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Matt Hinton

Overheard: Actually, Lou

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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A lot of "hot seat" chatter today, notably from Rivals' Tom Dienhart, who wonders if once-invulnerable Ralph Friedgen needs to win seven games to stay in good graces in Maryland (I'm sure making the most flabbergasting possible decision about the starting quarterback is a step in the right direction), and even moreso from Lou Holtz, who I was a little stunned to hear on SportsCenter this morning (and then hear again, and again, and...) violate the first through eleventh rules of the Old Coaches Club by suggesting Joe Paterno was "on the hot seat" at Penn State. Lou hated to say it, of course, but he couldn't overlook Joe's 0-4 record the last two years against Ohio State and Michigan.

Actually, Lou, if we're going to delve into the archives of losing streaks, you're a little late to the show, and rather generous to the subject. Paterno's teams haven't been consistently competitive against elite teams for nearly a decade, even by a shoddy definition of 'elite.' The Lions are in the midst a notorious nine-game losing streak against Michigan dating back to the 1997 Armageddon game in Happy Valley, the wipeout that officially launched the campaign balloons for both the Wolverines' mythical championship and Charles Woodson's bid for that one trophy, and PSU is a paltry 2-12 against Ohio State and Michigan since the start of the current decade, by an average score of 24-14. Add PSU's record against Iowa to that, and it falls to 3-17 over the same span; against Wisconsin, and it's 6-21, or .222 against the top four teams in the Big Ten over the last eight years (Penn State ranks sixth overall and in conference games). Since 2003, the Lions are 5-18 against teams that finished in the final AP poll.

So '0-4 against Michigan and Ohio State over the last two years' doesn't really do justice to the big picture. To be fair, at least they're beating Purdue.

For the record, despite the obvious snark here, the strong arm of Graham Spanier and the impending Paterno Farewell Tour, it's probably not exactly accurate to describe Paterno as "on the hot seat." Even if Penn State completely collapses -- unlikely, as they're well-represented in all the polls, including mine -- the notion of actually firing JoPa is beyond the pale; if he didn't bite the dust during four atrocious losing seasons in five years from 2000-04, his chair (made from petrified wood, of course, before it was petrified) is flame-resistant -- at least from where he's sitting. And if you don't feel the flames, even as they threaten to consume you, then it's not really hot. Not until that very final moment.

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