Welcome to one of the most unique things you’ll find on the Penn State football beat — our point-counterpoint columns. This weekly component, which is not done by any other outlet, started a few years ago at the Altoona Mirror with Cory Giger and Neil Rudel, who has covered the Nittany Lions for more than 40 years. We’re happy to say that the point-counterpoint will continue, thanks to an agreement between Nittany Sports Now and the Altoona Mirror to share the content.
This week’s question: Has PSU’s 0-2 start caused fans to lose interest?
Giger: Bad start in this bizarre year enough for interest to wane
If you’re out there still jacked up with excitement about this Penn State football team and season, then good for you. That’s awesome. Have fun with it and be a fan any way you want to be a fan.
My guess is there just aren’t too many of you who fall into that category.
James Franklin’s goal each week is to go 1-0. It’s a smart goal, because it’s a great motivational tool to keep the players focused on playing one game at a time.
If the Nittany Lions go 1-0 each week for the rest of the season, they’ll finish 7-2, which is exactly where I picked them to finish this year.
So yes, there obviously is still a lot to play for — for the players, coaches and for the entertainment of you, the fans.
We waited a long time for sports to return in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and certainly, having any games of any kind is something to look forward to.
But there’s a certain reality that comes with being 0-2, as Penn State already is after a crushing loss to Indiana and a loss to Ohio State that everyone expected.
The biggest goals are gone, and that can’t be pushed aside.
Penn State won’t win the Big Ten this year.
Penn State won’t reach the College Football Playoff this year.
Those are givens.
It actually would be a surprise if the Lions run the table, because another loss or maybe even two would seem to be in the cards.
That thought is probably lingering in a lot of people’s minds.
Now, if this were a normal year, even an 0-2 start might not completely dampen the excitement of the fan base.
There still would be a bunch of home games left, meaning a bunch of opportunities to tailgate, hang out with your friends and party outside the stadium, then go inside and watch the game.
You can’t do that this year.
You also can’t travel to road games, something many fans absolutely love to do.
Now, as I mentioned, there are still games to be played. That gives reason for excitement. As one fan wrote to me on Twitter, “I still stand in front of the TV and yell.”
That is something to look forward to, as our country continues to deal with this giant bummer of a year.
But with an 0-2 record and all of these other issues sapping away at the overall entertainment value, I would say this is already the least-appealing Penn State season we’ve seen in some time.
Cory Giger is editor of NittanySportsNow.com and host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 3-4 on WRTA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rudel: Despite early struggles, eyeballs remain in focus
In a word, no.
While a national championship run assembles a bandwagon, stumbling out of the gate 0-2 doesn’t mean Penn State’s core following will collectively draw the shade.
And I can say with full confidence that the Mirror, for roughly 60 years (back to the days of Herb Werner), has been part of that core following.
Though the Nittany Lions turned in a most discouraging opener in the way they coughed up a loss to Indiana, ESPN reported Tuesday that the network drew more than 6.5 million viewers for last Saturday’s game with Ohio State.
It was the most-viewed game on ESPN networks this season and up 27 percent from ABC’s Saturday night average last year.
The numbers shouldn’t be surprising.
For one thing, in continuing to deal with the pandemic, people are looking for things to do and certainly ways to be entertained.
The Lions have been more frustrating than entertaining so far, but the unknown is what makes sports special, and a fan base that has built Beaver Stadium’s capacity to 106,572 — second largest in the country behind Michigan’s 107,601 — will remain interested.
Penn State football is such an entrenched tradition that it would take way worse than an 0-2 start to erode that passion.
Now, does that mean that everybody’s happy? Obviously not. A growing number in the Nittany Nation feel James Franklin’s in-game management at times could not be worse.
Beyond not knowing when to call timeout, the pass defense isn’t good enough, there’s no proven running game, the offensive line has woefully underachieved, and the quarterback has led one touchdown drive before halftime.
The person who must answer for all of that is Franklin.
Conversely, he’s recruited, represented, won a Big Ten title, led well and generally — repeat, generally — kept the program at a respectable if not the elite level he pledged to reach.
But just because a team loses doesn’t mean people stop watching, talking or grousing about it. In fact, they may do it even more when expectations are not being met.
Joe Paterno built up tons of chips from the late-1960s through the mid-90s so when his team — even good teams — would go to Ohio State and lose 38-7, people accepted it and didn’t lose interest.
Franklin hasn’t acquired that same sort of cache, and he may never.
But that doesn’t mean we’ll stop watching.
Neil Rudel can be reached at email@example.com.
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