Bandwagons are for jumping on. And off.
Another spring practice is about to end for Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli, who knows all about the perilous journey he is about to undertake again.
"It's definitely a motivating factor," Morelli, who likely will play no more than a series or two in tomorrow's Blue-White intrasquad game in Beaver Stadium, said of the negativity that washed over him at times during the 2006 season. "I think about it. Everyone says I can't do this, I can't do that. I just want to go out and prove them wrong. Every day I wake up, it's something that motivates me."
But there is at least one good thing to be said of his doubters' lowered expectations. Instead of having no way to go but down, it might be said the 6-4, 220-pound senior-to-be from Pittsburgh now has room to climb.
"I am having a lot of fun," Morelli said of his second time around as the Nittany Lions' starting quarterback. He didn't say "finally," but he might have.
Morelli's wagon took on a load of early riders after the opening game last season, when, in his long-awaited debut as No. 1 guy, he passed for three touchdowns, with no interceptions, in a 34-16 victory over Akron. His first throw that wet, blustery afternoon went for a 42-yard touchdown to Deon Butler.
Rushing to judgment based on those early returns was one ESPN college football analyst who confidently predicted that Morelli would become the first Penn State quarterback to pass for 3,000 yards in a season, shattering the school record of 2,679 set by Kerry Collins in the undefeated, Rose Bowl championship campaign of 1994.
Not since Hoss Cartwright's horse in the first episode of "Bonanza" had anyone or anything been saddled with so much, so soon. Morelli's bandwagon was a little less crowded in Week 2, a 41-17 loss at Notre Dame, and it had all but emptied by the conclusion of the fourth game, a 28-6 drubbing at Ohio State in which he passed for two touchdowns - unfortunately, both to defensive backs wearing scarlet jerseys.
In getting sacked five times and being knocked out of the game in the second half of a 17-10 night loss to visiting Michigan, Morelli had the indecisive look of a deer in the headlights.
By the end of the regular season, Morelli's star was so tarnished that the deep thinkers at ESPN were labeling him as a liability. In contemplating the Lions' upcoming Outback Bowl matchup with Tennessee, one analyst suggested that "Morelli can't beat [the Volunteers] with his arm," so Tennessee would probably crowd the box to neutralize tailback Tony Hunt and force him to pass.
Tennessee tried to implement that strategy, all right, but it didn't work. Hunt carried 31 times for 158 yards and Morelli was an efficient 14 for 25, for 197 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions as Penn State pulled off a minor upset, 20-10.
OK, so neither the team's nor Morelli's performances were artistic enough to be hung in the Louvre. But the Outback Bowl marked a nice finish to a 9-4 season that wasn't as unsightly as some had imagined, a season in which Morelli's numbers - 208 of 386 (a 53.9 completion percentage) for 2,424 yards and 11 touchdowns, with eight interceptions - would have been considered more than acceptable for quite a few Division I passers.
"I thought at the end of the year he was pretty good," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said of Morelli.
JoePa isn't the only one who feels that way. Morelli, an introvert by nature, is speaking up more now, taking charge of the huddle as might be expected of a fourth-year quarterback who wears the scars to his body and psyche like badges of honor. It's funny what one mistake-free Jan. 1 game can do for someone's confidence.
"It started after we won the Outback Bowl," Morelli said of his and his teammates' upbeat attitude. "We all felt that the offense came together. We realized the talent that we have. We played well in a big game. We feel that if we're clicking like that, nobody can stop us."
Nor does Morelli believe he'll be stopping himself, at least not with the sort of self-doubt that can eat away at a quarterback's insides.
"It's just different this spring," he said when asked to gauge where he was now in relation to this time in 2006. "I have a whole season [as a starter] under my belt. I have more confidence and experience. You can't even compare the two."