So Officially Begins the New Era in Penn State Football

So Officially Begins the New Era in Penn State Football

By now you have heard about how Penn State is turning the page to a new chapter in their football history this weekend. That could not be farther from the truth. Penn State is starting a brand new book altogether when it hosts Ohio on Saturday (12 p.m. / ESPN).

You do not need me, or anyone else, to remind you just how much has changed at Penn State, but I will do it anyway. Former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien steps in to the middle of one of the biggest reconstruction projects of all-time, following in the footsteps of a fallen icon in Joe Paterno as the program receives a massive punch to the gut in the form of crippling NCAA sanctions – a four year postseason ban, massive reduction in scholarships and a $60 million fine – and the entire university and community continues to search for answers amid a lack of responsible leadership.

The NCAA has granted free transfers to any Penn State player choosing to leave, and some have taken that rare opportunity, including running back Silas Redd (USC), wide receiver Justin Brown (Oklahoma), linebacker Khairi Fortt (Cal) and kicker Anthony Fera (Texas). A few others have left the program, including some recruits, which was to be expected, and O’Brien will have a tough job ahead of him to keep more players from leaving in the off season.

Yes, it is a brand new era for Penn State football. They even have names on the jerseys now. But Saturday afternoon will serve a larger purpose for many. It will be an opportunity for the community and fans to come together and get a release from the real life issues that loom larger than football. While the conduct and statements of some in the Penn State community appear to do more harm than good, everybody at this point deserves a couple hours to have nothing more to worry about than a football game, even if that does play in to the culture argument that has been widely discussed.

So, what can we expect from Penn State as it opens the 2012 season? That’s an excellent question, because it’s nearly impossible to answer at this point.

The defense should be in solid condition, with Marple Newtown’s Pete Massaro back from another ACL injury and looking to see some time on the defensive line. As expected from Penn State, the linebackers will also be in good form, with last year’s three starters back for another fall, including Michael Mauti. Mauti is also coming back from an ACL injury, but he has worked hard to be ready to go this season and his senior leadership will be vital for keeping this team together. Mauti will be joined by Glenn Carson and Gerald Hodges, who turned down a chance to enter the NFL Draft to come back for his senior season.

The name fans around the Big Ten will likely get to know from Penn State’s defense will be defensive tackle Jordan Hill, who looks to follow in the footsteps of Devon Still and Jared Odrick. Hill is a monster in the trenches but will be in for a tough test against Ohio’s offensive line, who does as good a job protecting quarterback Tyler Tettleton as any line in the country (well, except for Alabama, perhaps). The success of the front seven will be key because Penn State must replace all four starters in the secondary. Sophomore Adrian Amos looks to be the young player to watch this season, as he can move from defensive back to safety if needed. 

The concerns are clearly on the offense. Matt McGloin is far from Tom Brady, although he has joked otherwise, and with a new crop of wideouts looking to replace the three leading receivers from last season (Derek Moye graduated, Brown transferred and Devon Smith was cut and transferred to Marshal), who knows what to expect from the passing game. Further complicating things could be the fact that McGloin and everyone on the offense will be looking to pick up a new style. Of course, with new players stepping in to the receiving game perhaps the offensive philosophy change may not be as much a detriment as it could for most teams. Allen Robinson, Shawney Kersey and Alex Kenney will be some of the names to watch step in to the receiver spots.

With Silas Redd moving to the west coast, O’Brien is not being shy about hyping up sophomore Bill Belton, who was used as a wildcat option late last season under interim head coach Tom Bradley. O’Brien quickly made sure he was moved to running back and was prepping him to back-up Redd. Now O’Brien says Belton is a guy he can count on for a good number of carries each week.

O’Brien is breathing new life into the Penn State football program in more ways than one, but now he needs to find a way to win some football games. Or at the very least, prove he knows how to be a head coach. Success for Penn State now will not be measured in wins and losses on the field, but how the team sticks together on and off the field.

Whatever lies ahead for O’Brien and Penn State, it begins Saturday afternoon at noon, against the Ohio Bobcats.

Follow Kevin’s college football coverage on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.

Today's Lineup: Tommy Joseph, Andres Blanco in to help avoid sweep vs. Cubs

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Today's Lineup: Tommy Joseph, Andres Blanco in to help avoid sweep vs. Cubs

Seeking to avoid being swept for the first time since their opening series in Cincinnati, the Phillies on Sunday afternoon will ask Tommy Joseph to provide a much needed spark.

Joseph, 24, sat out Saturday's 4-1 loss to the MLB-best Cubs with Chicago trotting out right-handed pitcher Kyle Hendricks, who crafted a five-hit, one-run complete game masterpiece.

It will be Joseph's fifth game against a righty this week, as manager Pete Mackanin's platoon at first base with Ryan Howard seemingly is coming to an end. Joseph will bat fifth.

With the Phillies averaging 3.22 runs per game, second-worst in baseball, and owning a run differential of minus-38, playing Joseph more is one of a few moves Mackanin can make.

Take into account Howard's average dipped to .154 after an 0 for 4, two-strikeout game Saturday, the decision to give Joseph more at-bats makes sense. It has for a while now.

Plus, Joseph has enjoyed success during his time up with the Phillies. The first baseman is hitting .290 with two home runs and four RBIs. He is, however, hitting just .211 with seven of his 10 strikeouts in 19 at-bats against righties. He'll face a good one in John Lackey (4-2, 3.32) on Sunday.

Mackanin has also decided to start Andres Blanco at second base against Chicago, which has proved to be too much for the Phils through the first two games. Blanco, 32, will bat third against Lackey, who he has never faced in his career. The utility man is hitting .281 with one long ball and eight RBIs in 35 games this season.

In other lineup news, the Cubs will start Villanova product Matt Szczur in left field in the series finale, giving Jorge Soler the day off. During his junior baseball season at 'Nova in 2010, Szczur took time off to donate bone marrow that helped saved a young girl in Ukraine. (Read more on Szczur here from CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury.) Szczur is hitting .375 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 40 at-bats this season with Chicago.

Here are today's full lineups:

Phillies
1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Andres Blanco, 2B
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Tommy Joseph, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Tyler Goeddel, LF
8. Vince Velasquez, P
9. Peter Bourjos, RF

Cubs
1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Jayson Heyward, RF
3. Kris Bryant, 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
5. Ben Zobrist, 2B
6. Miguel Montero, C
7. Addison Russell, SS
8. Matt Szczur, LF
9. John Lackey, P

For more on today's game, read Steven Tyding's game notes.

Chase Utley owns the New York Mets, according to Wikipedia

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Chase Utley owns the New York Mets, according to Wikipedia

The New York Mets' majority owner, Fred Wilpon, has a reported net worth of $500 million.

But on Saturday night, the Mets were not owned by a suit who made their profits off real estate development.

No, the Mets were owned by former Phillies second baseman and current Los Angelers Dodger Chase Utley.

At least according to the Mets' Wikipedia page.

Utley, who has become one of the greatest villians in New York sports of recent memory, made his return to Citi Field this weekend after breaking Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada's leg with a hard, controversial slide into second base successfully breaking up a double play during the postseason. On Friday night, the 37-year-old delivered a three-run game-tying double in the ninth inning, athough the Dodgers fell to New York, 6-5, after Curtis Granderson hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth.

But on Saturday night, Utley's legend grew even stronger in the Dodger's 9-1 win. Utley was thrown at — and missed — by Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard, who was subsequently ejected from the ballgame, in the third inning. In his next at-bat during a scoreless game, Utley took New York reliever Logan Verrett deep to give L.A. a 1-0 lead.

It gets better. Coming to bat with the bases loaded and a 2-0 lead in the seventh, Utley entered the batter's box serenaded with boos from the Mets' faithful only to hit a grand slam. You can watch it all right here.

Owning the Mets is nothing new for Utley, however. The second baseman has 33 home runs, 113 RBIs and a .283 average in his career against New York. We love Utley in Philadelphia because he plays the game hard, was a key member of the Phillies' 2008 World Series team and he kills the Mets. Remember this one from 2007?

What will Utley do as an encore on Sunday Night Baseball? We will all be watching because some of us won't be able to catch Game of Thrones live because we work.

Remember, no spoilers. And plus, Utley owning the Mets is a better storyline than any TV show can give us.

Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Getting Vince Velasquez back on track

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Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Getting Vince Velasquez back on track

Phillies (26-23) at Cubs (33-14)
2:20 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies have lost back-to-back games to the MLB-best Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field and on Sunday afternoon, they'll look to salvage a victory in the series finale.

Here are five things to get you ready for the ballgame:

1. Avoiding a sweep
Phillies fans had losing shoved down their throats for long stretches last season. This season has been much different … at least until the last three series.

With Saturday's loss, the Phils have lost three consecutive series for the first time in 2016 and will look to avoid their first sweep since their opening series in Cincinnati. The 4-1 victory by the Cubs was the Phillies' fourth loss in five games. They haven't lost five of six since September 2015. 

Meanwhile, the Cubs have won four straight games after losing eight of 12 games in mid-May. A win Sunday would give Chicago its fourth win streak of at least four games already in 2016. 

If that doesn't underline how tough a task the Phillies have ahead of them, Sunday's starter will do the trick.

2. Solving Lackey
John Lackey doesn't have the pizzazz of a Jake Arrieta or Jon Lester, but the veteran righty has been a consistent force in the Cubs' rotation. Coming over from the rival Cardinals in free agency, Lackey has a 4-2 record with a 3.38 ERA in nine starts in 2016.

However, the underlying numbers have been even better. He's completed six innings in all but one start and has seven quality starts. He has 61 strikeouts compared to just 13 walks and 45 hits in 61⅓ innings. 

Lackey has been a workhorse for the Cubs and has struck out at least five batters in each of his last four starts. 

The good news for Phillies fans? Despite Lackey's solid numbers, the Cubs have lost four of his nine starts.

3. Getting back on track
At 23 years old, it's tough to expect Vince Velasquez to be an ace all season, even if he may fill that role at some point in the not-so-distant future. 

So Velasquez's relatively minor struggles over his last few starts shouldn't worry fans as a sign of things to come. In Detroit, the flamethrowing righty could only complete four innings while giving up three home runs. While he struck out 10 and gave up no runs the start before against Miami, he failed to get past the fifth inning.

Those two starts came after consecutive outings where Velasquez gave up four runs in six innings. His last quality start came May 1, although it's tough to call his game against the Marlins anything but impressive.

While he's faced some strong lineups like the Mets and Nationals, the Cubs are a force Velasquez hasn't dealt with quite yet. He has no career numbers against the Cubs' probable starters, a group that has combined to be one of baseball's top offenses in 2016.

4. Who's on first?
Ryan Howard's final season in Philadelphia has been a grind to say the least. The veteran first baseman has just six hits in 58 at-bats in May and has just a .154 batting average this year. Howard's eight home runs have been a bright spot, but he doesn't have a homer since May 11.

Howard has three hits (two home runs) in 16 career at-bats against Lackey. But with right-handed first baseman Tommy Joseph excelling in his first big-league action, manager Pete Mackanin may turn to the rookie Sunday, as Howard tries to end his slump.

5. This and that
• Obubel Herrera is 3 for 4 in his only career appearances against Lackey. Maikel Franco is 2 for 3 against the righty.

• The Phillies are 3-0 in the final game of road trips this year … and 3-0 in the final game of homestands, too. 

• The Cubs have not swept the Phillies in Chicago since 1995.