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Friday, September 21, 2007

Know Your Foe - Penn State 2007

It’s the start of the Big Ten season, and Michigan fans are thankful for that. As a matter of fact, let’s call it the start of the real season since the pre-season didn’t go so well. And what a conference opener, as Penn State comes to Ann Arbor. Michigan’s beaten the Nittany Lions eight straight times, including a dominant defensive performance under the lights in Happy Valley last season. Michigan leads the all-time series 9-3, and PSU hasn’t won at Michigan Stadium since 1996. With those basics out of the way, here we go with the latest edition of the MZone's KNOW YOUR FOE.

History – Penn State was founded as the Farmers' High School of Pennsylvania in 1855 (you read that right, Farmer’s HIGH SCHOOL). With the passage of the Morrill-Land Grant Act in 1862, the school's name became only slightly worse - The Agricultural College of Pennsylvania. In the following years, enrollment sunk as the university tried to balance providing agricultural studies with a more classic education. Sound familiar? This is the same route that Sparty followed. No wonder they battle for the Land Grant Trophy in the last game of the season. The university’s motto of “Making Life Better” sounds more appropriate for an allergy medicine.

Location – State College, Pennsylvania, though the mailing address of the university is University Park, Pennsylvania. To add to the confusion, the area in which PSU is located is commonly referred to as Happy Valley. In 1953, when Penn State went from being a college to a university, college university president Milton S. Eisenhower wanted the town to change its name. No majority was reached in a naming referendum, so the name remained State College. However, PSU president Eisenhower asked his older brother, U. S. president Eisenhower to grant the university its own ZIP code and named it University Park. Happy Valley refers to the campus and surrounding area. Whatever you want to call it, the campus, though a bitch to get to, is a classic college town with a thriving music scene and plenty of places to eat or drink.

Surprisingly, over 60% of Penn State students begin their studies at one of the 19 commonwealth campuses throughout the state. It’s kind of a like a farm system for the big university in State College. I’m surprised JoePa hasn’t called up a player or two in the past few seasons.

Nickname – Nittany Lions, named for the mountain lion that used to roam the area near the university until they were eliminated in the 1880s. The mascot was created by a Penn State senior, H. D. “Joe” Mason, after he went to Princeton and was upset that they had a ferocious Tiger as a mascot and PSU had nothing. Good thing he didn’t steal Princeton’s helmet design. The Nittany part of the nickname comes from Mount Nittany near campus.

In 1940, the university built the Lion Shrine, which is probably the most popular place on campus for visitors, a huge photograph subject on graduation day, and is always a subject of the TV networks’ shots of campus during a game. The statue of a lion was carved by Heinz Warnecke from a 13-ton block of limestone. Again, much like Sparty, the Penn State ROTC guards the shrine during homecoming weekend.

In contrast to the dignified, elegant Lion statue at the Lion Shrine, Penn State also has a costume mascot that roams the sideline during football games. I think I could find a better costume at a Halloween shop. What did they spend on that thing, $10 bucks? It was accurately rated as “Sucks” by the Golden Tornado’s analysis of college mascots.

Colors/Logo/Fight Song – Blue and White. Yawn. Very common. Very plain. But that’s what Penn State football is about. Plainness. No logo on the helmet. Those horribly ugly white road uniforms with no trim anywhere. They are unique. But still bland. Still ugly. There was probably an uproar when they changed to a blue facemask in 1987. What most people don’t realize is that Penn State used to have a helmet adornment. From 1968 to 1974, a player’s number appeared on both sides of the helmet, similar to Alabama. After seven years though, this must have proved too radical for a still-youngish but still-ornery Joe Paterno, and PSU went back to the plain white with blue stripe.

The Penn State logo, which is a modernistic take on the statue in the Lion Shrine, returned in 2005 after a more modern (and generic) logo replaced it for four years. The current logo is unique and clearly signifies “Penn State” to any college football fan. The logo from the early part of this century was obviously the result of multiple marketing committees and planning teams. The university was wise to revert back to the classic logo.

As always, all images of the helmets are from the incredible Helmet Project site, and the logos are from the equally wonderful SportsLogos.net.

The Penn State Fight Song is non-descript and doesn’t rank anywhere near most of its Big Ten counterparts. Very few college football fans, other than those who cheer for the Nittany Lions, would be able to recognize it, much less hum a few bars. Sadly, the annoying electronic lion roar that’s repeatedly piped through the PA system at the stadium is more well known than the fight song (which Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said he actually liked last year on Michigan Replay).

Academics – You know you pale in comparison to your neighbor when Wikipedia begins its entry on your university with the following: "This article is about the state-related university. For the Ivy League university in Philadelphia, see University of Pennsylvania." Make no mistake, other than on a faulty Internet search, Penn State would never be confused with a prestigious university such as UPenn. Or many other highly-rated schools for that matter. PSU ranks 48th in the latest U.S. News rankings of the nation's universities, dropping one spot since last year.

Athletics – The Nittany Lions became members of the Big Ten in 1991. After enjoying tremendous success beating teams like Temple and Rutgers while an independent, Penn State has found the football road a little tougher, only winning two Big Ten titles since joining the conference. Their basketball team has been mostly a non-entity on campus, as has most of their men's sports teams. PSU hadn't won a conference title in any men's sport for three years until the football and futbol teams broke through last year. Along with their two national championships in football (1982 and 1986), the Nittany Lions have won NCAA titles in such sports as boxing, men's soccer, and women's bowling. And they're a veritable dynasty in fencing, having won ten national titles since 1990, including in 2007.

Famous alums – For a school with the largest dues-paying alumni association in the world, Penn State sure doesn't have many well-known members. Take a look at this list. Come on, the most well known person on the "Art/Media" list might be the former carpenter on Trading Spaces. No, not Ty Pennington. They're so desperate to get people on the list, they actually list a Survivor contestant...who finished third. OK, they can claim one of the founders of Fisher-Price (Fisher, not Price), but that's about it for business. As far as athletes listed, they're almost all football players. That isn't surprising, but it's certainly different from any other school Michigan's played. But I will give them credit for spanning the political spectrum when producing polarizing politicians and their relatives: Hillary Rodham Clinton's father and brother, Valerie Plame, and Rick Santorum are all PSU alumni.

The Game – Making a prediction on this game is a crapshoot. How good is Penn State? Who knows. They’ve probably had the easiest schedule of any team in the country. But they’ve TCB. Michigan’s played at least two teams tougher than anyone PSU has faced, but they’ve looked horrible in those games. And all that last week against Notre Dame showed is that the Wolverines aren’t pitiful. Michigan has the streak going, but most of those years Michigan was the much stronger team. This year that’s not the case. PENN STATE 17, MICHIGAN 13.


MonkeyWrench32 said...

Michigan 24, PSU 10.

MGoBlue93 said...

That pic of the cat is indeed cool... but doesn't U of M have TWO of them at the museum of natural history? Two bitches two!

Nothing would be sweeter than a Michigan upset this weekend to make Sparty go uh oh.

I'll be laughing my backside off this weekend if Sparty tubes it against ND. Karma bitches karma.

Mr. Parker said...

Michigan 31 - Penn State 17

28 to 3 at the half

DanteJones said...

Good post, guys. Always enjoy this feature.

Wanted to pass along a link for people to check out. Though typically ESPN's website isn't that great, their Eticket feature often hits the mark and there was an exellent article written on the 1987 PSU-Miami Fiesta Bowl game. definitely worth a read:


whetstonebuck said...

I also, enjoy this weekly feature. Good job.

Penn St. 21
Michigan 17

I call them as I see them...in my night visions.

Jeremy said...

I actually really like the PSU fight song. Catchy, and iirc from band days, one of the most fun opposing songs to play (winner: Texas). It's too bad you hardly ever hear it. Even at the game last year, they'd play something else, or pipe in German techno.

RBratton said...

Wheres a good place to hang out up in A2 tonight? I'm coming up for the game this weekend.

stang said...

I'm at UPenn now and I can tell you that a lot of people outside of Philadelphia confuse UPenn with Penn State. It's prevalent enough that students sell shirts that have the Penn P and "Not Penn State" written on top of the P. I'm not kidding either.. most academics and students here know the difference, but most laypeople do not.

Andrew said...

what do you mean no famous alumni?? dude, Commander Riker of the USS Enterprise went there!

rbratton, check out iBlogForCookies for things to do/see in AA.


beast in 'bama said...

When I was a (very) little kid I used to think that a Nittany Lion was knitted by some little old lady. Explanation for the crappy mascot costume?

This game needs to be played in November amid snow flurries and heavily bundled cheerleaders and fans. Warm late September weather for this game just isn't right.

Scott said...

"After enjoying tremendous success beating teams like Temple and Rutgers"..... and Alabama and Southern Cal and Nebraska and winning the vast majority of its bowl games...(does that part about winning bowl games sound familiar, Michigan? No, you say?)

Sir Putts-a-lot said...

Gross over generalization on PSU's fight song(s). There are three, and they are quite well known outside the Big Ten, you know, where we didn't play until 1993.

UPenn's wikipedia article has a similar disambiguation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UPenn), and you will never see a "Not UPenn" shirt sold in State College.

I think you're looking at Penn State through Maize and Blue tinted glasses (or perhaps Scarlet and Grey).

You may also want to check for other famous PSU alumni and dig a bit deeper, also take a look at some bowl records before knocking the pre-Big Ten years.

Sir Putts-a-lot said...

Furthermore... I figured you'd update from last year - isn't this the same post as last year's?

Yost said...

Sir P,

Unless the mascot or school location changed, not really a lot you can update when talking about the basics of a post like this.

Sir Putts-a-lot said...

Very true, but there is more to PSU as well.

I guess I'm feeling like the little brother... you'd put more effort into making fun of OSU and I want in on that. I want attention, I want to be told that beating us 8 consecutive times feels better than beating OSU once. I want to live in my Big 3 Little 8 fantasy.


(At least I admit I have a complex, unlike most Pitt fans)

Yost said...

LOL, Sir P!

But don't confuse Benny's blogging laziness with a lack of respect for PSU.

For some reason, the asshole thinks his job is more important than this blog. What a dick, eh?