The BCS hopes disappeared long ago. Same goes for dreams of a Big Ten title.
Penn State brings a 6-4 record into the final two games of the regular season, as the Nittany Lions play Indiana Saturday at the Washington Redskins’ FedEx Field before coming home to face Michigan State.
With only eight seniors in significant roles leaving after this season, it would be natural for the Lions to start thinking about making a run in 2011. Plenty of underclassmen have seen playing time because of injuries, and that experience should benefit Penn State for next season.
But the Lions aren’t willing to start planning about the future just yet.
“Well, I don’t look at it that way,” coach Joe Paterno said. “I think that we have gotta … learn how to do certain things in tough situations. We have gotta feel better each week, and I think we are. I think we are a better football team than we were earlier in the year, particularly earlier when we went to Alabama. Learn how to make some plays in the clutch, which we didn’t do against Iowa, and catch the ball when we have had to catch it for a couple of plays.
“So, overall I think we are getting better, but I don’t look at it (like), ‘Hey, we’re gonna do this so we’re better next year.’ No, I don’t think that’s fair to the kids that are here that are gonna leave. … There are eight kids that will play who will be leaving us. And they have worked hard. They are entitled to have the best season they possibly can have, and we are not that far off.
“We’ll worry about next year as soon as this season’s over.”
Paterno and the Lions have backed that mentality up with personnel decisions, as younger, high-potential players have not begun replacing healthy upperclassmen in the lineup.
And with a shift in the Big Ten’s bowl affiliations this season, Penn State still has a chance to play in a New Year’s Day bowl. Beating both the Hoosiers and Spartans would likely land the Lions in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., or the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
Penn State suddenly has an issue at punter headed into Saturday’s game. Redshirt freshman Anthony Fera had to be taken to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
While the operation was a success, Fera is expected to miss the upcoming game against the Hoosiers, as well as next week’s regular-season finale against Michigan State.
The Lions now must decide who to use as his replacement. One possibility is true freshman Alex Butterworth, a preferred walk-on from Indianapolis. He has been listed as the backup punter for most of the season and traveled with the team to Ohio State last week in that capacity.
Butterworth was headed for a redshirt this season, so the Lions would have to scrap that in order to play him. The other kickers on the roster are walk-ons Russell Nye, David Soldner and A.J. Firestone, along with senior starting placekicker Collin Wagner.
Whether it’s Butterworth or someone else, the fill-in may have a chance to be more than that. With Wagner departing after this season, one of the favorites to replace him in 2011 will be Fera.
Fera practiced as the backup behind Wagner last season and was rated as one of the top kickers in the country coming out of high school. He won an impromptu battle for the punting job this year after the sudden departure of Ryan Breen in the offseason.
Fera has done an admirable job through 10 games, averaging 41.6 yards per punt, with 13 downed inside the 20 and just one touchback.
He’s been even better on kickoffs, with 19 touchbacks. Wagner will likely take over that responsibility, which he handled last season.
Penn State vs. Indiana
At FedEx Field
Noon, Saturday Big Ten Network
PARK RIDGE, Ill. — The Big Ten has reached an agreement with Fox Sports to broadcast the league’s football championship game from 2011-16.
The Big Ten expands to 12 teams next season with the addition of Nebraska. The league will split into two six-team divisions and the winners will play a conference title game.
The first one next season will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The Big Ten Network is a joint venture between the conference and Fox Networks.