Whenever ESPN’s College Gameday rolls into town, you know something special is happening.
Such will be the case this Saturday, as the premiere college football pre-game show originates from Tuscaloosa, preceding the match up between the Nittany Lions of Penn State and the top-ranked Crimson Tide of Alabama (kickoff 6 p.m. CST, ESPN).
The hype building up to this contest between two of the top programs in the history of college football will hopefully be displayed on the football field over 60 minutes of play.
After both opening with rather easy games a weekend ago, the two must now see what it is like to play a formidable foe early in the season.
For host Alabama (1-0), the news is not quite so good, as Heisman Trophy winning running back Mark Ingram is expected to sit out his second straight game following surgery on his knee.
Ingram went down during practice on Aug. 30 and underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee the following day. He is likely to make his season debut for Alabama’s third game of the year at Duke a week from Saturday.
“He’s probably not going to play this week,” commented Alabama head coach Nick Saban on the SEC coaches’ teleconference call Wednesday. “He hasn’t had any swelling or any problems, so if he can continue to progress, I would say he’s probably not going to be ready to play this week. He might be ready by the game, but he won’t be able to practice enough to be ready. But I think after that, we have a chance to get him back if he continues to progress.”
Despite Ingram’s absence in the opener against San Jose State (48-3), talented sophomore Trent Richardson started and ran for 66 yards with two touchdowns on 10 carries, while redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy finished with 111 yards and a pair of scores on 13 attempts.
Facing an obvious upgrade in talent on the field this weekend in Penn State (a 44-14 winner over Youngstown State in its opener), Alabama will not only need its offense to pick up the slack with Ingram out, but turn to its young defense.
Despite losing nine key players from last year’s National Championship team (star Marcel Dareus missed the game and will miss this Saturday’s game due to suspension), ‘Bama held San Jose State to under 200 yards total offense in last Saturday’s victory.
For the Nittany Lions under legendary head coach Joe Paterno, while they may be rebuilding this season, they are still a dangerous foe to say the least.
True freshman QB Robert Bolden got the start for Paterno last weekend, a first in the history of the Penn State (1-0) program under Paterno.
Bolden went 20-of -29 passing with one interception. Brett Brackett snared both of Bolden’s TD passes and finished with career highs of eight catches for 98 yards, while Chaz Powell supplied a 100-yard kickoff return for a score.
While Bolden may not be asked to win the game this Saturday night, he will be asked to manage the Nittany Lions and keep them in the game heading into the fourth quarter.
Penn State, which has traditionally been known for its defense as has Alabama, will need it to come up big and force some turnovers to have an opportunity to knock off the nation’s top team.
Despite being around a 12-point favorite this Saturday night, Alabama would be wise to realize that the Nittany Lions aren’t coming to town to play it close, they’re coming to win.
Editor’s Note: Look for stories on the history of the Penn State-Alabama rivalry and one fan’s perspective of this rivarly this Friday and Saturday.
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Written by Dave Thomas