IOWA CITY, Iowa -- It's better this way, Penn State. Better for those of you who love the Nittany Lions. Better for those of us who don't. Better for everyone, everywhere.
It was good, even humane, that a backup kicker for Iowa punctured the light snow and the 25-mph wind and Penn State's absurd national championship hopes all at once with a 31-yard field goal Saturday with one second left.
Daniel Murray's field goal gave Iowa a 24-23 win over Penn State and gave this college football season a reprieve from all the bitching and whining that would have permeated the national discussion had Penn State continued with its undefeated season while other teams -- better teams -- rode into the BCS Championship Game.
|The Hawkeyes and their fans aren't the only ones who should be thanking Daniel Murray (1). (US Presswire)|
An argument can be made, and if it comes down to it the argument will be made, that certain two-loss teams from the Big 12 or SEC would deserve a spot in the BCS title game ahead of a one-loss Penn State.
But those are arguments for another day, if ever. Because on Saturday, Iowa and its backup kicker and superstar tailback and gutsy coach saved college football a headache by getting rid of Penn State.
Don't go away from the national title picture mad, Penn State. But do go away.
Meanwhile, your fans can enjoy this season for what it is: an unexpected gift. Penn State wasn't supposed to be 9-1 entering its last two games, both at home. Penn State wasn't supposed to be in control of its Big Ten destiny, and a spot in the Rose Bowl, in mid-November. But that's where Penn State is, needing to defeat Indiana and then Michigan State to wrap up an 11-1 regular season and a trip to Pasadena.
Now Penn State fans can stop being obsessed on Saturdays with the results of multiple games, and then more obsessed on Sundays with the release of the Top 25 and BCS rankings, and just worry about the one game involving the Nittany Lions.
This particular Saturday must have been particularly rough, even with Penn State being mostly in control of Iowa, what with No. 1 Alabama playing a difficult game at LSU at the exact same time, and with No. 2 Texas Tech playing later Saturday against No. 8 Oklahoma State, and with the polls set to make sense of the whole thing on Sunday. It had to be hard to enjoy what Penn State has been doing when its national championship hopes were so dependent on what happened somewhere else.
But no more of that. It doesn't matter that Alabama did, in fact, get past LSU in overtime. It doesn't matter that Texas Tech won big in Lubbock. It doesn't matter what the biased coaches and Harris knuckleheads and computers say. Now Penn State fans can focus only on the miracle of this season, and not the mirage of the national championship.
And if some of the focus happens to fall on the charade that is Joe Paterno, so be it. An undefined hip injury had Paterno coaching his fifth game from the press box on Saturday, with a local police officer -- armed, of course -- stationed sheepishly outside the door.
While the rest of the Penn State coaches left the press box at halftime to go to the locker room, Paterno stayed upstairs, away from the team. Then again, I'm not sure it was that big of a loss for the PSU players. By the time he crept downstairs after the game -- using a walker with his left hand, draping his right around a staff member, and being shuttled from the elevator to a golf cart -- his voice was so small, he could barely be heard beyond 10 feet during his postgame news conference. And his attention to detail is so limited that he didn't know why his team had played most of the second half without starting defensive end Josh Gaines.
It's possible Paterno didn't know, period, that Gaines was out. Only Joe knows what he knows, and he spends so much time telling the media what he doesn't know -- he claims not to know why his offense is called the "Spread HD" or if the BCS is in fact called the BCS or maybe BSC -- that it's difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt on Gaines.
And only Saturday's game officials know if they were affected, subconsciously of course, by a desire to protect the league's only national championship contender. If Penn State were to get to the BCS title game, another Big Ten team would go to the Rose Bowl, which would mean an additional $17 million for the conference. With those dollar figures in mind, I watched in absolute amazement as Penn State's first series ended with a fumble into the end zone, the ball recovered possibly by an Iowa player but definitely a full yard behind the goal line, and somehow the ball being spotted at the 1 for Penn State.
Justice was served as Penn State punted short into the wind and Iowa drove for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Then again, had officials ruled that fumble a safety -- followed by a short punt into the wind and an Iowa TD drive -- that would have made it 9-0. So maybe justice wasn't served.
Penn State later received the benefit of the doubt on a 50-50 pass interference call in the end zone, and then received a horrific roughing call against Iowa's Colin Sandeman, who grazed the bottom of PSU punter Jeremy Boone's cleat to extend Penn State's possession midway through the fourth quarter.
But it went for naught, all of it. Iowa's Shonn Greene ran for 117 yards. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz stunned Penn State by calling for a pass play late in the fourth quarter, when the Hawkeyes had seemed content to run out the clock for a long field goal try, to move the ball into chip-shot range. And Murray, not regular kicker Trent Mossbrucker, nailed the game winner.
Penn State is done. Penn State is out of the national championship picture. In time, Penn State fans will come to see it from my point of view -- that it's better this way.
And if they don't? Big deal. Because it's clearly better for college football.