You’re not lacking for options when you search for Penn State football news online. I’ve said for years that I’ll take Happy Valley’s reporter-per-square-mile ratio over any of the world’s great media capitals.
Is it a little much for a college football team? Maybe, especially considering how uncooperative the program can be with media availability. Sometimes it leads to dozens of people writing features about the same five players Penn State allows reporters to speak to in a given week.
But most of the time, it’s a beat that boasts great diversity of opinions and niches I think even many NFL franchises lack. And I’ve always appreciated being able to come up in journalism with exposure to all of that.
There are the older beat veterans who work for newspapers large and small throughout Pennsylvania. They write at a level I struggle to imagine reaching sometimes, each finding their own unique ways to evoke the humanity in the athletes they cover. Maybe they all have the same subject in a given week, but they’re such pros, that you can learn something from one that you didn’t from another.
There are the students, who sometimes can be underappreciated. What they lack in deep insight built from decades of experience, they make up for in being able to keep express the pulse of the campus and relate to the athletes they’re covering as peers.
There are the recruitniks, who break up the drudgery of the offseason by tracking the staff’s every move on the trail. When a recruit commits, it’s likely you’ve already heard a lot about them, and that’s a tribute to the hard work they do digging for details.
There are the bloggers, who in the last decade or so have shaken things up with an irreverence and sense of humor that’s added a lacking cultural layer to coverage. Most of them are unapologetic homers, and that passion can help give readers a lift when they’re down and add to the catharsis when they’re reveling in a ride to a championship.
Then there’s Land of 10, the new kid on the block. In taking on a role with the site this season, I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to help steer its focus in its Penn State coverage. But it didn’t take long to figure out what could help this space stick out from the rest: data.
It told the story of the Nittany Lions’ tempo. A popular hype tool in the preseason, it turned out that first-year coordinator Joe Moorhead was a little more deliberate than expected in building one of the most dangerous offenses in the Big Ten.
It told the story of how Penn State used timely plays to its advantage defensively. While the defense gave up its fair share of points and yards in some of the biggest games of the season, it also made the right plays at the right times to keep the team on track as it discovered the offensive identity that made it so dangerous.
It told the story of how computers saw Penn State’s strong season building before most of the human polls did.
Data doesn’t make for the most gripping human stories. It’s probably not going to make you laugh too often. And sometimes, as I heard from many of you when the stats made quarterback Trace McSorley’s effectiveness a question mark at midseason, data can be behind unpopular opinions.
It is, however, essential to understanding the story of a team and of a program. What it’s doing well. What it’s not. And what gives it an identity in a college football world that benefits from a wide range of them.
This is my last post at Land of 10. I’ll be taking on an expanded writing role at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette next week. And while I’m excited for that opportunity, I want to thank this site for giving me a place to cultivate a voice for all those numbers we’ve talked about here this season.
I hope, for you, that it added a different dimension to this exciting edition of Penn State football. And I hope you’ve learned some things to keep an eye on as we move into a new season with spring ball here in the next few weeks. I know I did in researching it. And with an innovator like Moorhead at the helm, who knows what new, who knows what new trends will be in store?
Thanks for reading, and hope to continue hearing from you guys over at the P-G.