Penn St.-Alabama Preview
Two decades after Alabama and Penn State last met, Joe Paterno will still be on the sidelines when the old rivals renew acquaintances.
Unfortunately for the top-ranked Crimson Tide, that appears to be where star running back Mark Ingram will stay when they face the No. 18 Nittany Lions and their legendary coach.
Already without suspended star defensive end Marcell Dareus, Alabama coach Nick Saban said it's unlikely that last season's ailing Heisman Trophy winner will make his season debut as upset-minded Penn State visits Tuscaloosa for the first time since 1990.
The Crimson Tide (1-0) beat the Nittany Lions in the 1979 Sugar Bowl to win their 10th national championship, and a rivalry was born for the next decade. The powers met every year from 1981-1990, with Alabama winning six times and even handing Penn State (1-0) its lone loss during its 1982 national championship season just before Bear Bryant's retirement.
Not that Paterno thinks his or Nick Saban's players are overly concerned with the matchup's history.
"I think it's two football teams playing and I don't think they really care that (someone) named Paterno coaches one team, and a guy named Bryant used to coach their team," Paterno said.
Coming off national title No. 13, Saban's team appears to have the pieces in place for a repeat - even if two of them have yet to play. Dareus, the defensive MVP of the BCS title game, will serve the second and final game of a suspension for receiving improper benefits, while Ingram continues his recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery.
Saban said that Ingram was able to run Tuesday and his left knee is ''improving every day,'' but he probably won't take the field Saturday.
We'll continue to progress him day-to-day,'' Saban said. ''He hasn't had any swelling or problems. 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.
''After that, maybe we have a chance to get him back if he continues to progress.''
The Tide hardly missed either star during a 48-3 thrashing of San Jose State last Saturday. Trent Richardson ran for 66 yards and two scores against the Spartans despite sitting out the second half.
Freshman Eddie Lacy rushed for two TDs and 113 yards while third-stringer Demetrius Goode had 66 on the ground.
"We really needed those guys to step up, and I think they did a great job," right guard Barrett Jones said. "Honestly, you couldn't really tell there was that much of a dropoff and that is the way we wanted it. When one guy goes down, we can plug another guy in and have success."
Penn State has its own star tailback in Evan Royster, 440 yards away from passing Curt Warner as the school's all-time leading rusher. All eyes in the Lions' opener against Youngstown State, though, were on the man handing him the ball.
Robert Bolden became the first freshman quarterback in 100 years to start a season opener for Penn State, and he did well to justify Paterno's decision. Bolden completed 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in the 44-14 win.
"You would never know he was a freshman, that's for sure," Saban said. "He has a very good arm and is very accurate. He had a lot of poise. They didn't have any game management issues, fumbled snaps, delay of games."
Yet, after having the support of 100,000 fans in Happy Valley, he'll have the same number rooting against him in Tuscaloosa.
"It's not going to be easy for him, but he's not going to lose his poise," Paterno said. "Hopefully, we'll put him in a position where he can at least have some success."
Alabama's Greg McElroy isn't as fleet of foot as the mobile Bolden, but the senior - who started all 14 games last season - certainly has the edge in experience.
He hasn't thrived against top competition, however. McElroy completed 68.0 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions against unranked opponents in 2009, but his percentage dropped to 52.4 and he threw as many interceptions (four) as TDs versus six Top 25 teams.
This game could easily be won or lost through the air. Alabama allowed a national-low five rushing scores last season, while Penn State yielded six to tie for the second fewest.
The Nittany Lions are 4-8 under Paterno against No. 1 teams. They haven't beaten a top-ranked opponent since toppling Notre Dame on Nov. 17, 1990 - three weeks after beating the Crimson Tide 9-0 in the most recent meeting.