Last Year: 11-2, 7-1, Lost to USC in Rose Bowl
Coaches Poll Rank: 8
You would think that Joe Paterno's act would get old eventually. For goodness sakes, the man is 82 years old. How in the world is he able to garner the love, affection, and drive of today's athlete? How can 19 year old's stand their and take a man who's closer to 100 than he is to 50 seriously?
You would think.
But this isn't any ordinary 82 year old. This is a man who treats his age exactly the way he should treat it. He treats his age like a number and nothing more. He doesn't like to talk about it. He doesn't let it affect his day to day life. And more importantly, he doesn't let it affect Penn State football.
This was shown yet again when the ageless wonder took a group of men nearly a quarter of his age to a BCS bowl game, loosing to USC in the Rose Bowl. If the program is still thriving with an 82 year old coach, their isn't any reason to believe that it won't continue to do so.
This season will require some good old fashioned Paterno rebuilding. After loosing 13 starters, Penn State will have to address a number of positions with new blood in them. Offensively, the receiving core completely turns over. While quarterback Daryll Clark is back, he will have to develop relationships quickly with some new targets. 132 receptions and 17 touchdowns walked out the door after the Rose Bowl. Deon Butler, Derrek Williams, and Jordan Norwood now call themselves Penn State football alumni.
Besides running backs Evan Royster and Stephfon Green, the returning reception leader is Graham Zug. Zug had 11 catches for 174 yards a 2 touchdowns last season. Brett Bracket and Derek Moye are also back. Those two accounted for 16 catches and 2 touchdowns combined last season. While the Penn State coaching staff hope that Zug, Bracket, and Moye can fit in with the offense as well as the departing trio did, based on the numbers it is a giant question mark.
However, the Penn State offense can take solace in the fact that Clark and Royster are back. Darryl Clark is an athletic enough player for the spread offense that he works in and showed improvement in his passing game. Clark completed nearly 60% of his passes for over 2000 yard and 19 touchdowns. He also ran for 10 touchdowns. While his accuracy must continue to improve, bank on Clark being the focal point of the offense.
Not to be outdone, Royster will also be key to the offense doing anything of significance. The junior running back returns off a 1000+ yard season that saw him enter the end zone 12 times. I would assume that Royster will get even more of a chance to catch the ball out of the backfield this season, given the uncertainty of the receiving corps. He caught 17 balls for 155 yards last year. He was effective in that roll, averaging over nine yards a reception.
The only thing I would be concerned about with Royster is over use, especially if the receivers struggle. This is where the importance of Stephfon Green comes into play. It's important for Green to have a big year to take a little of the burden off of Royster. Last year, Green ran for 578 yards and 4 touchdowns. I think Green should get more carries to keep Royster fresh.
It is not out of the realm of possibility for the running backs to get crushed early in the year. Three starters off the offensive line are gone. All of these men were voted first team All- Big Ten. Luckily for the Lions, center Stefen Wishniewski is back, and he's a good place to start reformulating the line. Wishniewski was voted second team All-Big Ten last year. It is important for DeOn'tae Pannell and Dennis Landholt to emerge as solid players for this line to succeed.
While seven starters have left the defense, PSU gets a boost from the return of linebacker Sean Lee. Lee missed all of 2008 with an ACL tear. Lee is projected to be a versatile running back who can play both the pass and run.
Obviously, the most daunting task for the Penn State defense is replacing Aaron Maybin. While Jarred Odrick and Ollie Ogbu both are promising, the defensive line will need talent to emerge in other areas to be effective.
I think the most important individual aspect to Penn State's season will be the maturation of the passing game. If Clark can develop an early comfort level with his new go-to receivers, the offense will be greatly helped. While the running game may be able to carry the load for a portion of the year, don't expect much offensively if the passing game is dormant.
3 Games To Watch
October 3- @ Illinois- The Illini aren't predicted to be very good this season. But with Juice Williams returning behind center, be wary of that offense. Williams to Arrelious Benn may be the most underrated pass-receiving combo on a non-ranked team in the nation.
November 7th- Ohio State- This late season match up could have serious Big Ten title implications. Watch out for Terrell Pryor.
Novemeber 21st- @ Michigan State- An improved Michigan State team will have last years 49-18 thrashing in the back of there mind. At the very least, expect a much closer match up.