Nobody asked me, but ...

10:53 AM, Sep 11, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Could it be any worse?

Can it get any worse for the Penn State Nittany Lions?

Obviously it could if the Nits continue to lose football games, but it's pretty bad right now.

(And please, before the hate mail arrives, this column is just about the Nittany Lions on the football field. What happened in Happy Valley with Jerry Sandusky was horrible, grotesquely horrible. But this today is just on football.)

OK, with that out of the way, let's look at what's happened to Penn State in the span of eight days.

A roaring home crowd greets the Nittany Lions for their opener against a good and underrated Ohio team.

The Nits jump out to a lead; the fans are going crazy; all is well. Then they decided to play the second half and it all fell apart as the Bobcats rallied to a win.

So 0-1 stinks. Ask any coach and the most important early number they'll tell you they need is that first win.

What really stinks is 0-2. And stings. Especially when you're Penn State and you need, you must, stay relevant this year in order to try and keep a nostril above water while you'll deal with the NCAA sanctions.

The 0-2 came Saturday against a host Virginia team that did everything it could to give the Nits their first win.

The Cavaliers were a 10-point favorite (why, I don't know and I just wish I would have put some money on Penn State) and played like a 20-point underdog.

The Nits had chance after chance to pull away and couldn't and finally succumbed when kicker Sam Ficken missed his fourth field goal of the day on the game's final play, securing the win for Virginia (why the Virginia players and fans celebrated wildly after the game was a mystery, but kids will be kids).

Four years of bowl bans and scholarship reductions are going to hammer the program. Undoubtedly.

Being respectable this season - winning, say, eight games and beating a Wisconsin or an Ohio State - would be huge.

Well, that's not going to happen now. I hate to be so blunt, but reality has already set in.

One of the sanctions that has stung the Nits the most is the one that has allowed players to transfer to another school without having to sit out a year. Star running back Silas Redd bolted to Southern Cal. Wide receiver Justin Brown dashed off to Oklahoma.

And, now most importantly, superb kicker Anthony Fera bid adieu and headed to Texas to be a Longhorn.

Who would have thought losing Fera would play the biggest role? Yes, yes, it's still early in the season, and Penn State's ground game without Redd is brutal, but if Fera stays, Penn State beats Virginia and this column is about the return of Peyton Manning.

If Fera stays, Penn State is 1-1 heading into Saturday's seemingly winnable game back at home against Navy.

But, without him, and with an offense that sputters and spits, nothing is guaranteed.

After this 0-2 beginning, would anyone be surprised if Penn State lost to Navy and then lost the following week to an improved Temple team?

Suddenly, what was the unthinkable - 0-4 - is staring the Nits in the face.

They can't allow that to happen. Even a split and 1-3 wouldn't work. Penn State needs wins, so the recruits still looking at the program keep looking.

Becoming even more of an afterthought than they already have would further bury the program that's already been buried.

What Penn State can hang onto is the fact that the nation's top prep quarterback, Christian Hackenberg out of Fork Union Military Academy in Va., is still committed to come play in Happy Valley.

But don't think he isn't watching what is happening. Sure, he knows he can go to Penn State and start right away, but will that be enough to keep him committed to a program dropping into a sinkhole? The Nits better hope so.

For now, though, the most important game on their schedule is against the Midshipmen. Who would have thought that two weeks ago?

Funny game, football. Unless you love the Nits.

Drew Markol has been a sportswriter and columnist for several Philadelphia- area newspapers for over 25 years.

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