Senior College Football Columnist

Style points crowding what's on scoreboard for public's attention


Denard Robinson's Wolverines were part of a spectacle that is now just as important as winning. (US Presswire)  
Denard Robinson's Wolverines were part of a spectacle that is now just as important as winning. (US Presswire)  

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Joe Paterno sat there wedged between his two coordinators Saturday in Penn State's coaches box. Lingering hip and arm injuries had relegated the legend to the off-field perch for the 12th time in his career. At some point, the monarch had to survey his kingdom from on high.

Look what he had created: The largest crowd Alabama had ever seen had come to see Alabama at Beaver Stadium. There were stories of perseverance as fans made their way through epic floods and road closures in Pennsylvania to get to one of the most isolated campuses in major college football.

They had to be there. The 84-year-old's own statue outside the stadium, well-deserved, remains a gathering place for fans to pose. Joe reminds us that sometimes it's OK just to have a uniform that fits and doesn't need its own introductory press conference.

Then Saturday happened, and he was reminded of his place in present-day college football.

Halfway through the first quarter, Penn State led 3-0 and was out of timeouts.

"There's no excuse for that," the coach said. "I think that's a legitimate criticism."

That was the high point of a down day. Paterno has lost leads, games and entire seasons in the past. Now he has lost our interest. The great coach's program has become the worst thing you can be in major-college football in 2011: boring.

If Saturday proved anything, it was that you aren't squat without a quarterback. Well duh, right? Right, but Penn State has a quarterback controversy at the moment that no one outside of State College knows or cares about.

Michigan's Denard Robinson has dreads. Penn State's Rob Bolden has upside. Guess which one you're talking about today? And it's not just because Michigan won a game for the ages against Notre Dame. In fact, Paterno is low-hanging fruit on the subject of lost mojo. There are others. Anyone seen Cal lately? What program's future is murkier -- Ohio State or Miami? Whatever happened to Rutgers?

Everyone needs a shtick these days, a gimmick. It helps to win. It's better to do it with style. That sort of thing always matters (see the human polls).

Dodd's Power Poll
1. Oklahoma
2. LSU
3. Boise State
4. Alabama
5. Wisconsin
6. Florida State
7. Virginia Tech
8. Stanford
9. Nebraska
10. Texas A&M
11. Oregon
12. Oklahoma State
13. Michigan State
14. Ohio State
15. South Carolina
16. Arkansas
17. West Virginia
18. Baylor
19. TCU
20. Arizona State
21. Auburn
22. Florida
23. Michigan
24. Mississippi State
25. Houston

 Oregon was able to play for a national championship in large part because of its fancy laundry. It hooked enough talented athletes to Eugene with its Nike-backed uniform designs. Add an innovative coach and an expanded recruiting base and suddenly you get the night before January's national championship game: The Oregon logo being flashed on the side of Camelback Mountain.

 There's a chance that Michigan and Notre Dame aren't going to be worth spit this season. Do millions who watched Saturday night care? A bunch of future Wolverines and Irish players just committed in their minds after watching a spectacle.

Michigan's AD Dave Brandon had the bold idea to play the game at night. There will be more. The largest crowd in college football history came to watch.

 There were 162 combined points in the two SEC conference games on Saturday. South Carolina's Steve Spurrier is back to tweaking the establishment with his biting comments. It helps when he backs up his smack. Spurrier got two touchdowns from defensive end Melvin Ingram and won by three at Georgia. Mississippi State and Auburn combined for 75 points. The Bulldogs' Chris Relf was stopped an inch short a touchdown that could have tied the game. Now that's entertainment.

 Iowa State beat Iowa in overtime with a quarterback named Steele Jantz. Really.

 Pac-12 Larry Scott gets it. He is the marketing wizard whose next conquest is Asia and the Pacific, where they adore the California lifestyle while loving UCLA and Cal gear. Who knew even a year ago that Utah-USC would be an event, the first Pac-12 conference game?

 Even staid Alabama ran a fake punt Saturday that led to a touchdown.

In this age, winning is where it starts. You've got to entertain. Keep the buzz going. Teams change uniforms, change coaches, "rebrand." Don't forget that Longhorn Network.

How does Penn State not join this MTV generation? More to the point, how does Penn State not have a quarterback of substance on the roster at this point?

"By the fourth quarter, the main objective was just to score," said Bolden, who split time with Matt McGloin.

For tradition's sake, it was a bit disappointing that Nick Saban and Paterno never saw each other over the weekend. JoePa was in that coaches box. Saban was on the sidelines beating Penn State -- again. Later, Alabama's coach said they communicated by "messenger," Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno.

"He wished us well," Saban said.

Meanwhile, in college football, dreadlocks continue to rule over white socks.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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