Gee, we thought Penn State's non-conference schedule would never end.
But now that Eastern Illinois is heading home with a $450,000 check after being hammered 52-3, Penn State and its fans can finally look forward to the second half of the season -- six tough but winnable Big Ten games.
The toughest part of the first half of the season has been trying to figure out just how good the Nittany Lions are. After sweeping through their first three non-conference opponents -- Akron, Syracuse and Temple -- they laid an egg in their conference opener, losing to Iowa, and at home yet.
Yes, they won their first road game the following week but Illinois appears at this point to be a contender for the Big Ten basement. That was followed by today's easy win, and questions going into next week's Homecoming contest against Minnesota.
Penn State's offensive line is making progress, and the running game has thrived as a result. The wide receivers are getting a little more confident. Speaking of them, they may be some of the best blocking wideouts seen at Penn State in some time.
Naturally, a lot rides on the decisions and the right arm of Daryll Clark, who looked cool and confident today but must carry those same two qualities against the much more challenging opposition that lies ahead. No bad passes, as he did on his one interception of today, and no happy feet.
Moving to the defense, the Lions' front seven is as good as they come. Regardless of the opposition, defensive tackle Jared Odrick always looks like the best defensive player on the field. linebacker Navorro Bowman has come back strong from a groin injury although he was leaking some serious oil on his 91-yard run with a recovered fumble.
The unit will get even better once linebacker Sean Lee returns from a sprained knee. Joe Paterno said it was still a question mark and that more may be known Monday to see how much Lee can practice.
Paterno likes the strides that have been made in the secondary, although defensive coordinator Tom Bradley feels there is still much work to do.
"We've blown a couple (of coverages) and they just haven't found the guy," Bradley said after today's game. "There was one today that was not good. The communication wasn't good. So there's so much for us to work on."
So what will it be like for the Lions in the second half? Other than Ohio State, which will be coming into Beaver Stadium, they appear to have a chance to win every game. The game at Michigan in two weeks should be a spirited one but you'd have to think Bradley will design ways to stop sensational Wolverine freshman Tate Forcier.
Whatever happens, it's sure to be more exciting than one, two, three, or four weeks of non-conference play. Bring it on!