Tradition of Giving Back

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Nearly 100 volunteers from the Penn State Alumni Association and the University of Memphis Alumni Association teamed up Friday morning at I Can Still Shine, painting walls, organizing clothes, and building shelves. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel.

This is quickly becoming one of our favorite traditions.

That was the thinking Friday morning at the I Can Still Shine program, where the Penn State Alumni Association partnered with the University of Memphis Alumni Association to give back to the local community.

Nearly 100 volunteers from the two alumni associations painted walls, built shelves, organized clothes, and jumped in anytime something was needed. You can check out some photos here that showcase the spirit of volunteerism, as The Football Letter photographer Steve Manuel ’82, ’92g was on-hand to provide his usual great photos.

It’s the third straight year we’ve partnered with the opposing team’s alumni association at the bowl for a community service project, and it’s a good reminder that alumni and fans can make an impact beyond the field.

We all know Saturday’s game is important, and folks from both sides spoke proudly about their Universities and alumni, and how much fun their seasons have been. We enjoyed meeting Memphis alumni and fans, and some of our colleagues at their alumni association. And the program’s founder, Brenda Jackson, shared how the program supports battered women and their children. It’s an inspiring story, and we hope we helped in some small way.

Each alumni base provided plenty of volunteers, and you can hear from Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford and Memphis’ director, Kristie Goldsmith, on our Facebook page.

“Memphis is about giving back, and we love to do this type of volunteer work,” Goldsmith said, as volunteers hammered away and continued with the service.

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Volunteers enjoyed a busy morning, organizing clothes for local families that I Can Still Shine supports year-round. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

That selfless mindset was present on both sides, with our North Texas Chapter onsite, too. Vice President Kurt Heinemann ’98 was busy all morning, moving from one side of the building to the other, helping with various projects.

As you can imagine, he and the chapter are excited for the game, and really, for all week. “As I tell my friends, my family is coming down to visit me this time,” Heinemann said, smiling, and he added the chapter will host an event tonight in Dallas.

Just one of many examples of Penn Staters coming together this week. And sometimes, we even include some Tigers.

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Cotton Bowl Sights and Sounds

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Alumni and fans kicked off the Penn State Bowl Tour with a reception at The Rustic, in Dallas. The Nittany Lion, Penn State Cheerleaders, Lionettes, and special guests welcomed Penn Staters, who enjoyed a relaxing evening ahead of the Cotton Bowl. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel.

Texas didn’t disappoint.

Not that we’re surprised (we’re not).

The chances are incredibly high that you’ll have a good time anytime you gather with a bunch of Penn Staters, and that was exactly the scene that played out this evening about 15 miles from AT&T Stadium, site of this year’s Cotton Bowl. The Penn State Bowl Tour kicked off with a welcome reception, and the ambience was just what folks were craving.

A few hundred Nittany Lion supporters gathered tonight at The Rustic, a down-home restaurant that offered what most folks are craving after a long day of traveling: good food, cold drinks, memorable views, and most importantly, an opportunity to gather with fellow Penn Staters and enjoy performances from the Nittany Lion, Penn State Cheerleaders, and Lionettes.

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Cool moment: Penn State President Eric Barron sported some gear from Saquon Barkley’s line of Nike clothing, as he and Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour spoke with alumni and fans. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel.

Penn State President Eric Barron and Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour also attended, sharing insight on how the University and athletic department strive to be one of the leading educational institutions in the nation.

Both Barron and Barbour stressed how our student-athletes are excelling in the classroom while surpassing the competition in the athletic arena, with Barbour touting the student-athletes’ upcoming Academic Progress Rate (APR). You can learn more about the APR on the NCAA website.

Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford and President Randy Houston, meanwhile, welcomed travelers and spoke to the power that our alumni network flexes when thousands alumni travel every year to the bowl game. You can check out our archived live stream of Clifford and Houston on our Facebook page, in addition to a host of videos on our Twitter feed.

Stay tuned all week, as we’ll update the blog and our social channels and share how Penn Staters are bringing the roar to Texas.

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For more on the The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

See you soon, Cotton Bowl

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We’re heading to Texas in a few days for the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, where Penn State will vie for its third 11-win season in four years. It’s been a while since the Nittany Lions have achieved that level of success, and with James Franklin recently signing a contract extension and bringing in another Top-15 recruiting class, this level of success very well could continue.

As Franklin often says, it’s a group effort, including alumni, fans, and lettermen, the work that goes on behind the scenes by the football coaches and support staff, and the incredible level of dedication that’s put forth by our student-athletes.

As usual, it’s an exciting time for the program and the passionate fan base that supports the Nittany Lions, and that level of bold enthusiasm will be on display this week in Dallas and the surrounding area.

Saturday will be the first time that The Football Letter stalwarts John Black ’62 and Steve Manuel ’82, ’92g will cover the Cotton Bowl. Ridge Riley detailed the last time Penn State played in the Cotton Bowl in 1975, in the next-to-last year that Riley oversaw the publication. We’ve uncovered a few Associated Press photos from the victory over Baylor that year; one is included in this post, and we’ll share a few others this week on our social channels.

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Joe Paterno met with reporters at a press conference on Dec. 28, 1974, prior to the Cotton Bowl. Also pictured: Baylor head coach Grant Teaff. Photo credit: Associated Press.

If you’re traveling into town for the game, you’re invited to attend a number of events that the Alumni Association is hosting, including a volunteer service project. You can find complete details on Penn State News.

Notably, the morning of the game, we’re hosting the official Cotton Bowl pep rally, from 8:30-9:00 a.m. It’ll take place right by AT&T Stadium, within the Goodyear Huddle Up Fan Fest located in the Miller Lite (West) Plaza. The pep rally will feature the Blue Band, Penn State Cheerleaders, the Nittany Lions, the Lionettes, and special guests.

We hope to see you there, and we look forward to meeting alumni and fans during our trip. We’ll have additional content on the blog later this week, including coverage of our events. Tag the Alumni Association and The Football Letter Twitter accounts, and let us know if you’re in town or if you see a cool photo or interesting story idea. 

We Are …

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For more on the The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Penn State Heading To The Cotton Bowl

Penn State is heading to the Cotton Bowl Classic for the first time since 1975.

The 10th-ranked Nittany Lions learned their postseason fate during the New Year’s Six reveal show on Sunday. 

Penn State will play No. 17 Memphis inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Dec. 28. 

James Franklin’s squad put together another 10-win season for the program, capping off the regular season with a 27-6 win over Rutgers.

This marks the third time in the last four seasons the Nittany Lions have won at least 10 games. 

The last time Penn State accomplished that feat was a span from 1993-96. 

The Tigers, meanwhile, captured the American Athletic Conference Championship on Saturday by topping Cincinnati, 29-24. It was their second win over the Bearcats in an eight-day span. 

The win also gave Memphis its first 12-win season in program history. 

Central Ohio Chapter offers blue-and-white oasis in Buckeye state

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The Central Ohio Chapter will host an alumni mixer Friday night, which is an opportunity “to put Penn State in a positive spotlight,” said Chapter President John Eveland (third from left).

John Eveland searched everywhere for something that reminded him of his Penn State days.

It took him a while, though he did find that blue-and-white connection.

Finally.

Eveland grew up in rural Pennsylvania and attended two Penn State campuses, first enrolling at Hazleton before earning his College of Engineering degree from University Park.

He made the most of his college days and waned to reunite with like-minded alumni, a fairly straight-forward goal.

So, why did Eveland’s search take longer than you’d expect. Simple. He lives near Columbus.

Growing up, Eveland saw Penn State everywhere. Then, it was all about the Buckeyes once he moved to Ohio. As Eveland said, he wanted to hear about the Nittany Lions.

He stopped by a Central Ohio Chapter watch party, and found what he was looking for: a sense of Happy Valley amid a sea of scarlet and grey.

“After a few more game watches, I started attending board meetings and wanted to learn more,” Eveland said. “Staying connected was important. I know it’s important to a lot of other alumni, and the chapter is a great way to keep that connection.”

Eveland, a 1992 Penn State graduate, first got involved with the chapter about a decade ago. He recently saw an opportunity to help even more when a leadership position opened up; so Eveland decided to step up and accept the role as chapter president, beginning his new role in August.

It was also a natural next step for someone who maximized his time at Penn State.

“I got a great education while I was there, and the people and the experiences I had outside of the classroom were also really important to me,” Eveland said. “I was coming from a little town, so there weren’t a lot of people moving in and out of my life. When I got to the Hazleton campus, that all changed.”

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“Our chapter is here to provide support to Penn State alumni and their families,” Chapter President John Eveland said. “Anyone who comes in from out of town, we want them to feel welcome.”

Eveland then transferred to University Park, and his social circle expanded. He met new people, enjoyed ever-broadening activities, all while completing his college days in a meaningful way.

“Staying connected to Penn State reminds me of those experiences and keeps me open to having more of those experiences,” he said.

This weekend will be an exciting time for the chapter, Eveland said, with Penn State and Ohio State set for a Top-10 battle at The Horseshoe on Saturday. Kickoff is set for noon on FOX.

The chapter will host an alumni event Friday night at a local restaurant, with the event drawing 300-plus attendees in recent years. It’s a chance for Eveland and his group “to put Penn State in a positive spotlight,” he said, with the added bonus of meeting new folks who might be learning about the Central Ohio Chapter for the first time.

Fall is the busiest time of the year for the chapter, with hosting watch parties, though there are also happy hour events and THON fundraisers for members to participate in year-round. There’s even an annual canoe or kayak trip in the spring, along with the yearly student sendoff picnic. Eveland said the chapter also looks for ways to volunteer for local charities.

This weekend’s event will also benefit the chapter’s Franklyn C. Ingram Spirit Scholarship, which benefits an incoming deserving freshman from the area. All the scholarship funds come directly from the support of local alumni and friends.

That type of thoughtfulness and caring are hallmarks for Eveland’s group. Even for something as simple as asking for a good place to grab dinner or something to do before or after the game, the Central Ohio Chapter has you covered.

“Our chapter is here to provide support to Penn State alumni and their families,” Eveland said. “Anyone who comes in from out of town, we want them to feel welcome and that they have somewhere go and be around other Penn Starters. In this town, that can be hard.”

There are nearly 300 Alumni Association affiliate groups, spanning geographic regions, academic colleges, and shared interests. You can view a full list and connect with Penn Staters anytime at alumni.psu.edu/groups.

Penn State Ranked No. 4 In First College Football Playoff Rankings Of The Season

Penn State’s schedule over the past three games has been a gauntlet. 

The Nittany Lions remain unbeaten after navigating through a tricky primetime win at Iowa, holding off Michigan in the White Out and exercising some demons with a 28-7 win at Michigan State. 

While further tests await, including this weekend’s clash with surprise unbeaten Minnesota and a showdown at “The Horseshoe” with Ohio State, Penn State is right in the thick of the College Football Playoff race through eight games. 

On Tuesday, the College Football Playoff committee revealed its first Top-25 of the season, with Coach James Franklin’s team checking in at No. 4. 

This marks the first time the program has been ranked inside the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings at any point.

Penn State trails No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Alabama at the top of the rankings, but edged the defending national champs Clemson at No. 5 and Georgia at No. 6.

This weekend’s opponent, the Golden Gophers, appeared at No 17. Other Big Ten companions Wisconsin (13), Michigan (14) and Iowa (18) were all also ranked. 

You can see the full rankings at the bottom of this story. 

A berth in the College Football Playoff for Penn State could hinge on the Nov. 23 matchup in Columbus against the Buckeyes. The winner of that game will almost certainly win the Big Ten East Division and earn a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. 

Win the Big Ten title game and Penn State is essentially a lock to make the Playoff as an unbeaten conference champion. 

Still, a path does exist for the loser of the Penn State-Ohio State game to still find its way into the committee’s final four. 

In the Nittany Lions’ case — with wins over the likes of the Wolverines, Hawkeyes, Pitt (Yes, the Panthers have been solid since their loss to Penn State in September), and potentially Minnesota and Indiana  — their final resume as a one-loss team is going to be just as strong as any other contending team at the end of the season.

Penn State would obviously need some help in that scenario, namely needing the likes of Georgia, Oregon, Utah and Oklahoma to lose again between now and the final selection show on Dec. 8.

There’s plenty of football to be played. And all of that being said, my focus is on Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota.

I’m just eager to see Penn State go 1-0 this week.

We Are! 

— Vincent Lungaro ’18

Full Rankings 

1. Ohio State

2. LSU

3. Alabama

4. Penn State

5. Clemson

6. Georgia

7. Oregon

8. Utah

9. Oklahoma

10. Florida

11. Auburn

12. Baylor 

13. Wisconsin

14. Michigan

15. Notre Dame

16. Kansas State

17.  Minnesota

18. Iowa

19.  Wake Forest

20. Cincinnati

21. Memphis

22. Boise State

23. Oklahoma State

24. Navy

25. SMU

Penn State Preview: Michigan State

Penn State v. Michigan State 2018 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

UNIVERSITY PARK — Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

Game details: No. 6 Penn State (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) vs. Michigan State (4-3, 2-2), 3:30 p.m. kickoff, broadcast on ABC.

Venue: Spartan Stadium, which features a capacity of 75,005.

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 54 degrees with some sunshine giving way to clouds and rain at times in the afternoon.

The line: Penn State –6.

Last week: Penn State outlasted Michigan 28-21, while Michigan State had a bye.

All-time series: Michigan State leads 17-15-1.

Last meeting (2018): Michigan State escaped Beaver Stadium with a 21-17 win.

Throwback classic (2016): We’re sending it back only two years, to when Penn State demolished Michigan State 45-12 to win the Big Ten East Division title, before winning the conference championship a week later against Wisconsin in Indianapolis.

Overview: Penn State is 7-0 for the fifth time since joining the Big Ten, and while the Nittany Lions have created a ton of momentum the last few weeks (and really, the entire season), Saturday looms ahead. Michigan State has been outscored 72-10 in its last two games — losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin — and that stat actually makes the Spartans seem more dangerous. That’s how odd this game has been since James Franklin arrived in Happy Valley.

Penn State wins if: Sean Clifford continues to protect the ball. The first-year starter has thrown only two interceptions, and the home crowd will be thirsting for a win Saturday. It’s been almost a month since the Spartans’ last victory, a 40-31 win over Indiana on Sept. 28, and the same amount of time since Michigan State’s last home game. The atmosphere should be plenty rowdy, though won’t be anything Clifford hasn’t seen before. Protect the ball, and stay unbeaten: That’s the mantra Saturday for the superstar sophomore.

Michigan State wins if: the Spartans’ offensive line gives quarterback Brian Lewerke enough time to have downfield success. Penn State ranks fourth nationally in rush defense per game (66 yards), and Michigan State doesn’t appear to have the ground game to make it work Saturday. The Spartans average a respectable 117 yards per contest, though nothing that’ll shift the dynamic of the game. Unless a team can gain 200-plus yards against Penn State, and it doesn’t appear the Spartans have that potential, the air attack is the best bet. That’s what Michigan State will need Saturday.

Keep an eye on: Noah Cain (yes, we’re going with the true freshman running back again). Saturday will be a game when James Franklin might want to (have to?) divert from the running back rotation and go with a bruising back if the game turns into a contest of one grinding possession after another. Cain leads Penn State with 329 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

Trivia tidbit: Though Michigan State leads the overall series, Penn State is ahead 14-9 since joining the Big Ten.

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 34, Michigan State 30

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 30, Michigan State 21