Double Trouble and the Lions

College football is an incredible sport, unrivaled in pageantry, tradition, passion and double standards.

What is even more interesting is that Penn State is often at the center of these double standards and it appears like it is being set up to possibly witness it once again. First, walk down memory lane.

Heisman Heist

In 1994 PSU's Ki-Jana Carter was the most prolific running back in the country in arguably the best offense in the history. He averaged an eye-popping 7.8 yards per carry. However, Carter came in second in the Heisman vote to Rashad Salam of Colorado.

The reason many in the media pointed to for selecting Salam was that he managed to rush for 2,055 yards, which was such a rare feat in college football. In fact, no previous 2,000-yard rusher (Marcus Allen, Mike Rozier or Barry Sanders) had lost the Heisman Trophy.

Forget that Salaam had 100 more carries than Carter and averaged almost a full yard less per carry than Carter. Also, despite those 100 more carries, Salaam had exactly one more touchdown than Carter (24) in the '94 season.

Fast forward to 2002 when Penn State boasted it's own 2,000-yard rusher in Larry Johnson. The argument that won Salaam the Heisman all but evaporated eight years later. Apparently hitting the 2,000-yard mark was not as big of a deal anymore.

In '94, it was enough to pull it away from Carter. But in '02, it wasn't enough to give it to Johnson. Quite a textbook double standard there.

Box Score Bump

Rewind back to 1994 again. Undefeated Penn State, up big on Indiana on the road, allows the Hoosiers to score two late fourth-quarter touchdowns on the backups.

The Coaches Poll voters apparently go straight for the Sunday paper box score, see a 35-29 PSU victory and summarily drop them to No. 2.

Fast-forward to 2008 where Alabama holds the No. 2 poll position after eeking out a 24-20 win over Mississippi at home with nary a comment from the college football peanut gallery.

So a six-point win over a three-loss Indiana looks horrible. But 14 years later, the standards shift and a four-point win over a three-loss Mississippi is a "hard fought" win? Another classic double standard.

Close, Top-10 Wins are More Impressive in Texas

Back to 2008. Texas beats a top-10 ranked Oklahoma State team at home by four points, 28-24, receiving tremendous praise from the national media and holding its No. 1 spot.

The same day Penn State goes on the road to Columbus and beats a top-10 ranked Ohio State by seven points, a game much of the nation expected PSU to choke on, incessantly banging the "they haven't won in Columbus in 30 years" drum.

Yet, despite the impressive road win to knock off the 30-year monkey, some in the media started singing a different song, asking if PSU is worthy to be in the BCS title picture, even wondering aloud if a one-loss team like Florida should jump the Nittany Lions. Starting to see double from all these double standards yet?

The Irony of it All

What's ironic and interesting from the whole thing is that Penn State has been at the heart of several sport-defining changes in recent history, transforming the landscape of college football, including:

  • 1986: Penn State knocks off Miami in the Fiesta Bowl, still the most watched college football game in history. The game puts the Fiesta Bowl on the map and reveals the big time potential of college bowl games.

  • 1994: The Nittany Lions go 12-0 in impressive fashion. However, it is left out of the national championship picture after undefeated Nebraska knocks off Miami the night before the Rose Bowl. The snubbing of PSU results in a movement toward the present day BCS system.

  • 2002: Joe Paterno chases down an official after PSU drops a 42-35 overtime decision to Iowa. On second-and-eight, Zack Mills threw to Tony Johnson, who caught the ball at the 2-yard line on the left sideline. One official called Johnson in, but a second official overruled the call and ruled that Johnson was out of bounds when he made the catch. Paterno is widely criticized for his erruption. However, it plays an instrumental role in college football eventually introducing instant replay to the sport.

  • 2008: Could another Penn State snub in the title game lead to a step closer to an actual playoff system? The Lions first have to take care of business and win out, and then we'll just have to sit back and see. But it certainly would fit the Penn State trend — a major issue the Lions feel the brunt of that eventually transforms the game.


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