Know Your Opponent: Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State Fans

Welcome back to Know Your Opponent! Each week during the season we shed some light on the Buckeyes’ opponent, examining their record, traditions, mascot, famous alumni and anything else we think is worth making fun of. This week: The Nittany Lions of Pennsylvania State University!

I’ll admit this up front: I’m a bit of a Penn State hater, well beyond my typical KYO antics. And to be honest, it’s only partly due to the obvious Jerry Sandusky issue. The real reason is that living in the Baltimore-DC nether-region puts me in contact with many PSU alumni, and to a person, they pretend that Ohio State and Penn State have some sort of historic rivalry I’m supposed to be excited about. Outside of a general conference rivalry, this is completely one-sided. Perhaps in Joe Paterno’s heyday in the 1940s there was a true rivalry, but nowadays PSU is just another speck on the Buckeyes’ windshield as they cruise down national championship lane.

FBS Stats: Unranked (stats from Sports Illustrated)

  • Points per Game: 94th
  • Yards per Game: 132nd
  • Points Allowed per Game: 136th
  • Yards Allowed per Game: 102nd

Nothing to see here, folks. This is not to say the Buckeyes should get cocky, as Penn State took them to overtime last year (despite what the numbers said), but I’m not too worried about this one. This weekend, I’m hoping to gain back some of the 10 years I lost from my life expectancy during the Wisconsin game. They say stress is the #1 killer of middle-aged men, and now I can see why. To calm down, let’s check out this Penn State 2016 hype video:

Mascot: The Nittany Lion

The Nittany Lion is named after the mountain lions that supposedly roamed nearby Mount Nittany in the 19th century. It is not a unique animal, but your average cougar. Legend has it that during a trip to play Princeton in baseball in 1907, PSU senior Joe Mason was so embarrassed they did not have a mascot that he created the Nittany Lion on the spot. Mason proclaimed the Lion would defeat the Princeton Bengal Tiger through the means of its strong right arm alone, which is the origin of the one-armed pushups the current mascot does after touchdowns.

As first demonstrated by the fictional nature of the Nittany Lion, the Penn State community has a long tradition of self-delusion.

As first demonstrated by the fictional nature of the Nittany Lion, the Penn State community has a long tradition of self-delusion. These are the people whose beloved longtime coach, a self-declared exemplar of the “right way” to do things, covered up heinous sexual abuse of children in his own building by his right-hand man in service to winning games, who preposterously consider themselves the victims of Paterno’s downfall and the resulting NCAA sanctions. These people have spent the past three years pursuing a national PR campaign called “We Are Penn State” trying to prove, through sheer repetition and tone-deafness, that they have been wronged in some way, and not that their beloved martyr football coach aided and abetted a serial child abuser for decades. The entire foundation of Penn State’s claim to historic football greatness rests upon Joe Paterno’s legacy, which now means absolutely jack-shit. Hell, years before the Sandusky revelations came out Paterno was already a senile corpse, propped up Weekend at Bernie’s-style on the sidelines so PSU fans and alumni could keep pretending they were better than the mountain hillbillies that they are, all in service to keeping that sweet booster money coming in.

In July, it was revealed that Paterno knew of Sandusky’s pederasty as far back as 1976!!! These monsters then celebrated Paterno’s legacy during their September game against Temple, honoring his “commitment to student-athletes and academics.” Yep—they celebrated this shitbird after it became clear he had been covering up child rape for over 30 years. Holy hell.

2016 Record: 4-2, Third in B1G East

PSU earned close wins this season over Temple and Minnesota, and blew out Kent State and Maryland. They fell to Michigan 49-10 and to Pitt 42-39. The most exciting of these games was the renewal of their rivalry with Pitt, which had the Panthers holding off a last-minute rally by the Nittany Lions as they made their way back from a 21-point deficit. My takeaway from this game is that some Pitt fans wore “JoePa Knew” t-shirts, putting the team forever on my favorite list (next to Appalachian State), Mark May be damned. But, also, eff Mark May.

Coach: James Franklin

Franklin is a Pennsylvania native, and played quarterback at DII East Stroudsberg University of Pennsylvania. He began his coaching career as the WR coach at Kutztown University, also in Pennsylvania. From there he returned to his alma mater to be the DB coach while also serving as the OC of the Roskilde Kings of the Danish American Football Federation, which is a thing that actually exists, no bullshit. Next he coached WRs at James Madison, TEs at Washington State, WRs at Idaho State, WRs and recruiting coordinator at Maryland, WRs for the Green Bay Packers, OC and QBs at Kansas State, and then back to Maryland as assistant head coach/OC/QB coach. He received his first head coaching gig at Vanderbilt in 2011, where he stayed for three seasons. He came to Penn State in 2014 to replace Bill O’brien, who left for the Houston Texans.

Franklin led Vandy to three consecutive bowl games, a team that had never before attended two straight. In 2012 Vanderbilt finished in the Top 25 for both the AP and Coaches year-end polls, its first time since 1948. His 15 combined wins over his first two seasons there were the Commodore’s highest total since 1927. Franklin hurt some feelings at Vanderbilt when he abruptly left for Penn State, because if there is an exemplar of thick skin in academia it’s at a private research university in the south named for a Gilded Age robber baron. Upon his hiring, he was subjected to scrutiny over an alleged gang rape by four Vandy players he recruited. This came at a perfect time for PSU, still bearing the fallout from Jerry Sandusky’s crimes and the school’s botched cover-up. Another grim Franklin anecdote is when he was forced to apologize in 2012 for comments he made on a Tennessee radio show about how when he hires assistants he wants them to have hot wives, because that suggests they are confident. Essentially, Franklin is the perfect candidate to carry the mantle of Joe Paterno forward into the 21st Century, as while not suborning child molestation or serial murder, he steps on his crank with needless own-goals anyway.

Silly Traditions:

“Nittanyville” is the tradition of students camping out in front of Beaver Stadium prior to home games. Starting with the 2005 game against Ohio State, the tradition was originally known as “Paternoville,” when it was changed for obvious reasons. The student-run Nittanyville Coordination Committee, modeled after Soviet-era communist insurgent groups such as the German Red Army Faction, French Action Directe and the Peruvian Shining Path, governs it with an iron fist, “tolerating no dissent save the will of the proletariat.” At least that’s what their Facebook page says.

Another Penn State tradition is Joe Paterno’s “grand experiment” to get the most out of his players, both on the field and in the classroom, referred to as “Success with Honor.” I think we know which half of that equation JoePa and the administration prioritized. “Success with Honor” is now the name of a nonprofit organization founded by school boosters and other supporters to carry on this mission. Their goal is to facilitate folks finding other nonprofits to support; an Expedia for charities, if you will. That will definitely ease the sting from Paterno and Sandusky’s malfeasance. Sure, there are decades of lives ruined and squandered resources and goodwill in the Happy Valley community, but now it’s easier to find a charity! Problem solved.

Famous Alumni:

Ross Ulbricht, founder of the eBay for drugs and illicit goods on the dark web called “Silk Road,” is an alum. He was busted for conspiring to hire a hitman to kill a business partner, which is fun. Actor Ty Burrell, Phil on Modern Family, attended the school. Screenwriter Steven de Souza is an alumni, best known for writing Judge Dredd, 48 Hrs., Beverly Hills Cop, and Die Hard.

Commander Riker of Star Trek: TNG, Jonathan Frakes, is an alumni, earning his theater degree from the school. Keegan-Michael Key of Key & Peele fame is an alum, who looks strikingly like a skinny James Franklin, as we learned earlier.

Joonas Suotamo, former center for the PSU basketball team, played Chewbacca in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He will reprise the role in Star Wars: Episode VIII.

Late Medal of Honor recipient Michael Murphy was a Penn State graduate. The Navy SEAL was killed in action in Afghanistan during the events that would be depicted in the book and movie Lone Survivor. The CrossFit workout “Murph” is named after Murphy, as well as a Navy Destroyer and the Penn State Veteran’s Plaza, on campus.

Former senator and congressman from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, is a graduate. He’s best known as the inspiration for columnist Dan Savage’s quest to redefine “Santorum” in response to the senator’s retrograde views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Cleveland native and former Brown, receiver Joe Jurevicius, attended Penn State. The current Gates Mills resident now owns a series of laundromats in the greater Cleveland area. He had to retire from complications from recurring knee surgery due to a staph infection, in which he sued the Browns and the Cleveland Clinic for “failure to sterilize their facilities.” He settled with them out of court for an undisclosed sum. This has to be one of the most Browns circumstances the Browns ever Browns’d – sign a Super Bowl Champion and two-time Super Bowl team leader in receptions, who’s also a hometown boy, who makes an immediate impact on your historically terrible team, and then end his career by giving him a staph infection because of your filthy facility.

Finally, while not a real person, Marvel Comics’ character Bruce Banner, best known as the Hulk, is a PSU alumni in the company’s fictional universe.

Nittany Lions currently in the NFL (30 total):

Adrian Amos, S, Chicago

NaVorro Bowman, LB, San Francisco

Jack Crawford, DE, Dallas

Garry Gilliam, T, Seattle

Christian Hackenberg, QB, New York Jets

Tamba Hali, LB, Kansas City

Gerald Hodges, LB, San Francisco

Mike Hull, LB, Miami

Jesse James, TE, Pittsburgh

Austin Johnson, NT, Tennessee

DaQuan Jones, DL, Tennessee

Sean Lee, LB, Dallas

Jordan Lucas, CB, Miami

Michael Mauti, LB, New Orleans

Matt McGloin, QB, Oakland

Carl Nassib, DL, Cleveland

Jordan Norwood, WR, Denver

Jared Odrick, DL, Jacksonville

Paul Posluszny, LB, Jacksonville

Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville

A.Q. Shipley, C, Arizona

Donovan Smith, OT, Tampa Bay

Devon Still, DT, Houston

Nathan Stupar, LB, New Orleans

Ross Travi, TE, Kansas City

John Urschel, G, Baltimore

Cameron Wake, DE, Miami

Trevor Williams, CB, San Diego

Stefen Wisniewski,G, Philadelphia

Anthony Zettel, DL, Detroit

Besides providing seemingly half the Jacksonville Jaguars squad, PSU has also produced 33 percent of the backup quarterbacks in the league, rivaling only Michigan State for its ability to produce substandard professional passers. I know who Jesse James is only because he has a cowboy name. Our semi-beloved Browns have one player on the roster from the Central Pennsylvania State College and NAMBLA enclave: uncharacteristically good 2016 draft choice, Carl Nassib. I’ve been a Nassib fan since the Buckeyes played PSU last season, as he seemed to be the only defender consistently giving hell to our offense. He also has a great story, a walk-on who added 57 pounds of muscle after making the team to turn into one of the Big Ten’s leading defenders, despite being the younger brother of Eli Manning’s backup, Ryan Nassib.

Noteworthy Players:

Quarterback Trace McSorley continues our streak of movie-quality QB names. I love the combo of the pretentious upper middleclass white person first name with the hard drinking and rabblerousing Irish last name. It really makes for an intriguing juxtaposition, like this kid either drove a brand-new Volvo in high school or swept out dive bars after closing for walking-around money.

Running back Saquon Barkley has 117 carries this season for 582 yards. He’s one of those players that the commentators constantly namedrop, which makes watching an offensive drive by PSU a chore. I can’t even remember what week it was, but I had recently flipped to the PSU game during halftime and all I heard was “Saquon Barkley” repeatedly and I had to turn the channel. Between this guy and Jabrill Peppers, I’ve had my fill of the “playmaker” narrative for teams other than the Buckeyes.


Here’s how I stand for the year:

Goddamn folks, did that game last week wipe me out. I am not happy about predicting it was going to be close, and being right in no way helped me cope with that first half. This week, I predict the Buckeyes notch the win 45-14. It will be a famed “whiteout” game at Beaver Stadium, so somehow what the fans will be wearing will affect our players? I’m not sure. Either way, it will be a great time.

That’s it for this week, Buckeyes fans! Stay safe, have a good time, and go Buckeyes!