UNIVERSITY PARK - Death, taxes and close football games between Penn State and Minnesota - the only sure things in life.
The Golden Gophers once again pay a visit to Happy Valley for Penn State's homecoming today.
Over the years, the Lions and Gophers have had a flair for the dramatic. Twice before has Minnesota been welcomed as the homecoming opponent at Beaver Stadium, and both times the outcome has been decided by a single point. Penn State won in 1997 but had a 9-0 season ruined by the Golden Gophers in 1999.
All told, seven of the previous 10 meetings between the two have been decided by 10 points or less, including all four victories in the series by Minnesota.
And the last time these two played? Well, that was a one-point overtime victory by the Nittany Lions in the now former home of the Golden Gophers, the Metrodome.
So history tells us that a hotly-contested affair likely awaits the throng in State College on Saturday. But who does a close game favor?
The argument could definitely by made that Minnesota would benefit most from a close game. Not only is Minnesota 4-3 all-time in games decided by 10 points or less against Penn State, but the Gophers will be the best offense that the Nits have faced all season. Minnesota is averaging 27 points per game.
Minnesota is led by quarterback Adam Weber and top wideout Eric Decker, both of whom have Penn State coach Joe Paterno concerned.
"You've always got to be aware of the superior wideouts such as Decker," JoePa said at his Tuesday press conference. "Decker is a great football player. There's great chemistry with him and the quarterback. And the quarterback has so much confidence in him, he'll make throws to him that you ordinarily wouldn't make. You've got to know where he is all the time. If you don't, he'll catch seven, eight, 10 passes for a lot of yards and a couple scores."
With Minnesota coming in, Penn State sure could use the services of linebacker and captain Sean Lee. Lee hasn't been in action since injuring his knee against Temple and, according to Paterno, is practically killing himself to get onto the field Saturday.
"He hasn't received medical clearance yet to play," JoePa said. "But I watched him a little bit (on Monday). We told him to take it easy. ... But it's still not a done deal. I'm not sure if he's going to make it or not this Saturday. But, he's working like a dog trying to, so we'll see."
Even if Lee plays, there are still plenty of reasons to be concerned if the game is close in the fourth quarter, not the least of which is the fact that Penn State has only been in one really close game this season - the loss to Iowa. The Nittany Lions played a disastrous final 15 minutes after taking a 10-5 lead into the last period and found themselves on the wrong side of a 16-0 quarter.
If it weren't for Iowa's streak against Penn State, we'd likely be hearing "Why does it always seem like Minnesota gives us a tough game?" from all the grumbling fans. For some reason, the Minnesota game seems to give Penn State almost as much trouble as the one with the Hawkeyes. The only difference is that the Nits can occasionally win one over the Gophers.
So for those of you thinking that Minnesota is your typical homecoming opponent, beware - you just may be more right than you ever thought.
Brian Cox is a Sentinel sports reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.