College football sure moves fast these days. And I’m not only talking about the lightning speed in which the players motor toward and away from other, or the dash to the line of scrimmage without a huddle to start the next play.
As Syracuse University followers count down to Saturday’s opener against Penn State down in Met Life Stadium in New Jersey’s Meadowlands, they can count off a whole bunch of firsts. Change has been the buzzword for the two programs.
It will be the first time the colleges meet with Penn State representing the Big Ten and Syracuse playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference. It will be the first game for new SU head coach Scott Shafer, who will have a first-time starter at quarterback whether he chooses to send transfer Drew Allen or scout-team grad Terrel Hunt out behind center. Bill O’Brien, starting his second year directing the Nittany Lions, also has a transfer and new holdover to choose between as starting QB in Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg.
No matter how much is new, though, what always pulls me back to college football every fall is the way tradition is passed on from season to season.
Fans think of Saturday’s game as the latest chapter of a long, twisting series. Syracuse vs. Penn State has a very dramatic plot line.
In the past, they battled among the Eastern independents, Syracuse winning a national title for old Ben Schwartzwalder in 1959 in a march that included a 20-18 squeaker over seventh-ranked Penn State in Happy Valley. Penn State beat Syracuse in both of Joe Paterno’s national championship years, 28-7 in 1982 and 42-3 in 1986. Dick MacPherson’s astounding turnaround season in 1987 included the Orange’s 48-21 wipeout of the defending national champs in the Carrier Dome.
The major players pointed fingers and assigned blame when Syracuse helped form a Big East without Penn State. Penn State answered with the major cha-ching when it joined the Big Ten.
The schools didn’t even play each other from 1990 to 2008, so frosty the relationship had become.
Penn State won both games since the startup, quite easily, in 2008 and 2009.
Both teams have plenty to prove Saturday.
Penn State continues to try to claw out of the calamity that was the horrid Jerry Sandusky scandal that scarred so many people. They’re trying to prove that the good in the program will overcome the tragedy of a former assistant coach jailed for serial abuse of boys and the pall of too many people in power knowing but not doing anything about it.
Syracuse tries to continue Doug Marrone’s two-bowls-in-three-years success as they start anew in the ACC.
They’ll be moving fast, carrying all that history.