Football season is finally here, and we have a lot to anticipate for Saturday's game. First and foremost, we will get to see what the new Penn State football team has to offer. It's hard to know at this point in the season what we have.
Joe Paterno has already stated "We're lousy". But that doesn't mean we won't win. It just means that there will be some kinks to work out in Penn State's armor. The key to the first game of any season is which team is LESS lousy than the other team. The team that's more adept at working out the first game kinks will be the team that wins the game.
The 12 noon start works a bit in Akron's favor. Why? Because the #1 Student Section in the country, as declared by Kirk Herbstreit this week, is a bit slow when it comes to these early games. If they follow the typical pattern for a 12 noon game, the student section won't be full until perhaps 20 minutes into the first half. And without the students, the atmosphere isn't quite as intimidating as it could be.
If Akron scores early in the first half and builds confidence in themselves going into half-time, the game will be closer than some might predict. We need the student section - their energy and noise and craziness! Herbstreit's declaration is well-deserved - for games that start at 3:30 p.m. or later. Or for the second half of any game. But I've seen 12 noon games where a "lesser" team has capitalized on the more subdued 1st half atmosphere, and Penn State has struggled to catch up and win.
I'm confident that Penn State will win this game. But we need more than that: we need the chance to build experience and depth in our positions. We need to score big early, not late, so the second and third string players get some playing time, especially our new quarterbacks. We need the student section because they matter. Their noise and enthusiasm carries the rest of the stadium.
Often on a Monday morning I have shown the students a photo of the half-empty student section and asked them why they weren't there at kickoff. I show them the time on the scoreboard when the section is finally full. I get the inevitable answer: "But I tried to get there early and the gates were too slow." What time did you arrive at the gates, I ask. "Oh I was there a full 15 minutes before kickoff." LOL. It's a bit impossible anywhere at Beaver Stadium, even with reserved seats, if you wait that long to enter! We're at the gates an hour before kickoff to watch the pre-game warm-ups and then the pre-game show. Even a 15-minute delay getting to the gates can cause us to barely make it for the Star Spangled Banner.
Here's where the #1 party school as designated by the Princeton Review conflicts with the #1 student section as declared by Herbstreit. It's not that the students are sleeping in on a Saturday morning. They're at their very organized and elaborate tailgates by 8 or 9 a.m. It's just that the students are reluctant to leave their parties, and eternally optimistic about how long it will take to get to their seats once they arrive at the gates. The game isn't their only priority.
I shudder to think of what might happen this Saturday with the new student ID system for ticket exchange and gate entry. I hope it works smoothly and that it actually speeds up the process of admission at the gates. I will hear the complaints in class on Monday if there are problems!
In the meantime, we have Zippy to welcome, Akron's award-winning mascot. Zippy was declared the 2008 #1 mascot in a contest sponsored by Capital One. I don't remember much about the last time we played Akron, but I do remember Zippy as being an especially entertaining mascot. There should be some fun antics on the field between our Nittany Lion and Zippy.
When we joined the Big Ten in 1993, we started collecting the stuffed mascots of every opposing team at away games. Each fall, we line up the mascots in the order that Penn State plays the teams on our fireplace mantle. At the beginning of the season, all mascots are standing. If we win, we turn them face down. If we lose, the mascots remain standing. Right now our Iowa Hawkeye mascot is the only mascot that's standing on our mantle. I normally like to buy these mascots in person at away games. I couldn't find one at the Rose Bowl for USC. It's okay. I don't really want to be reminded of that loss.
But I just ordered a stuffed version of Zippy to be delivered by overnight express to our house. It's worth adding Zippy to our mascot collection. He's a very cute kangaroo!
Once Zippy arrives, we will re-arrange our mascots on the mantle - all standing up in the order we play them - to start the new season. An annual ritual.
Ahh! Football!!! It's upon us. Go Penn State!!! Let's win some games and build some experience.