'Bama Comes to Beaver Stadium

'Bama Comes to Beaver Stadium

Penn State, Alabama. Just reading those two names next to each other is enough to get any college football fan excited. Today, they face each other for the second straight season, and 100,000 crazed Nittany Lions fans will be ready to go for one of the biggest games in Beaver Stadium since the 2005 Ohio State game.

There are some parallel storylines between today's game against the nation's second or third ranked team, depending on which poll you pay attention to. This is a Penn State team that is searching for some national respect, and feels as though they have the right blend of players to make that kind of statement similar to the way the 2005 Nittany Lions did when they upended the favored Ohio State Buckeyes. But that 2005 team had a few more games to get in the flow of things before announcing to everyone that they are indeed back. This year's team is still trying to sort through a quarterback competition, with sophomore Rob Bolden battling the scrappy and confident walk-on from Scranton, Matt McGloin. Expect both players to see some equal playing time, unless one guy can keep the offense moving consistently against one of the toughest defenses they will face all season.

A year ago Alabama roughed up Penn State and let their foot off the gas pedal out of respect for their undermanned and overmatched opponent. But Penn State's players remember every detail about that game and have been thinking about it all week, all summer and since the end of the 2010 season. This is a game they have circled on their calendars for a long time.

This is the game they want to win, and some feel they need to win.

Joe Paterno is 0-8 against the last eight ranked opponents Penn State has faced and he has lost the last four of five meetings against Alabama, dating back to the 1980's. Nick Saban has never won a game in Beaver Stadium, going back to his time as Michigan State's head coach (had to work a Land Grant Trophy reference in for good measure), and he knows just what kind of atmosphere his Crimson Tide will be walking in to Saturday afternoon.

Don't expect Alabama to be intimidated.

The Alabama defense is stacked with potential NFL draft picks, although they lack some of the name recognition they had last year (except for linebacker Dont'a Hightower), and they will make it tough for Penn State sophomore running back Silas Redd to find much room to work with. Penn State’s run blocking worked very well last week against Indiana State, but that was Indiana State. Alabama is a whole different animal to tame.

Last season it was Alabama running back Trent Richardson who snapped a streak of games in which Penn State did not allow a 100-yard rusher (plenty of players did that last year). He was a strong runner who refused to be tackled and overpowered Penn State’s linebackers. Penn State generally plays better at home (I know this is a silly thing to say) and they should be able to cut down on the effectiveness of Alabama’s running game a little better than they did last season. If they can do that then Penn State may start to build an advantage because the pressure will be on the Alabama quarterbacks, who like Penn State, are battling for the starting job. AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims are young and inexperienced players, and young quarterbacks playing on the road at Penn State have a poor track record. Could Penn State force McCarron and Sims to make a few mistakes and force some turnovers? If they do, an upset may not be entirely out of the question.

If Penn State wins, they will come to Philadelphia next week riding an emotional high. Could that distract them from focusing on preparing for Temple in Lincoln Financial Field?
Let’s just take this one game at a time, shall we?

Nick will have your Temple pre-game post in a little bit to get you caught on the Owls and their road game against Akron.

Kevin McGuire covers Penn State football for Examiner.com. Follow his Penn State coverage on Twitter @PSUExaminer.

Photo: Marvin Gentry-US Presswire

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dougie Hamilton scored 1:09 into overtime, Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots and the Calgary Flames beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Thursday night.

Mark Giordano scored for the Flames in a chippy game filled with big hits and multiple fights.

Hamilton capped a fast-paced overtime by deking Arizona's Mike Smith with a forehand before flipping in a backhander. Calgary has won five straight and eight of 11 (8-2-1).

Max Domi scored before leaving with an upper-body injury and Smith stopped 33 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost six straight and 11 of 14 (3-7-4).

Arizona captain Shane Doan became Arizona's all-time assist leader and is the fifth player in NHL history to own his team's records for games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals and power-play goals (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins roll over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight and five of their past six.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers. Luongo allowed three goals on Pittsburgh's first five shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses (see full recap).

Price loses cool as Habs beat Devils
MONTREAL -- Carey Price lost his temper after being bumped twice in his crease and made 19 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice and Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty also had goals for the Canadiens in their return from a five-game trip.

Adam Henrique scored a goal and set up one by Taylor Hall for New Jersey, which ended a two-game winning streak.

Montreal had a season-high 49 shots on Cory Schneider.

A wild first period included three goals, four goal reviews and Price's meltdown (see full recap).