Twelve Days — Overview

Our 12 Days of Christmas breakdown of the Penn State football program concludes with an overview of the entire operation. Included at the end are links to the previous 11 days of the series.

12th DAY — OVERVIEW

MAKING A LIST, CHECKING IT TWICE: Given Penn State’s 4-7 record in 2004, there sure were plenty of positives for the program.

The highlights included a defense which allowed the fewest points per game in the Big Ten, a defensive line and linebacking unit which both bounced back from horrible efforts in 2003 to shine, a secondary that allowed five passing touchdowns all season, a legion of fans who continued to pack Beaver Stadium even when the Lions struggled, and a coaching staff that — somehow — set the foundation for a strong recruiting class even though the program sustained its fourth losing season in the past five years.

So when legendary Nittany Lion coach Joe Paterno tells you his team is not that far away from regaining its foothold in the Top 25, believe him (though his line about winning a national title sometime soon is a bit of a stretch). With a couple of adjustments and the addition of a few high-octane athletes, Penn State could well find itself back in the national rankings as soon as next season.

The talent appears to be on the way in the form of the fine recruiting class. Whether the necessary adjustments are made is another matter. Because in the two areas where changes need to be made — in the coaching of the offense and special teams — the Nittany Lions have been spinning their collective wheels for half a decade now.

Think about it.

A terrible offense for a season or two can be chalked up to any number of mitigating factors: Youth (we hear it’s like a disease); Injuries; Poor officiating; Transitions with new assistants; Off-field issues; A recruiting class gone sour; Plain old bad luck.

But, when everything unravels in four seasons out of five — with the offense and special teams — that’s not a matter of circumstance. It’s a clear pattern, one that ought to change if the program is serious about competing for a national title.

We’ll know soon enough if that’s the case at Penn State. Paterno has done so much for the school and community, and has developed such a model program in terms of graduating players, that the university brass is petrified to cut him loose. The reason: It will risk losing its highbrow reputation if it turns on the legend.

So it all comes down to the old coach. If he’s serious about contending for a national title again, he’ll reorganize his offensive coaching staff and appoint a single special teams coach sometime in February.

If he’s content to ride out the string by continuing to use excuse after excuse to explain away the program’s lack of success on the field, he’ll stand pat and defy anyone to come after him.

WHO WAS NAUGHTY: Great news here. The Nittany Lions had enough respect for the program, the coaches, their teammates and themselves to cut way back on the appearances in the police blotter from the previous year. For the life of us, though, we’ll never figure out what the heck is wrong with Maurice Humphrey.

WHO WAS NICE: In the last few years, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley lost his father, mother and brother. Yet through all of the tragedy, he was always quick with a smile and a handshake. And he never stopped working “like a dog,” as a certain head coach has been known to say.

It paid off in 2004, as he fielded one of the best defenses in school history. People use the phrase “it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy” far too often. In this instance, however, it is true.

UNDER THE TREE: What is sizing up to be a top-10 recruiting class nationally. Justin King and Derrick Williams, who will both enroll for the spring semester, bring the kind of speed on the edge that’s been missing from the program.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: Paterno must make an honest assessment of who is and who is not producing on his staff. That, and keep recruiting like crazy.

In the meantime, in case you missed any installments of our position-by-position breakdown — or if you’d simply like to recap — check out the links below.

Day 11: Coach

Day 10: Special Teams

Day 9: Cornerback

Day 8: Safety

Day 7: Linebacker

Day 6: Defensive Line

Day 5: Tight End

Day 4: Quarterback

Day 3: Wideout

Day 2: Offensive Line

Day 1: Running Back

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