period of recruiting is less than ideal, so fans should really be happy about what Coach Franklin has been able to do so far. Franklin got the attention of the college football world over the past three seasons while serving his head coach of the Vanderbilt Commodores Football Program, and he comes to Penn State determined to make this job the signature one of his impressive career, where he has climbed the ranks from being a Wide Receivers Coach at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania in 1985 to the lead figure of one of the most storied programs in college football history.

Penn State 2014 Football Preview

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Penn State 2014 Football Preview  

Let’s go ahead and get the negatives out of the way up front. Former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of a number of heinous acts 2012, and they will cost the University and its athletic programs dearly. The Penn State Nittany Lions football team is two seasons into a four-year probation that will always be a blight on the university, but just might end up being a pivotal moment in which they officially shed the somewhat archaic identity of the past and move into the modern era with a confident swagger under the tutelage of head coach Bill O’Brien.

The 2013 regular season began well with two consecutive victories, but the Nittany Lions lost a close game to the Central Florida Knights in mid-September. From there, the team alternated wins and losses every single game for the rest of the season. Victories over Michigan and Wisconsin were highlights, and losses to Indiana and Minnesota were low points.

In a normal year, Penn State would probably be asked to enter one of the first dozen bowl games, but that will have to wait a few years. However, the team is clearly being built from the ground up, and despite all the drama that has happened in Happy Valley, there are many things for Penn State football fans to be excited about as the team looks forward to 2014.

Quarterback Christian Hackenberg will be a year older and stronger both physically and mentally. The freshman was asked to step into a huge role at times throughout the season, and he performed admirably. O’Brien and other coaches obviously sold him on the idea that NCAA sanctions would expire while he was still at the University, and he is probably counting down the days until he has a shot at leading this team to a National Championship.

O’Brien has shown an amazing ability to recruit five-star players on both offense and defense, giving fans more than enough reasons to scoop up tickets and sell out the stadium week in and week out. Word has spread in recent weeks that the staff is wooing some blue-chip offensive lineman who would provide excellent stability for Hackenberg to work his magic. The wide receiving corps is full of young talent anxious to make an impact on the big stage. Bowl game or not, defensive lineman and linebackers know that displaying their skills at Penn State on a weekly basis in the fall is an excellent way to audition their talents for pro scouts.

Of course, rumors continue to swirl that O’Brien is ultimately seeking a job elsewhere and is open to listening to suitors on the professional level. The majority of fans hope that the 44-year-old Massachusetts-native will plant his roots in State College and establish a legacy that could make him the next great Penn State head coach. Uneasy fans can take comfort in the fact that if O’Brien does indeed leave, the best and most qualified candidates around the nation will be getting fitted for a new suit and hoping for the opportunity to interview for the position.

Penn State Wrestling Quickly Becoming Dynasty, Undefeated Thus Far

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Penn State Wrestling Quickly Becoming Dynasty, Undefeated Thus Far

The NCAA Division 1 Wrestling Championships date all the way back to 1928. The competition has been dominated by schools from the state of Oklahoma and Iowa. Coincidentally, it was Penn State University that broke a 25-year initial streak of one of the two aforementioned states winning the wrestling title when the bunch from State College, Pennsylvania emerged victorious in the 1953 tournament held at the Rec Hall on campus.

Amazingly, only three universities outside of Iowa and Oklahoma have emerged victorious as Division I wrestling championships in the several decades since. That adds up to over 80 years of college wrestling dominated by landlocked states full of strong and aggressive wrestlers.

All of this history has sets the stage for a shocking trend that has developed over the last three years. The Penn State Nittany Lions have emerged as the victors of the NCAA Division I Wrestling National Championship each of the past three seasons. This is not only an impressive run that can now be considered a dynasty, it is a shocking buck of the trend and clear proof that the University located on the East Coast is quickly becoming the epicenter of college wrestling.

A record-breaking attendance mark set in Happy Valley recently got the attention of the collegiate wrestling world, and the team didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately for opponents, the Nittany Lions are every bit as ferocious on the road. About a week ago, they marched into Iowa City and dominated a dual meet that served as a clear indication that teams throughout Iowa and Oklahoma might be looking up to Penn State in the wrestling rankings for some time.

The team seems poised to build on the success of three consecutive National Championship wins, and all weight classes are packed with youthful talent. The majority of the roster’s most important role players are sophomores and juniors who are already benefiting from world-class coaching and the exposure of college wrestling’s biggest stages.

Penn State is currently undefeated as of press time in their 2013 – 14 regulars season schedule. As each match unfolds with the weight classes building successively, it is clear to see the team has few if any weaknesses. Studs such as David Taylor and Matt Brown are apt to dominate their opponent by excessive force from the start of each match, while wrestlers such as Jimmy Lawson control the action with finesse and pinpoint timing.

 Folks interested in getting in on the action at Rec Hall should understand that tickets are in high demand. Penn State is becoming a dominant international force in several collegiate sports, and all the pieces are in place for them to be a powerhouse in wrestling well into the foreseeable future. They currently occupy the #1 overall ranking in the nation, and an upcoming trip through the meat of the Big 10 Conference schedule will likely leave squads such as Perdue, Northwestern, Michigan State and Minnesota icing their bruises.