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October 11, 2013One of the missions each year at Big Ten media day was to get at least 15 minutes at Joe Paterno's table. It was like listening to your grandfather tell stories of the good old days, and reporters always jostled for position to get just a little closer to the coach.
"You just want to thank the little guy and give him a hug," WXYT's Dennis Fithian said about a decade ago after we were finished interviewing the legendary coach.
And he was right, though security dragged us away before we could get a full squeeze. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the men in blue also prevented a scuffle with then-MSU head coach Bobby Williams, who cussed us out for asking about the change in timekeeper rules - a different story for a different day.
So while we weren't as devastated as the (non-delusional) Penn State fans who had to come to grips with the fact that their football god was mortal after all, our own illusions were also shattered. State College always seemed a little too good to be true - a Pleasantville of sorts - and now we know it was.
Fortunately for them, the fan base has a good coach in place to try to bring the program back to respectability, even if they don't realize it. Losses to Indiana tend to add a little doubt (even Rich Rodriguez didn't lose to the Hoosiers while at Michigan), but with sanctions softened and a few more recruits giving PSU a look, the program should be back within - well a decade or so, well after O'Brien has found another gig.
Congratulations to last week's winner. This week's receives two of the several five-gallon tubs of Peachy Paterno they can't give away at the Berkey Creamery in Happy Valley.
This week's picks:
Chris Balas: This seems like a game Michigan should win. Then again, it doesn't given the way the Wolverines have played on the road (and given their youth).
U-M seemed to get it together last week against Minnesota while Penn State lost at Indiana, which means absolutely nothing. This will be PSU's bowl game, and the crowd (and team) will be into it from the start.
The Wolverines do just enough to improve to 6-0.
Michigan 27, Penn State 23
John Borton: The NCAA gave back some of what it took away from Penn State recently. The Nittany Lions don't need any more givebacks, especially the type that the Wolverines bountifully supplied to Akron and UConn. If Hoke's crew can avoid those, it can leave Angry, Paranoid, Insulated and Cover-Up Crazy Valley just like it found it - winless in the Big Ten.
Michigan 23, Penn State 16
Michael Spath: Even though these two teams have only met 16 times, there have been some great games between the two already, but this one shouldn't be a classic matchup. After withstanding Penn State's early momentum, Michigan will pull away slowly, as U-M plays its best game since Notre Dame in week two.
Michigan 31, Penn State 17
Andy Reid: Bill O'Brien was prepared. He had the bunker stocked with canned goods, enough for the whole family, and everyone shuffled down the ladder and into the darkness to wait out the storm. Surviving the Sanctions Tornado was the easy part; but now the farm is destroyed, and this year's crop yield is ruined.
The O'Briens are a tough, proud group. They're going to put up a fight, but they still need to get their strength up before they can really put in work. In a few years, when they're back on their feet, everyone who stomped on them during the lean years better watch out. Because vengeance will be swift and terrifying.
Michigan 28, Penn State 17
Tim Sullivan: Michigan isn't as bad as some U-M fans think (though the Minnesota victory started to move expectations back in line with reality), and Penn State isn't as good as some PSU or Michigan fans think (though the Indiana game also adjusted expectations toward reality). The X-factor is Beaver Stadium. It's a notoriously hostile place to play, and Michigan's road struggles - including from Devin Gardner - in the recent past seem ominous.
Since the Michigan offensive line looks to do a better job protecting him - not just in the literal sense from sacks, but also from feeling like he has to win the game himself, thanks to a lacking running game - Gardner should settle down, and lead the Wolverines to victory.
Michigan 27, Penn State 13