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Know your foe: Penn State Nittany Lions

August 18, 2011
Old Main

Old Main was built in 1863

As with yesterday’s Michigan Wolverines posts, the Penn State Nittany Lions have been well-covered elsewhere; much of this post is drawn from Wikipedia articles (Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Nittany Lions football).

The Pennsylvania State University, commonly referred to as “Penn State” or “PSU”, is a public research university with campuses and facilities throughout the state of Pennsylvania. Founded in 1855, the university has a threefold mission of teaching, research, and public service. Its instructional mission includes undergraduate, graduate, professional and continuing education offered through resident instruction and online delivery. Its University Park campus, the flagship campus, lies within the Borough of State College and College Township, Pennsylvania. The Penn State Dickinson School of Law has facilities located in both Carlisle and University Park and the College of Medicine is located in Hershey. Penn State has another 19 commonwealth campuses and 5 special-mission campuses located across the state.

Penn State University Park is ranked among the top 15 public universities nationally and is considered to be one of America’s “Public Ivy” universities, which recognizes top public research universities in the United States. Annual enrollment at the University Park campus totals more than 44,000 graduate and undergraduate students, making it one of the largest universities in the United States. The university’s total enrollment in 2009-10 was approximately 94,300 across its 24 campuses and online through its World Campus. Penn State offers more than 160 majors among all its campuses and administers a $1.52billion USD (as of April 30, 2010) endowment. The university’s research enterprise exceeded $765 million for the 2009-2009 fiscal year, and in fiscal year 2008 Penn State was ranked 11th among U.S. universities in research income by the National Science Foundation. The university boasts the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (also known as THON), and has one of the top intercollegiate athletic programs in the nation. Penn State was an early leader in the movement for diversity admitting its first two women in 1871 and its first African-American student in 1899. It was one of the first schools to insist on integration in athletics.

Penn State’s mascot is the Nittany Lion, a representation of a type of mountain lion that once roamed what is now University Park. The school’s official colors, now blue and white, were originally black and dark pink. Penn State participates in the NCAA Division I and the Big Ten Conference for most sports. A few sports participate in different divisions/conferences: men’s volleyball in the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association, men’s lacrosse in the Colonial Athletic Association, women’s lacrosse in American Lacrosse conference, and hockey in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (moving up to NCAA Division I in the 2012-13 season). The fencing teams operate as independents.

Athletic teams at Penn State have won 65 national collegiate team championships (37 NCAA, 2 consensus Division I football titles, 6 AIAW, 3 USWLA, 1 WIBC, and 4 national titles in boxing, 11 in men’s soccer and one in wrestling in years prior to NCAA sponsorship). There have been another 53 national collegiate championships, by either individuals or club teams. The 37 NCAA Championships ranks eighth all time in NCAA Division I, and is the most of any Big Ten school. Recent championships won include Women’s Rugby, Men’s Gymnastics, Men’s/Women’s Fencing, Men’s Volleyball, and Women’s Volleyball in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 and Men’s/Women’s Fencing in 2009 won their respective national titles. Since joining the Big Ten in 1991, Penn State teams have won 48 regular season conference titles and 11 tournament titles, including eleven consecutive titles in women’s soccer (second longest streak in Big Ten athletic history), and six straight in women’s volleyball (the longest streak in Big Ten volleyball history). Penn State has one of the most successful overall athletic programs in the country, as evidenced by its rankings in the NACDA Director’s Cup, a list compiled by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics that charts institutions’ overall success in college sports. From the Cup’s inception in the 1993–1994 season through the 2007–2008 season, the Nittany Lions have finished in the top 10 eight times and the top five four times, and have finished in the top 25 every year. In 1999, Sporting News named Penn State as the country’s best overall athletic program, citing its consistent and wide-ranging athletic successes along with its athletes’ long-standing tradition of excelling in the classroom. Penn State placed 6th in Sports Illustrated’s top 25 rankings for athletic success for the 2007-08 academic year, the highest of any Big Ten school.

Beaver Stadium

Beaver Stadium: we'll talk more about this place another day


Despite widespread success in the overall athletic program, however, the school is best known for its football team, which draws a very large following. Penn State’s Beaver Stadium has the second largest seating capacity of any stadium in the nation, slightly behind Michigan Stadium. The football team is led by Joe Paterno, who, at 83, will be in his 46th year as head coach. Joe Paterno was in a close competition with Bobby Bowden, the head coach for Florida State, for the most wins ever in Division I-A (now FBS) history. This competition effectively ended with Paterno still leading following Bowden’s retirement after the 2010 Gator Bowl. Entering the 2010 campaign, Paterno had 394 total career wins. He won his 400th game, a huge comeback with the final score 35-21 against Northwestern University, on November 6, 2010. In 2007, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

The University opened a new Penn State All-Sports Museum in February 2002. This two-level 10,000-square-foot museum is located inside Beaver Stadium. In addition to the school funded athletics, club sports also play a major role in the University, with over 68 club sport organizations meeting regularly to date. Many club teams compete nationally in their respective sports. The Penn State Ski Team, which competes as part of the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association (USCSA) in the Allegheny Conference, as well as the Penn State Swim Club, which competes in the American Swimming Association – University League (ASAU), are just a few examples. Some other clubs include baseball, squash, karate, crew, and sailing.

Penn State’s most well known athletic cheer is “We are…Penn State.” Typically, the students and cheerleaders shout, “We are,” followed by a response of “Penn State” from the rest of the fans. This is typically done three or four times, and followed by “Thank you…” “… you’re welcome!” when completed.

Penn State’s football team has won two consensus national championships (1982, 1986) and claims five additional national championships (1911, 1912, 1969, 1981, 1994) by major selectors. For 105 of their 125 seasons the team was independent; they won the Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Football Association championship in 1891, the conference’s only year, and have won three Big Ten championships (1994, 2005, 2008)since joining in 1993. The school has produced a slew of NFL players.

The football team is widely noted for their simple game uniforms. They only wear white pants, and the jerseys are simple blue for home games, and white for away games. The team is only allowed to wear simple black shoes with white calf socks for game days, though blue tights are permitted underneath the white socks for cold weather games. The helmet is white with a blue stripe down the center, and a blue on white “Penn State” sticker covers up the forehead helmet logo. No team logos, conference logos, numbers, or other stickers are permitted on the helmet, though two Nike logos are on facemask visors that some players choose to wear. Penn State has worn bowl decals only since the 1997 Fiesta Bowl. Before that, Penn State always declined the decals so they can play out of their simple game uniforms.

Penn State is often referred to as Linebacker U for its reputation of producing outstanding linebackers. Dennis Onkotz was a two time All American in 1968 and 1969, and played on two undefeated teams. Possibly the greatest linebacker in Penn State history, Jack Ham finished his career with 251 tackles, blocked two punts, and went on to play on two undefeated teams. Ham later went on to the NFL, playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Greg Buttle was a terrifying linebacker during the 1973-1975 seasons, finishing with an astonishing 305 tackles in his junior and senior year. He was drafted by the New York Jets and is apart of the All Jet team. Lavar Arrington was an extremely physical linebacker who was all over the place. Arrington finished with 319 career tackles and 139 tackles for losses. He was later drafted 2nd overall by the Washington Redskins. Paul Posluszny became the face of Penn State football from 2003–2006, and is the definition of Linebacker U. Posluszny won the Dick Butkus Award in 2005 and the Chuck Bednarik Award in 2005 and 2006. He finished with 372 tackles, and was drafted by the Buffalo Bills. Dan Connor finished his career as the all-time leading tackler for Penn State with 419 and was drafted by the Carolina Panthers while Cameron Wake went on to capture MVP honors for the British Columbia Lions in the Canadian Football League before moving on to the Miami Dolphins and leading the National Football League in sacks during the 2010 season. Tamba Hali was the 20th overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft and led the AFC in sacks during the 2010 NFL season helping the Kansas City Chiefs reach the playoffs.

Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Joe Patern...

Penn State head coach Joe Paterno

Joseph Vincent “Joe” Paterno, born December 21, 1926, has been the head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions since 1966. Paterno, nicknamed “JoePa”, holds the record for the most victories by an FBS football coach, has coached more bowl game wins than any other coach in college football history and is the first FBS coach to reach 400 victories. He has coached five undefeated teams that won major bowl games. Paterno is one of three active coaches inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as coaches (along with Chris Ault and John Gagliardi).

Paterno is about to start his 62nd season on the Penn State coaching staff, holding the record for most seasons for any football coach at any university. The 2010 season was Paterno’s 45th as head coach of the Nittany Lions, the most years as head coach at a single institution in Division 1. Paterno has been on Penn State’s coaching staff for 691 of their 1,222 games, 56.5% of all games played by the program since its inception in 1887.

The Pittsburgh Steelers offered their head coach position to Paterno in 1969, an offer he considered seriously. The Steelers hired Chuck Noll, who won four Super Bowls in his first 11 years, and coached for an additional twelve seasons. The New York Giants reportedly offered Paterno their head coaching spot numerous times during the team’s struggles during the 1970s and early 1980s.

Michigan Athletic Director Don Canham contacted Paterno in 1969 to see if Paterno (whom Canham respected and knew personally) would accept the vacant Michigan job. Paterno turned down the offer and Michigan hired Bo Schembechler. In 1972, Paterno was offered the head coaching position by the New England Patriots. He accepted their offer, but only three weeks later decided to back out of it. The Pats hired Chuck Fairbanks of Oklahoma instead.

After five years of court battles, the Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) revealed Paterno’s salary in November 2007: $512,664. (He was paid $490,638 in 2006.) The figure is not inclusive of other compensation, such as money from television and apparel contracts as well as other bonuses that Paterno and other football bowl subdivision coaches may earn, said Robert Gentzel, SERS communications director. The release of these amounts can only come at the university’s approval, which Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said will not happen. “I’m paid well, I’m not overpaid,” Paterno said during an interview with reporters Wednesday before the salary disclosure. “I got all the money I need.”

As Penn State football struggled from 2000 to 2004, with an overall 26–33 record in those years, Paterno became the target of criticism from some Penn State faithful. Many in the media attributed Penn State’s struggles to Paterno’s advancing age and no apparent plans to retire, and fans and alumni began calling for him to step down. Paterno reject the requests, stating that he would fulfill his contract which would expire in 2008. However, others pointed out that the program’s struggles were also due to poor decision-making by Paterno’s assistants and staff, as well as uncontrollable circumstances like injuries.

Paterno announced in a speech in Pittsburgh on May 12, 2005 that he would consider retirement if the 2005 football team had a disappointing season. “If we don’t win some games, I’ve got to get my rear end out of here”, Paterno said in a speech at the Duquesne Club. “Simple as that”. However, Penn State finished the season with a record of 11–1 and were champions of the Big Ten in 2005. They defeated Florida State 26–23 in triple overtime in the 2006 Orange Bowl.

Penn State struggled to a 7-5 season in 2010 after a rash of injuries which led to them losing the 2011 Outback Bowl to Florida 37-24. Despite celebrating his 84th birthday in December, Paterno again shrugged off rumors of his retirement, merely stating after the bowl game that he would be back for the 2011 season.

Paterno has been involved in several controversies including a profanity-laced tired directed at Rutgers then-head coach Doug Graber in 1995, being accused of “making light of sexual assault” by the National Organization for Women in 2006, being involved in a road rage incident in 2007, and being questioned on control of the program in 2008 during ESPN’s Outside the Lines due to his team’s off-the-field problems.

Paterno has long been an advocate for some type of college football playoff system. The question has been posed to him frequently over the years, as only one of his five undefeated teams has been voted national champions.

Paterno believes that scholarship college athletes should receive a modest stipend, so that they have some spending money. As justification, Paterno points out that many scholarship athletes are from poor families and that other students have time to hold down a part-time job. On the other hand, busy practice and conditioning schedules prevent college athletes from working during the school year.

Paterno usually does not play true freshmen. However, he now plays exceptionally talented true freshmen so as not to be at a competitive disadvantage. In fact, some Penn State recruits, like recruits at many other schools, now graduate from high school a semester early so that they can enroll in college during the spring semester and participate in spring practice. Several team members from the recruiting class of 2005, including Justin King, Anthony Scirrotto, and Derrick Williams, received considerable playing time as true freshmen during the 2005–2006 season.

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