On July 23, 2012, Mark Emmert and the NCAA announced sanctions against Penn State University and its football program stemming from the incident involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and his sex abuse scandal/trial. In addition to being placed on five years' probation, the Nittany Lions would be ineligible for posteason play for four years, would vacate all wins between 1998 and 2012, would lose a total of 40 scholarships between 2013 and 2017, and would pay $60 million into an endowment for prevention of child abuse (among other penalties).
Just about a year later, the NCAA announced it would allow Penn State to begin restoring scholarships until the amount reached the FBS maximum allowance of 85 in time for the 2016-2017 year. A year after that, while Penn State sat at 2-0 on this current season, the governing body lifted the postseason ban, allowing the Nittany Lions to compete for a conference championship and be bowl eligible.
This is worth mentioning because the lift of the bowl ban delivered Saturday's matchup: Penn State and Boston College from Yankee Stadium, under the lights, with a 4:30 PM start.
Without looking into the overreach of the NCAA in terms of what it did to Penn State (and if it acted appropriately or not), it feels like this Saturday is a matchup of teams taking the next step into their future. The Nittany Lions are a great brand with a great tradition of support, but the days of watching Joe Paterno lead the team out of the tunnel are a distant memory. The wave of tumult hitting them in 2012 gave way to the stabilizing presence of Bill O'Brien, and now they're looking to rebuild under James Franklin, and while it's only two full seasons ago, it feels like a lot longer than that.
We have to mention this because without it, there would be no BC-Penn State matchup. We're not here to talk about the details, nor are we here to discuss how or why the last two years went the way they did for the Nittany Lions. All we can say is that it's delivered them here, to this game. It's the next step forward from the dark times to something nonexistent a couple of years ago, and it leads them to a showdown with Boston College.
Weekly Storylines (Billy Joel Edition)
I mean, how can you not go with the Piano Man when the game's in his back yard?
Uptown Girl. A win in this game, for either team, gets them a step closer to becoming more Manhattan than Staten Island. For Penn State, a win in this bowl game will allow them to put their past one step further behind them, to show the world that they are a program damaged by the sanctions but not crippled. It shows that despite losing four out of six games to end the season, they can gain a quality win over a better-than-average team.
By the same token, a Boston College win will prove how the Nittany Lions didn't beat anyone this year—wins over UMass and Temple got them to this game but they simply weren't a good overall team (please note the term overall since I understand they had a good defense this year).
On the other hand, a BC win is a huge step for Steve Addazio's construction project, a way to take the next logical step after receiving a BEATING from Arizona in last year's Advocare V100 Bowl. It illustrates just how Boston College can get to that next level illustrated by their win over Southern California. It ends this season, which started as a patchwork bridge year, on a higher note than any of us could've dreamed.
A loss is a setback and proof that BC isn't where we hoped they would be, that there's still substantial work left. We would rather take another step forward than have to spend the next few months evaluating from a missed opportunity.
We Didn't Start The Fire. One of my friends once gave an assignment in his class as a high school English teacher: he played this song and assigned his students to update the lyrics, writing a new verse for the time period of the 1980s through to today. It's essentially a time capsule, and it's one of those songs that's completely timeless.
Speaking of timeless, the two programs competing on Saturday have 23 matchups dating back to the post-World War II era. The bulk of their "rivalry" took place during the 1980s, and the Eagles and Nittany Lions played every year between 1981 and 1992. BC won once, in 1983, in a game played at Sullivan Stadium (later renamed Foxboro Stadium). Translation: there's history here, even if it's not even or favorable.
Each time you get a game between two teams with some form of history or some great tradition, there's a time to reflect on what's come before. There's always a next chapter, and the book never stops being written. This game is a chance for old alumni and fans to reflect on games played in the past, but it allows for the next chapter to be written. All of this is building an excitement towards this game that wouldn't exist against a team from the MAC.
It's Still Rock and Roll To Me. Joel wrote this song from the point of view of a manager or publicist in the entertainment industry trying like hell to remain "hip" to the younger crowd. It discusses his refusal to change, claiming that his style of music will still be relevant in the face of the newer styles. If you think about it, it's a great metaphor for what we're looking for in this game.
The college game evolved into a pass-happy, spread formation built around going faster, faster, and faster. Points are scored like tickets in Skee-ball: throw the ball up, get some points. Nobody is running the ball, going ground and pound, and building around tough defenses, right?
This game is going to be a throwback to an older era, one that's timeless in the face of people saying it just doesn't work anymore. Penn State is built on tough, rugged, physical defense and smash mouth offense. The Nittany Lions struggled passing the ball this year (along with a lot of other things on offense), but they run a Pro Style offense, not a spread. They run the ball almost as much as they pass it, and they're going to win this game by using a brutal defensive strategy to shut down the BC running attack.
As for the Eagles, we know they're a run-first team. We know their defense is equally stout, and we know they're going to employ multiple formations and an option running attack with Tyler Murphy (for the final time, too!). Both teams will line up, show exactly what they have, and dare the other team to stop it. The team that stops it wins.
It's not flashy, it's not new, and it's definitely not going to make any highlight reels anytime soon. This game is still relevant, and it's still football to me.
Special Bonus Tracks:
I love this city. Born and raised in Boston, the only other city I would even consider living in is New York City. Enjoy Gotham, everyone. It's the city that never sleeps, and I hope someone hits up Mamma Lucia's Pizza and Pasta House for me this weekend.
Matchup Fun Facts
School: The Pennsylvania State University
Nickname: Nittany Lions
Official All-Time Record: 756-368-43*
Claimed National Championships: 2 (1982, 1986)
Bowl Games: 44
Postseason Record: 21-15-2*
Head Coach: James Franklin
Years At School: First
Head-to-Head with BC
All-Time Series: Penn State leads, 19-4-0**
Streak: Boston College, 3
Last BC Win: 2004 (21-7 at BC)
Last Penn State Win: 1991 (28-21 at Penn State)
First Meeting: 1949 (Penn State 32, BC 14 at Penn State)
* - All of Penn State's victories between 1998-2011 were vacated by the NCAA as a result of the Jerry Sandusky Sex Abuse Scandal. Therefore, while Penn State has nearly 850 victories as a program, the NCAA only recognizes 756. The vacation of wins resulted in the loss of four bowl victories. Games vacated do not become losses on the official record.
** - Boston College played Penn State in both 2003 and 2004, winning both times. While wins by Penn State are vacated, losses are still counted.