Top 25 Team Previews
Penn State Nittany Lions"/>
Top 25 Athlon Team Previews: Penn State Nittany Lions
2009 Record: 11-2 (6-2 in Big Ten)
Head Coach: Joe Paterno
Evan Royster :: Randy Litzinger/Icon SMI
Indiana (Landover, MD)
at Michigan State
LSU (Capital One Bowl)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Evan Royster, RB: The third-year starter ranks among the elite tailbacks in school history.
Stefen Wisniewski, C/G: He could be a center. Or a guard. One thing is for sure: He will be an All-Big Ten performer.
Derek Moye, WR: The big-play junior averaged 16.4 yards per catch last season.
Daryll Clark, QB: Last year, Clark became the first Penn State quarterback to surpass 3,000 passing yards in a season.
Jared Odrick, DT: The Lions' best run-stuffer was also one of the team's top pass-rushers.
Navorro Bowman, LB: Linebacker U's latest blue-chipper left a year early after a stellar career.
33: Penn State has been ranked in the AP Top 25 for 33 straight weeks and goes into the 2010 season tied with Alabama for the fifth-longest active streak.
Handicapping Penn State's quarterback race is usually pretty easy: The job goes to the contender who's paid the most dues. It's a tougher call this year, because hardly any dues have been paid. The four players expected to vie for the spot in preseason practice have combined to throw 13 passes. Leading contender Kevin Newsome played in 10 games as Daryll Clark's backup last year, but usually not until a victory was secured. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Newsome looks to be a better runner than Clark. As for his passing, the evidence is inconclusive. He will have plenty of talent around him in tailback Evan Royster, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, and an outstanding complement of receivers led by Derek Moye.
The line is in flux. In the spring, center Stefen Wisniewski moved to guard, his original position, while starting guard Lou Eliades went to right tackle and backup guard Quinn Barham to left tackle. The changes were provisional; the Lions were looking to audition a number of tackles and appeared eager to avoid having to start a freshman. Joe Paterno came away unimpressed, calling the unit's play "very, very average."
Penn State must replace five members of the front seven that started the Capital One Bowl, but the situation isn't as dire as it appears. The Lions have a veteran returnee at nosetackle in Ollie Ogbu and a couple of rising stars in defensive ends Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore.
At outside linebacker, Nate Stupar filled in for the injured Navorro Bowman last year and figures to start. The most anticipated development, though, is the return of Michael Mauti. Before he suffered a season-ending knee injury last summer, Mauti was being hailed as a star. Assuming he's healthy this fall, he'll give the Lions a huge lift.
The secondary should be fine. Strong safety Drew Astorino had surgery to fix a shoulder injury that hindered him last season and is expected back in action by August. At cornerback, D'Anton Lynn is back and will look to fend off a challenge from up-and-comer Derrick Thomas. It wouldn't be surprising if Lynn moved to safety.
Collin Wagner kicked well in the bowl game, going 4-of-4 on a muddy field. But during the regular season he struggled, hitting only 4-of-10 from 30 yards or more. Sophomore Anthony Fera is looking like the most likely punter following the surprise departure of Ryan Breen in February. Other concerns on special teams involve the punt-return and coverage teams, which were dreadful in 2009.
Joe Paterno says Penn State is prepared to tweak the offense to accommodate the skill set of whichever quarterback wins the starting job. If it's Newsome, that could mean a return to a more run-centric offense, a la the one PSU ran in 2005 when it won the Big Ten title.
The Lions will have to get their act together in a hurry, because the nonconference schedule includes a Sept. 11 trip to Alabama. If they can hang with the defending national champs, they'll have a chance to build momentum. If not, they'll have to show some resilience heading into the Big Ten slate. This much is certain: Their outlook will be clearer on Sept. 12 than it is now.