Penn State has a tremendous opportunity on Saturday.
An opportunity for respect. An opportunity for redemption. An opportunity for recognition.
It won't be easy. In fact, it will be exceptionally difficult. But it's never easy to achieve something great. And make no mistake -- beating No. 3 Alabama would be a great achievement for this Nittany Lion football team.
That's why the Vegas wise guys have made the 23rd-ranked Lions a 10-point underdog, despite the fact that they'll be playing in front of a packed Beaver Stadium crowd that will be whipped into a frenzy by the 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
The double-digit line simply reflects the national attitude about both Alabama and Penn State.
Alabama is a powerhouse program in the nation's toughest league -- the Southeastern Conference. Penn State is a slightly above average team in a league well past its prime -- the Big Ten Conference.
The members of Nittany Nation may disagree, but that's the national perception. Alabama's 24-3 dismantling of Penn State a year ago in Tuscaloosa only reinforced it.
Saturday, Penn State has the opportunity to shatter that perception. But the Lions will have to execute nearly perfectly to do it.
The quarterbacks -- no matter who is under center -- must play smart, mistake-free football. Throw three interceptions, like they did a year ago, and this will turn ugly in a hurry.
The running backs must run with passion and hang on to the ball.
The receivers must make the tough catches and break off some big plays. No drops allowed.
The offensive line must provide some cracks for the electric Silas Redd and must drastically improve on its ability to pass protect. The fact that lightly-regarded Indiana State put major heat on the Penn State quarterbacks last week is an ominous sign.
Defensively, the Lions must toughen up and prove they can tackle Trent Richardson. A year ago, Richardson ripped through the Lions for 144 yards, and quite honestly, looked like a man among boys.
The PSU defenders also must come up with some turnovers. The Alabama offense, which has some QB questions of its own, looked a little shaky in its opener -- at 48-7 win over Kent State -- turning it over five times, including four interceptions.
Finally, the Lions must win the battle of special teams. Another big kickoff return from Susquehannock High School graduate Chaz Powell would be much appreciated. And the return of placekicker Anthony Fera from Joe Paterno's doghouse is desperately needed, especially after backup Evan Lewis missed two field goals and an extra point vs. Indiana State.
That's a formula that can lead Penn State to a shocking upset.
Will it happen? Probably not. Too many things must go right and almost nothing must go wrong. That very rarely happens.
After all, there's little question that Alabama is a more talented football team than Penn State, and talent will usually prevail.
But Penn State, after last year's embarrassing performance vs. the Tide, does have something to prove. The Lions are yearning for respect, recognition and redemption.
Saturday, they'll have the opportunity to snatch all three. But they'll have to play 60 minutes of inspired, nearly-perfect football to do it.
-- Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dis patch. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 854-1575, ext. 455.