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College Football Changes

   by Bryan Leonard - 10/12/2005

At the end of Penn State’s 17-10 victory over Ohio State Saturday, someone asked Coach Joe Paterno if Penn State “was back.â€쳌 Paterno replied, “Well, we’ve never really been away.â€쳌 This isn’t the case, as the Nittany Lions have been down for several years. But what has happened at Penn State this season is the infusion of some young talent, particularly freshman WR Jordan Norwood, Derrick Williams, Deion Butler and Justin King. Butler and Williams are a dynamic duo leading the Lions in receiving.

That’s common in college football for kids to come in and jumpstart a program in a season. Of course, normally it’s just one facet of a team that improves, such as the defensive line, or the passing game, or the ground attack. But in Penn State’s case, it seems everything about this team has improved, as is evidenced by that 6-0 mark. This offense was awful last season, but is averaging 33 points this fall. It’s important for handicappers to carefully examine incoming freshmen and JC transfers to see how they might improve a program, then to look again as the season gets going who is contributing and how.

This weekend’s game at Michigan will be another big test for the Lions. One thing to note about Penn State is that they’ve played 5 home games and only one road contest. They did win that one road game, 34-29 at Northwestern, but failed to cover as a 9-point favorite. That’s common with young athletes, too, playing great at home, but it’s not always the case in a hostile environment.

We saw freshman RB Adrian Peterson electrify the Oklahoma running game last season. They were primarily a passing team under Bob Stoops the last few years, even when they won the national championship. As a result, Sooner QBs were able to put up some mind-boggling numbers. But last season, QB Jason White didn’t have to do it all, and while his stats were down a bit, Oklahoma was a better team with the addition of the talented freshman running back.

The Baylor Bears are another surprise team, beating Texas A&M last season, nearly shocking the Aggies again two weeks ago, before an upset win at Iowa State Saturday. In the Bears’ case, it’s the steady guidance of coach Guy Morriss, who has the team organized, confident and playing hard each week. Oddsmakers haven’t caught up, either, with Baylor 4-0 against the spread this season and 10-2-1 ATS the last 13 games!

This is an excellent time of year to assess and reassess teams and to take a close look at how new players and coaches have influenced their teams, both straight up and against the number.

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