Profiles of the Big Ten: Penn State

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Beaver Stadium in Happy Valley, complete with the reconfigured sideline from 1982

Penn State became the eleventh member of the Big Ten in 1993, and have won three conference titles since then. At the time of the announcement, the New York Times reported that there was "considerable doubt" that Joe Paterno would ever coach a full Big Ten schedule, as Paterno had reportedly said he would retire in 1991.

Well, twenty years later, JoePa is still the head coach at Penn State at the ripe old age of 83. Paterno will go for win #400 this fall, his 45th as the head coach of the Nittany Lions. Prior to becoming head coach, Paterno spent 16 seasons as an assistant...so this is his 61st season at Penn State.

Stop and pause for that one for a second.  61 years on the job.

Paterno led the Nittany Lions to national championships in 1982 and 1986.  The 21st century has been less than kind to Paterno, From 2000 to 2004, Penn State only had one winning season, leading to grumbling that time had passed JoePa by. But since then, Penn State has shared two conference championships and won no fewer than nine games each of the last five seasons.

Paterno once said that Tom Osborne would win a national championship when he least expected it. Turns out to be literally the case as in 1994, Penn State and Paterno were disappointed to go undefeated and see Nebraska (and Osborne) named national champions. But the roots of that go back to 1982, when Penn State handed Nebraska it's only loss of the season thanks to two of the worst calls ever made in college football history. (Per the Penn State Daily Collegian)


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JoePa & Penn State fans still don't understand how his 1994 team didn't merit a national championship.

With seconds left, Penn State quarterback Todd Blackledge threw to Mike McCloskey who jumped up to catch the ball and landed well out of bounds.  But the referees ruled it a catch, and gave Penn State the ball at the Husker two yard line with nine seconds left. On the next play, Kirk Bowman trapped a Blackledge dumpoff pass in the end zone for a gift touchdown.  Nebraska fans howled. Dan Young, who later would join the Nebraska coaching staff as an offensive line coach, marketed a t-shirt that showed the Beaver Stadium field with the sideline moved an extra 20 feet out to accommodate McCloskey's catch.

Since that game, Nebraska and Penn State have played three times.  In the 1983 Kickoff Classic, Nebraska extracted a bit of revenge by downing the Lions 44-6 in the first Kickoff Classic at the Meadowlands. In 2002, Penn State blew out the Huskers 40-7 in Happy Valley, and in 2003, the Huskers won 18-10 in Lincoln.

 

Given the history between these two programs, it's shouldn't be a surprise if a rivalry develops between the Huskers and Penn State, should both become fellow conference members. Granted, there is the distance between the two programs; Nebraska extending the Big Ten to the west and Penn State to the east. Penn State and Nebraska also have a tradition in volleyball, with an epic 2008 national semifinal matchup at the Qwest Center in Omaha.

What kind of trophy should the two schools play for? Quite simply, it should be the Field Chalk Trophy, in recognition of the redrawn sideline that earned Penn State a title in 1982.

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