AFTER LOSING TO THE WOLVERINES IN HEART-BREAKING FASHION, WHERE DO THE 6-1 NITTANY LIONS GO FROM HERE? MARK BRENNAN: As head coach Joe Paterno dead-panned a few moments after the game when asked that same questions: To Illinois. As competitive as the Big Ten is this year, this is by no means a lost season. While a national championship run may be a stretch, Penn State will lock down a BCS bid by running the table — and the Lions will be favored in all but one game. Think ABC and Fiesta Bowl officials aren't already slobbering all over themselves over the prospect of a Penn State-Notre Dame matchup in Tempe Jan. 2, especially after the game drew a horrid 7.4 Nielsen rating (by far the lowest of the BCS bowls) after pairing Pitt and Utah last season?
Penn State has a perfect bounce-back game against the Illini, who are 0-3 in conference and riding a four-game losing streak. But with Purdue, Wisconsin and a road date with Michigan State looming after that, the Lions would be wise to get over the tough loss in the Big House as quickly as possible.
MARK HARRINGTON: Penn State still has a ton to play for — a Big Ten title, a BCS bid and an incredible turnaround. The loss is a painful one for this team, but should refocus the squad, which has the leadership needed to make this a special season. Though there are no easy games in the Big Ten, Illinois gives PSU a manageable opponent coming off a brutal stretch.
Mark, you mentioned the BCS bowls are licking their chops at the prospect of a Notre Dame-Penn State matchup, but I think they would be just as excited to see a Florida State-Penn State battle pitting Bowden against Paterno, or how about a Penn State-Alabama matchup — lots of possibilities if Penn State does its part.
MARK BRENNAN: Speaking of Paterno, I believe there is a greater concern of him bouncing back with the requisite vigor than his senior-laden team. He looks dreadful after most road games anymore — travel in the Big Ten is no picnic no matter one's age — and following the crushing loss to the Wolverines, he looked every one of his nearly 79 years. If by chance the Lions lose again this season, he'd be much better off holding himself from the press and allowing his players to talk to reporters. I think the Nittany Lions are much more resilient and capable of dealing with adversity than he gives them credit for, and I'll bet they prove it over the next three weeks.
MARK HARRINGTON: I think you bring up an interesting point. Paterno did not allow any of the players to address the media following the Michigan loss — a mistake in my opinion. These players have heart, leadership and character and do not need to be sheltered in this manner. I think it would not only help the fans to understand their mind-set in dealing with the first loss of the season, but also aid the team in hearing the captains communicate the sentiments and direction of the team as they see it.
These players have accomplished a tremendous amount since the close of 2004 and have an important role to play with how they close out 2005 — Paterno just needs to allow them to play that role in order to meet the goals they set out to accomplish.