Two PSU assistants resign

Penn State linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher have both resigned.

Vanderlinden, who had been at Penn State since 2001, is a bit of a surprise because he’s one of the country’s best linebacker coaches, but head coach Bill O’Brien pretty much coaches the quarterback which made Fisher expendable. Perhaps O’Brien is ready to hire an offensive coordinator now that he has an opening on his staff.

Here’s the release from Penn State with a bit of editing:

UNIVERSITY PARK – Penn State Football coach Bill O’Brien announced today that quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden have resigned to pursue other opportunities.

“I appreciate all of Ron and Charlie’s hard work and thank them for their dedication and service to Penn State,” O’Brien said. “I wish them well in all their future endeavors.”

Vanderlinden was the Nittany Lions’ linebackers coach since 2001. Fisher was the quarterbacks coach the past two seasons.

“I’ve greatly enjoyed my 13 years at Penn State and all the student-athletes I had an opportunity to work with,” Vanderlinden said. “I wish Coach O’Brien and Penn State nothing but the best in the future.”

“I want to thank Penn State and Coach O’Brien for the opportunity to be a part of the program the past two seasons,” Fisher said. “It was a great experience and I am very proud of what we accomplished. Now I’m looking forward to the next chapter and making a positive impact on the next group of players I have the privilege of working with.”

O’Brien stated he will begin an immediate search to fill the two positions and will not comment on the status of the search until the positions have been filled.

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NCAA restores some scholarships to Penn State

When I got back from breakfast, much to my surprise, there was good news waiting for me about Penn State AND the NCAA.

While the NCAA won’t admit that it overstepped its bounds to begin with, it started that process Tuesday by restoring some scholarships to Penn State that it took away as part of unwarranted sanctions in the wake of the (fact) Freeh Report’s findings regarding Penn State’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Anyone who has actually read the entire Freeh Report (you might get 10 hands raised in a room full of 100 people) and not just the cliff notes version knows much of it relies on conjecture and speculation instead of evidence and facts. That the NCAA used Louis Freeh’s shoddy work (go ask Richard Jewell, Mohammad bin Hammam and Wen Ho Lee how credible Freeh is) to hammer Penn State with unprecedented sanctions instead of doing its own investigation was both lazy and irresponsible (also known as Mark Emmert Syndrome).

NCAA president Mark Emmert cited Penn State’s “continued progress towards ensuring athletic integrity” as one of the reasons for restoring some scholarships (Penn State will be at 75 scholarship players for 2014, 80 for 2015 and the full 85 by 2016), but that was never in question to begin with. The “culture” Freeh and Emmert alluded to when describing Penn State’s football program existed only in their minds and those of countless others who have ignored the facts of the Sandusky scandal and chose to run with a narrative that is starting to crumble.

Those who cling to that narrative will say Penn State doesn’t deserve to have its sanctions reduced. Those people are still furious the NCAA didn’t give the Nittany Lions at least a temporary death penalty if not a full execution. They’ll say Joe Paterno, along with school administrators Tim Curley, Gary Schultz and Graham Spanier, chose the reputation of the football program over the safety of children. You’ll hear how Mike McQueary’s eye-witness account of Sandusky in a shower with a boy (via a mirror for all of three seconds) on the Penn State campus was ignored. They claim a cover-up, initiated by Paterno, was carried out to protect Penn State instead of the most vulnerable of all people (nevermind that one of the prosecutors from Sanduksy’s trial said he found NO evidence of Paterno being involved AT ALL).

So if all of those are true, why is the NCAA reducing a penalty that was issued based on a report that alleged those acts? Paging Louis Freeh, you have some explaining to do. Better put on a few dozens pots of coffee … you’ll be waiting for a LOOOOOONG time to get any answers from Freeh (unless you’d like to show up at his speech in Dallas next month; after reading that release I thought calling Freeh “distinguished” was an insult to  the word distinguished).

When you look at what the scholarship restoration will do for Penn State, it’s simple. It means the Nittany Lions will be able to compete at a national level, both on the field and the recruiting trail, starting in 2014. Penn State will be able to recruit 22 players for this class (quarterback Michael O’Connor and defensive linemen Antoine White both plan to enroll for the spring semester in January which means they’ll count against Penn State’s last recruiting class that brought in 13 players – four of the 17 players who signed enrolled early and counted against the previous class) instead of the NCAA mandated 15 and 25 (the amount all schools are allowed although that doesn’t seem to apply to SEC schools for some reason) for the 2014-15 season. It also will end the days of relying too heavily on walk-ons (some of whom could be given scholarships) and deciding which players are good and which ones are worthy of  a scholarship offer.

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Thoughts on Bench transferring

While the news of Penn State sophomore quarterback Steven Bench’s decision to transfer caught me off guard at first, it makes more and more sense when you think about it.

Bench informed Bill O’Brien of his decision to transfer after O’Brien informed him that junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson will battle incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg, the nation’s top signal caller, this summer for the starting job. And with Ferguson having three years of eligibility left there was little to no chance of  Bench ever seeing meaningful playing time.

Bench’s decision to transfer was a smart one on his part because he will be able to go somewhere and play right away thanks to the ludicrous free agency rules the NCAA implemented when it handed down its ridiculous sanctions last summer in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. There will be no sitting out a year for Bench, who most likely will end up at a southern school.

The fact that Bench didn’t win the starting job coming out of spring practice, where he split first-team reps with Ferguson, wasn’t really surprising. O’Brien was going to give Hackenberg a shot to play this fall no matter how well Bench and/or Ferguson played this spring. The fact that Ferguson is ahead of Bench coming out of the spring is a bit surprising since Bench has been on campus since last June, but Ferguson is bigger, stronger and probably has a bit more natural ability as a thrower than Bench while Bench might hold a small edge in athleticism.

The biggest issue for Penn State is Bench’s transfer, which will happen at the end of the spring semester in early May, leaves the Nittany Lions with just two scholarship quarterbacks. Penn State played all last season with just two scholarship QBs, but just like at many positions the Lions didn’t suffer any injuries that forced an inexperienced player into action. Bench did see some time in the first half against Virginia when Matt McGloin banged his elbow, but McGloin returned in the second half.

What Bench’s departure does do is cement that the Nittany Lions will recruit a quarterback for their 2014 class.

The presence of Hackenberg, who I expect to beat Ferguson out for the starting gig, might scare off some prospects, but any incoming QB will be two years behind Hackeberg assuming that player redshirts as a true freshman. The only available quarterback who has an offer from pro-style prospect Michael O’Connor, a 6-foot-4, 233-pounder who also has offers from Michigan State, Rutgers and Vanderbilt among others. O’Connor is interested in Penn State and that only has to strengthen now there are just two scholarship QBs on the roster.

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Spring goes smoothly

Here is the column I wrote about Penn State’s spring practice that ran in Friday’s paper.

PennState’s spring practice went as well as could be expected.

The Nittany Lions, who end the spring with Saturday’s Blue-White game, saw several players answer question marks, were able to let some talented newcomers get in quality work thanks to the presence of known quantities and were able to experiment with a couple players at new positions.

No, a starting quarterback won’t be named and Bill O’Brien already said he wouldn’t do that going into spring practice. The arrival of Christian Hackenberg, the nation’s top quarterback, in June is a big reason why, but both Steven Bench and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson did well for themselves over the past month.

Another big plus is nobody went down with a major injury (offensive tackle Garry Gilliam missed most of the spring with a calf strain) while others (tight end Kyle Carter, linebacker Ben Kline and safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong) were held out while they recovered from offseason surgeries. True freshman tight end Adam Breneman saw some work, but precautions were taken as he returns to the field following a knee injury that wiped out his senior year of high school.

Penn State had several holes to fill along the offensive line with the departures of center Matt Stankiewitch and tackle Mike Farrell. Seniors Adam Gress, who saw time at tackle last year, and Ty Howle, who played guard last season but came to PSU as a center, both had good springs and seemed to lock down starting jobs.

Gilliam would have challenged Gress, but the converted tight end went down early in the spring and to Gress’ credit he took advantage of the opportunity. Howle never had much competition — sophomore Angelo Mangiro battled a hamstring all spring and redshirt freshman Wendy Laurent is still a year away from being ready — but Howle has taken command of the huddle and gotten himself stronger.

The Nittany Lions’ depth at linebacker is a bit scary and missing Kline didn’t help, but Mike Hull and Glenn Carson make those concerns a little less worrisome. Having redshirt freshmen Nyeem Wartman and Gary Wooten, who both have the talent to succeed, around for their first springs was big, but expect to hear incoming freshman Brandon Bell’s name this fall.

Walk-ons Jesse Della Valle and Ryan Keiser both saw extended time in the secondary, but former wide receivers Malik Golden and Trevor Williams both made the transition to defense and could stick. Spring practice is the time to experiment and with plenty of depth at wideout getting Golden and Williams snaps in the secondary was smart. Sophomore corner Jordan Lucas has also had a good spring while battling sophomore DaQuan Davis for the starting job opposite junior Adrian Amos.

While junior running back Zack Zwinak has the starting job locked down, his presence allowed the Nittany Lions to get a closer look at redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch. While he’s not quite as big as Zwinak, Lynch still packs a punch and has the speed to get around the edge. He’ll be a player to watch Saturday and this fall.

Even without Carter this spring, depth isn’t a concern at tight end. One name to watch is Brent Wilkerson, a redshirt freshman who gives Penn State another talented target to work the middle of the field.

A couple other names to watch Saturday will be senior Eric Shrive and junior Alex Kenney. Shrive, a five-star offensive tackle from Scranton, sounds like the first man up at guard and tackle, while Kenney, a State College native, is still looking to translate all of his speed and ability to the field.


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Spring practice preview

Pasted below is the column I wrote as a spring practice preview for Monday’s paper.

Also, and I know I’ve said this before, I plan on blogging much more through spring practice, which starts Monday, and even during the lulls of the offseason. I might even sneak out to Penn State media day in August. I start a vacation Monday and will be back at work on March 27, but if anything major happens I’ll make sure to post it here. Until then enjoy my spring practice preview/column:

As Penn State coach Bill O’Brien begins his second year with the Nittany Lions when they open spring practice today, there are plenty of holes to fill on both sides of the ball.

There is also a wealth of talent and skill returning, along with young players who will soon be household names. And after a year that saw the NCAA nearly bury Penn State only to have the Nittany Lions and their fans rally around the program, the focus can be more on the football field.

O’Brien, who briefly flirted with several NFL openings before committing to Penn State, earned a number of Coach of the Year awards after leading the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 record amid sanctions, player transfers and constant turmoil. While those will continue to linger over the program, O’Brien and his staff can turn their attention to putting another good product on the field.

The two biggest holes the Nittany Lions have to fill are at quarterback and leadership roles.

It’s hard to believe after his first three years that Matt McGloin’s absence would be a large void, but to his credit that’s just how good he was in 2012. The former walk-on was named the starter before preseason camp and never looked back, setting nine school records and tying another. McGloin, who threw 24 touchdowns and just five interceptions, left Penn State with career records for touchdown passes (46), 200-yard games (18) and 300-yard games (six).

Sophomore Steven Bench, who saw limited playing time in 2012, has a leg up on junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson in the quarterback race, but O’Brien said he won’t name a starter after spring practice. Incoming five-star recruit Christian Hackenberg is a big reason for that, but he won’t be on campus until late June.

The positive for whoever starts under center is the wealth of skill position players they’ll have to work with.

All-Big Ten first-team receiver Allen Robinson leads that group after a remarkable sophomore season. Robinson was named the Big Ten Receiver of the Year after catching a single-season school record 77 passes for 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns.

A batch of talented tight ends will also be at the new QB’s disposal. Kyle Carter, who received three freshman All-American honors, returns along with 6-foot-7 Jesse James and walk-on Matt Lehman. True freshman Adam Breneman, the nation’s top tight end, is already on campus and has been cleared for spring ball after missing his senior year with a knee injury.

Brandon Mosbey-Felder, Penn State’s third leading receiver with 31 catches for 437 yards, is back along with sophomore Trevor Williams, but keep an eye on redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis. Called Geno by O’Brien, Lewis mostly played quarterback at Wyoming Valley West, but earned rave reviews for his work on the scout team last fall.

 The backfield will be strong, with Zach Zwinak cemented as the starter. Zwinak didn’t break the starting lineup until the Purde game, but ran for 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. Bill Belton, the starter going into last season, returns, but the player to watch is redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch. Not quite as big as Zwinak, the 214-pound Lynch will bring a combination of speed and power that should have the Nittany Lions faithful excited. The loss of fullback Michael Zordich, who also played some tailback, can’t be overlooked.

There are holes along the offensive line, especially at center with the graduation of All-Big Ten first teamer Matt Stankiewitch of Blue Mountain. Senior Ty Howle will get the first shot there, but sophomore Angelo Mangiro will provide a challenge. Right tackle will be an open competition with Adam Gress, Eric Shrive and former tight end Garry Gilliam in the running. The return of left tackle Donovan Smith, and guards John Urschel and Miles Dieffenbach make line coach Mac McWhorter’s life a bit easier.

Captain, unquestioned team leader and outside linebacker Michael Mauti may be even tougher to replace than McGloin. Despite a slew of injuries during his career, Mauti played at an All-American level on the field and led like one off it last season. A knee injury in the second to last game kept Mauti on the sideline in the season finale, but Penn State showed just how much he meant to the program by wearing his No. 42 on its helmets against Wisconsin.

The loss of standout tackle Jordan Hill and outside linebacker Gerald Hodges sting, too, but there is talent there.

Daquan Jones has the ability to be the Nittany Lions’ next great tackle, but he needs to stay on his feet and be more consistent. To fill Hill’s spot, a competition will feature junior Kyle Baublitz, redshirt freshmen Austin Johnson and Derek Dowrey and senior Nate Cadogen, a former offensive lineman.

Mike Hull will start at one outside linebacker spot with Glenn Carson, who should step into the defense’s leadership role, in the middle for a third straight year. Sophomore Ben Kline and redshirt freshmen Nyeem Wartman and Gary Wooten will be in the mix to replace Hodges.

Deion Barnes, who earned several freshman All-American honors and was named the Big Ten Defensive Freshman of the Year, is back at one end. Sophomore Anthony Zettel will man the strong-side end spot, but could slide inside in pass rushing situations. Juniors C.J. Olaniyan and Brad Bars will see time, too.

The secondary must replace corner Stephon Morris, but returns starters Adrian Amos on the outside and safeties Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong. Sophomore Da’Quan Davis should get the first crack at Morris’ spot, but redshirt freshman Jake Kiley, who could also play safety, and true freshmen and early enrollees Anthony Smith and Jordan Smith could challenge Davis.

Sam Ficken made 12 of his last 13 kicks after a 2-for-8 start, but there are still questions outside 40 yards. Punter Alex Butterworth averaged just 37.4 yards on 51 punts. Both need to get better to fend off Chris Gulla, who can do both and will be on campus in June.

The return game wasn’t all that effective, but Lynch might change that on kickoffs. Jesse Della Valle averaged 7.6 yards per punt return, but Alex Kenney and Lewis could get a look there.

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Thoughts on Spanier charges

I really only have one thought to be honest, but I’ve also hyperlinked Graham Spanier’s statement to the charges filed against him yesterday along with a watchdog blog that has some heavy criticism of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and his involvement in this mess.

Here’s my thought on the Spanier charges, which included perjury, obstruction, endangering the welfare of children, failure to report suspected abuse and conspiracy. What happens if Tim Curley and Gary Schultz are both found not guilty of the those same charges against them? Spanier never talked to Mike McQueary or Jerry Sandusky or anyone directly involved with the allegation of abuse in 2001. All he knew about the event was what Curley and Schultz told him. If those two are found by a jury that they did not lie, how can a trial against Spanier even go forward? Simply, it can’t and won’t.

These charges should have either been filed a year ago when Curley and Schultz were charged, filed once Curley and Schultz were found guilty of their charges or not at all. The fact that they were filed less than a week before the election wreaks of political agenda. The fact that David Freed, Corbett’s handpicked choice to run as the republican in the attorney general race since his other handpicked AG Linda Kelly is not running, will likely lose to Kathleen Kane, who has promised an investigation into the involvement of Corbett in the investigation or lack there of against Sandusky, is evidence of that.

If Kane does win next week it’s going to be a long last two years in Harrisburg for Corbett.

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Time to make a statement

Just like it did seven years ago against the very same opponent, Penn State has the opportunity to show the nation what its football program is all about.

When rival Ohio State comes to Happy Valley on Saturday, the Nittany Lions will have the chance to do exactly what they did in 2005.

The Nittany Lions started that season 5-0, but many pointed to the looming matchup with Ohio State on Oct. 8 to see if Penn State had really returned to national prominence. Penn State came into 2005 with losing records in four of the past five seasons and calls for Joe Paterno to step down grew louder with each passing campaign. The game had passed him by, the offense was too predictable and the talent was not good enough to compete with the best teams in the country.

This past July, Penn State faced another daunting challenge when the NCAA slammed its football program with sanctions never seen before in college sports. As a result of the Freeh Report’s findings on the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, the NCAA banned the Nittany Lions from postseason play for four years, cut scholarships to 65 players starting in 2014 and limit them to just 15 recruits starting with this class, stripped all victories dating back to 1998, slammed the school with a $60 million fine and allowed players the ability to transfer and play immediately.

Many, including myself, thought this was the beginning of the end for Penn State football. How could they compete with teams that had 20 more scholarship players or could sign 10 more players with each recruiting class? Who would want to be associated with a program some had said was part of the biggest scandal in sports history? Which players would leave and how would they be replaced?

Back in 2005, many had wondered why Paterno continued to stay and why he was allowed to stay. He was coming up on his 80th birthday, an age, many said, when no person should be in charge of a Division I football program. The top recruits weren’t coming to Penn State anymore and the players who were on the team were making more news off the field than on it.

With the arrival of Derrick Williams and Justin King, two of the nation’s most sought-after high school players, and the emergence of a dynamite defense led by linebacker Paul Posluszny, the Nittany Lions quieted some with five straight victories to start 2005. It was the victory over Ohio State, with Williams scoring the game’s first touchdown and Posluszny racking up 14 tackles in front of nearly 110,000 screaming fans at Beaver Stadium, that showed that Penn State was back.

With sanctions looming over his program and some of his best players gone, Bill O’Brien continued to push forward in his first year as a head coach at any level. He said all the right things, did everything the way it should be done and had a powerful presence about himself that couldn’t be ignored. Still, O’Brien’s Lions got off to an 0-2 start and many wondered if this was the beginning of another dramatic fall by Penn State.

Not so fast said the Nittany Lions, though, as they rebounded to win their next five games, including a comeback at home against a ranked Northwestern team and a blowout at Iowa last week. Now comes the biggest test, Ohio State at home Saturday. Leading the Buckeyes will be Urban Meyer, who earned the signature of four recruits in February who initially committed to Penn State only to jump ship when the Sandusky story broke last fall.

The Buckeyes are also ineligible for the postseason, thanks to the tattoo scandal that cost Jim Tressel his job in 2011, but Ohio State was still able to recruit top-notch talent and has been just fine this season. The Buckeyes have won their first eight games, are ranked ninth in the country and boast one of the nation’s top talents in quarterback Braxton Miller.

Penn State is led by quarterback Matt McGloin, a former walk-on who has taken the reigns of O’Brien’s offense, and linebacker Michael Mauti, who has battled back from two severe knee injuries to play at an All-American level. Mauti, along with tailback/fullback Michael Zordich (both of their fathers played for Paterno) were the face of the program when the sanctions came down in July. They pledged their allegiance to Penn State and the mission to show all that hope was not lost.

This year’s team will play for no titles, go to no bowl game and be done playing just after Thanksgiving, but make no mistake they will be one of the most talked about team in Penn State history. That argument will only be strengthen if they can do Saturday what the Nittany Lions did seven years before.

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Season preview column

This was in our football pullout in Thursday’s paper, but thought I’d post it here, too. I didn’t write too long because of space, but was able to say just about everything I wanted to.

It’s almost time for football — finally.

That has to be the thought of every player, coach and anyone involved with the Penn State football program after dealing with daunting challenge after daunting challenge since last November.

From the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, the death of Joe Paterno, the hiring of Bill O’Brien and the NCAA sanctions levied last month, the Nittany Lions’ world has been changed in just about every way one could imagine.

There was some good, some bad, some sad and some frustrating, but when Ohio comes to Beaver Stadium on Saturday Penn State can turn its focus to football.

There will be a lot of unfamiliar faces, and uniform changes, when the Nittany Lions take the field.

When the NCAA dropped the hammer on Penn State it allowed any Nittany Lion to transfer with the ability to play immediately. The biggest name to jump ship was running back Silas Redd, who ran faster from the Nittany Lions than he did any tackler during a stellar sophomore season that saw him gash defenses for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns. Placekicker and punter Anthony Fera also left Penn State, transferring to Texas to be closer to his family and his mother, who has multiple sclerosis.

In their places will be Bill Belton, a converted wide receiver who ran away with the starting running back job after an impressive spring practice and training camp, and Sam Ficken, who was very consistent through the preseason while continuing to refine his kickoffs.

Belton and Ficken are just a handful of under-the-radar players fans will have to learn about.

Wide receiver has the most unknowns. Justin Brown left for Oklahoma, opening up a chance for sophomore Allen Robinson to take the starting spot. Alex Kenney will play in the slot and Shawney Kersey will play on the outside.

The offensive line replaces four starters, but the addition of strength coach Craig Fitzgerald has made a major impact there.

Defensively, Ted Roof will run a unit that will take more chances in one season than the past 30 combined. All-American linebacker Gerald Hodges returns to unit that gets Michael Mauti back, too.

O’Brien has been the rock of a program that has been beaten down by critics, transfers and sanctions that included a postseason ban and scholarship reductions.

The former offensive coordinator of the Patriots will hand his offense to Matt McGloin, but more importantly O’Brien is the new face of a new day in Penn State football.

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NCAA piles on

Here is the column I wrote that appeared in today’s paper regarding the sanctions levied by the NCAA on Penn State’s football program Monday.


So let me get this straight.

All Penn State victories are vacated starting in 1998, the same year that Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar decided not to press charges against Jerry Sandusky? The game at Ohio State in 2000 when freshman defensive back Adam Taliaferro broke his neck and nearly died didn’t really happen? And Joe Paterno’s last game, when Illinois placekicker Derek Dimke missed the game-tying field goal as time expired didn’t give Paterno his 409th victory, the most by any coach in Division I history?

According to the NCAA, the answer to all of those questions is a resounding “yes” after it levied unprecedented penalties against Penn State in the latest blow to State College from the Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

The sanctions did not bring Penn State to its knees. Instead, it beheaded the Nittany Lions for more than a decade.

No bowl game or Big Ten title game appearances for four years, a reduction in scholarships to 65 per season starting in 2014 for four seasons, only 15 scholarships available for incoming players starting in 2013, $60 million in fines and 112 victories from 1998-2011 vacated.

So why does this cripple Penn State? If you follow recruiting, you know that one bad class causes ripple effects for at least three seasons. Don’t think so? Look at Penn State’s recruiting classes in 1999 and 2000 and then you’ll see four losing seasons in five years.

And while I’m asking questions, here are a few more:

What irrefutable evidence does the NCAA have to make these decisions? How are the people directly involved in this mess being punished by the NCAA? What in the world did Mike Mauti, Silas Redd or Donovan Smith have to do with this to feel the wrath of NCAA President Mark Emmert? The answers are none, they’re not and nothing, but we live in a world where everyone is chastised for the actions — or inactions, in this case — of a few.

And don’t fool yourself into thinking that these penalties will only affect the football program.

Penn State’s men’s basketball team has already seen its top commitment, 6-foot-7 forward Brandon Austin from Philadelphia, de-commit Sunday. Teams like gymnastics, soccer and field hockey, all of which are funded by football, will suffer in every way a sports program can.

And forget about sports for a minute. The businesses in State College that depend on the 110,000 people who pack Beaver Stadium six or seven times each fall will see their livelihoods take a direct hit.

But, what about the children?

Does punishing the football program, other Penn State sports teams and the State College community make Sandusky’s crimes disappear? Will the victims sleep better knowing that the Nittany Lions will now become the doormat of Division I football? Can those victims walk with their heads held high since Paterno now has the eighth most wins of any coach in Division I instead of the most?

Well, at least now Penn State can focus on academics instead of football, right? It already was, since it is one of the nation’s top research institutions, has one of the best business programs in the country and, oh yeah, had a football team that consistently had one of the best graduation rates of any school over the past 46 years.

I must be a Penn State fan, right? You got it. I’ve been rooting for the Nittany Lions since 1986 and graduated from that fine university in 2002, but that has nothing to do with how I feel. In the end, children were abused. That is unacceptable and something that will always be with those victims. It could have been, and should have been, stopped a long time ago, but we know that now with hindsight.

What did the sanctions given to Penn State by the NCAA achieve? Absolutely nothing, unless you’re all right with negatively affecting the lives of people who had nothing to do with any of these tragic events.

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Looking ahead

In just over a month a new era in Penn State football will officially begin.

When the Nittany Lions take the practice field for fall camp on Aug. 6, the focus will finally shift to the football field (hopefully) as Bill O’Brien prepares to lead a program looking to rebuild its reputation after the circus that engulfed the entire university last November and seems to continue on a daily basis. I’m here to talk about football, though. I really don’t have anything to say about the latest piece of the puzzle, the e-mail saga created by CNN, which didn’t even have the “alleged e-mails,” but still chose to report on something that was read to them because that’s always a good way to choice to make when delivering the news.

Nope, I’m looking ahead to the fall and also at a few recruits who have committed to O’Brien recently.

The team will be without two more players as senior wide receiver Devon Smith, who was charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia in April, and junior cornerback Derrick Thomas both left the team because of personal reasons in the past few weeks. Losing Smith shouldn’t be too much to overcome as there is talent, albeit it inexperienced, at the wide receiver position, but not having Thomas will hurt. Although he never showed it on the field because he was in the doghouse too much to get on it, Thomas had a world of talent and would have been a big contributor this season. His departure leaves and already depleted secondary paper thin. Senior Stephon Morris and sophomore Adrian Amos will likely start at corner, but the only scholarship corners behind them are junior Mike Wallace and true freshmen DaQuan Davis and Jake Kiley. Expect at least one if not both of those kids to play right away.

Other than Smith and Thomas leaving, it’s been a pretty quiet summer for the Nittany Lions, which isn’t a bad thing. With Matt McGloin named the starting quarterback by O’Brien last month, the offense needs only to establish an offensive line to be a pretty good unit. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman tackle Donovan Smith, who might just be the most talented lineman on the roster, to take over on the left side, while Adam Gress shifts over to the right side after seeing time at left tackle in the spring. The line returns just one starter, but luckily that’s Blue Mountain’s Matt Stankiewitch at center, so there will be a veteran presence making the calls and getting everyone on the same page.

I was definitely in the group that questioned what kind of recruiter O’Brien would be, but he’s proven me and many other of his doubters quite wrong. O’Brien got a top-five quarterback in Christian Hackenberg from Virginia, the nation’s No. 1 tight end in Adam Breneman, who will miss his senior year after tearing his ACL last month, and a legitimate left tackle in Belle Vernon’s Dorian Johnson, long thought to be a Pitt lean. Penn State has also been stocking linebackers, getting pledges from Damascus, Md.’s Zach Bradshaw, Harrisburg’s Zayd Issah and Mays Landing, N.J.’s Brandon Bell during a two-week span. Another could be on the way as Reading’s Alex Anzalone will make his decision this weekend with Penn State, Notre Dame and Florida the top three schools.

Johnson is the biggest get by O’Brien and his coaching staff, which have hit the entire country as they try to build Penn State back into a national championship contender. Always thought to favor staying close to home, Johnson had long been pegged as bound for Pitt. That all changed when he visited Penn State two weekends ago with his mother and grandmother. Shortly after the trip, Johnson first called the other schools to let them know he wouldn’t be choosing them and then the call to Penn State to commit. Rated a five-star prospect by and a four-star prospect by, Johnson has all the tools to be an elite left tackle. He’s listed at 6-foot-6 and 268 pounds, but has great feet and uses his hands well for a high school player. He has a frame that could easily hold another 30 pounds without sacrificing any of his athleticism. With Donovan Smith the likely starter at left tackle this fall, don’t be surprised to see Johnson start his career at right tackle and move over to the left side when Smith leaves. That’s a good problem to have for the Penn State coaching staff.

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