UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Lost in the wonderful, bucolic setting of Happy Valley, the fabulous pre- and in-game entertainment at Beaver Stadium, the 100,000-plus crowds, what the folks here like to call, with considerable justification, "the greatest show in college football" and its stable conference in these turbulent times for intercollegiate athletics is this cold, hard fact:
The Penn State program no longer is an elite college football program.
You know the popular slogan, right? "We are ... Penn State!" Perhaps it needs modified a bit to bring it up to date. "We are ... just another team!"
It's not just the 27-11 licking that No. 3 Alabama put on the Nittany Lions before a white-out crowd of 107,846 Saturday. It's that Penn State is 1-13 against Top 5 opponents since its 12-0 season in 1994. It was outscored, on average, in those 13 losses, 30-12. Only three times was it within a touchdown at the end.
That's not Penn State football.
Well, actually, it is.
It's just not the Penn State football that we used to know.
"We've been here before," coach Joe Paterno said after observing the game from the press box. "I've been here before. It's no fun. But I still think we can be a good football team ...
"It's only two games. We've got 10 to go, I think. I can still count to 12, anyways."
Pretty good line, right?
Maybe it's just me, but, coming from Paterno, it didn't seem all that funny.
This latest Penn State beating was hardly unexpected. Alabama took down the Nittany Lions, 24-3, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., early last season and is a better team, at least defensively, this season. It came in as a 10-point favorite. Penn State hadn't been such an underdog at home since 2001 when it was getting 12 points against Miami and Michigan.
If not for a 1-yard, garbage touchdown run by tailback Silas Redd with 1:53 to play, Penn State would have scored just a field goal against Alabama again. Its two-headed monster at quarterback -- Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin -- weren't very good, especially McGloin. But as Paterno said afterward, "They didn't get a lot of help." Their wide receivers were horrible all day, beginning with Devon Smith's drop of Bolden's beauty of a pass for what should have been a 30-yard gain to the Alabama 40 on the game's first play.
Smith's drop wasn't the worst part of Penn State's first drive. The Nittany Lions had to call a timeout before their fourth, eighth and 12th plays because of confusion on their sideline. Could it have been because their head coach was in the press box again instead of on the sideline because of his physical limitations? Paterno wasn't ready to go there, but he did admit, "There's no excuse for that."
Bolden and McGloin combined to complete just 12 of 39 passes for 144 yards with one interception with McGloin having an especially rough day: 1 for 10 for 0 yards.
Bolden has to start and play the whole game Saturday at Temple, doesn't he?
Well, doesn't he?
Again, Paterno wouldn't go there.
"I have to look at a lot of tape and talk to the staff."
You know what they say about having two quarterbacks, don't you? You really don't have any at all.
Penn State has a chance to get somewhat well against Temple and against Eastern Michigan at home the following week, but it figures to be challenged again in the Big Ten Conference, which is strong enough to survive and prosper as college football heads toward super conferences. It might not lose four league games as it did last season on its way to a 7-6 record, but, after watching its miserable offense, it's hard to believe it can compete with Nebraska and Wisconsin, two programs that have passed Penn State by.
Paterno loyalists who say the Penn State program might slip after the old coach is gone are looking at things all wrong. The program might take off again. Penn State has way too much to offer to settle for mediocrity.
Do you realize that when Penn State finished the 2010 season unranked it was the sixth time that has happened since 2000? The five times the Nittany Lions were ranked in those 11 seasons, they finished 9th, 8th, 24th, 3rd in 2005 and 16th.
Just another program ...
That's not Penn State football.
Sadly, yes, it is.
Ron Cook: email@example.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.