Big Ten Countdown - Leaders Division - Third Place
By Tony Gerdeman
3. Penn State Nittany Lions
A pair of quarterbacks who can't win the job. A talented running back, but can the line open the necessary holes? A defensive line that has battled injuries throughout their collective careers. Almost three new linebackers, and all four starters returning in the secondary.
Seven on offense, seven on defense and the punter.
Sept. 3 Indiana State (W)
Sept. 10 Alabama (L)
Sept. 17 at Temple (W)
Sept. 24 Eastern Michigan (W)
Oct. 1 at Indiana (W)
Oct. 8 Iowa (L)
Oct. 15 Purdue (W)
Oct. 22 at Northwestern (W)
Oct. 29 Illinois (W)
Nov. 12 Nebraska (W)
Nov. 19 at Ohio State (L)
Nov. 26 at Wisconsin (L)
"Taking over the Big Ten since 1993."
A Big Ten Championship. This is always Penn State's goal, and it holds true this season as well. Two losses can get a team to the Conference Championship game (but not if they're in divisional play).
Ten wins. If Penn State can split their four toughest games (Alabama, Nebraska, at Ohio State, at Wisconsin), then they can certainly win ten games. To expect more than that would be a little much.
Six wins. Assuming they lose their four toughest games, Iowa and Northwestern could also very easily be losses. That's six losses without even throwing in a choke job.
Five Questions Looking For Answers
1. Can somebody win the quarterback job by something other than default?
2. Will the running game start slowly again this season?
3. Is there a pass rush on the defensive line?
4. Has 'Linebacker U' reloaded at the position?
5. Can the defense somehow stay healthy?
Best Chance For a Big Loss
Alabama. If you didn't know, Alabama is from the S-E-C, and because of this, they are superior to any Big Ten team ever. Fortunately for Penn State, the Nittany Lions are a fake Big Ten team, so they still have a slight chance to win this game.
Most Important Game
At Ohio State. It's unlikely that any Big Ten team will be undefeated this season, so any time you get a chance at a possible tiebreaker over a divisional opponent, you have to take it.
Best Road Game To Pack Up The Family Truckster And Travel To
At Indiana. Being from Nowheresville, Pennsylvania, you'd love to experience the bright lights and big city of anywhere else in the world, but in order to avoid the scorching of your rods and cones, might we suggest those bright lights be eased in via the quaint town of Bloomington, Indiana. Sure, at first it will seem like Las Vegas to you, but eventually you'll see that it's not all that scary.
Game They Shouldn't Lose, But Could
At Temple. The Owls return a bunch of starters and can run the ball. Penn State may be entering this game following a demoralizing loss to Alabama. This is also an in-state battle, which will fire Temple up. Because of the in-state nature, however, don't expect Penn State to be caught too unaware.
Something To Look For
The quarterback position may never be set. According to reports, both Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin are getting snaps with the first team in practice, but it looks like Bolden might be getting a few more, which leads most to believe that he will end up getting the starting nod against Indiana State. McGloin will also get snaps in that game as the staff looks to evaluate quarterbacks in actual game situations. Regardless of who starts the Alabama game, the more important factor will be who finishes it. There will be adversity and the quarterback who takes the final snaps against the Tide could very well take the opening snaps against Temple the following week.
Receiver Derek Moye. As far as 'Best Players' go, Moye is pretty underwhelming. However, he's a very solid receiver, and has had to catch less-than-perfect passes throughout his entire career. He's got the body of a big possession receiver, but he's able to get past defenses on a regular basis. He caught at least one 25-yard pass in ten games last season, so clearly he's a big-play receiver. Better quarterback play this season should bring about a very strong season from Moye.
Cornerback D'Anton Lynn. Lynn is a two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten performer. He finished second on the team in tackles last season with 75, and led in interceptions with three. He is one of the few players on this defense that the coaches know will do exactly what they expect him to.
Player People Are Expecting Too Much From
Senior safeties Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay. These two seniors have combined for 46 starts, so they've seen just about everything a pair of safeties can see. Unfortunately, if there's no pass rush, then their weaknesses in coverage will be exposed.
Player People Will Be Pleasantly Surprised By
Running back Silas Redd. Redd averaged 5.7 yards per carry as a true freshman last season, rushing for 437 yards. This season he is the starter and should get at least 200 carries. He has the potential to rush for 1,200-1,400 yards this year if the quarterbacks are competent. He's got the speed to get outside, and the power to get the extra yards. He should step in for Evan Royster very well. Unless, of course, Penn State starts the season unable to run the ball like they did last season.
Defensive end C.J. Olaniyan. There aren't many freshmen or redshirt freshmen expected to make an impact this season for Penn State. In fact, there are only a few in the two-deep. Olaniyan is one of the few who are expected to see significant minutes. The redshirt freshman is currently a backup at defensive end, and if he can get a pass rush going, then he will play major minutes.
Best Reason They Won't Be Undefeated
The final three games of the season. Look at 'em! Nebraska at home, then off to Columbus, and then to Wisconsin. By the time Penn State gets back from their trip to Ohio State, it will be time to turnaround and head back west to Madison. It's simply asking too much to expect the Nittany Lions to finish the season 3-0.
Best Reason They Will Be Undefeated
Because quarterback Rob Bolden will have progressed greatly from Year One to Year Two. At some point the game should click for Bolden. He's looked like the better quarterback in practices of late, so why can't it click now? If Penn State somehow goes undefeated this season, Bolden will be the largest reason why.
Something They Do Well
Produce linebackers. The three linebackers slated to start the opener this season have a grand total of eight starts in their career. Yet those around the program are pretty excited about their potential. Michael Mauti started seven games last season, and will man the strongside position this season. Gerald Hodges will be on the weakside and could remind some of Navorro Bowman this season. The surprise of fall camp has been sophomore Glenn Carson, who has emerged as the front runner at middle linebacker. There are concerns about his coverage skills, but they don't want those concerns to keep him out of the lineup.
Something They Don't Do So Well
Throw to their teammates. Quarterbacks Rob Bolden (7) and Matt McGloin (9) combined to throw 16 interceptions last season, while completing just 56% of their pass attempts. Things need to get markedly better in both areas if Penn State is going to compete for a divisional championship.
The quarterbacks. Despite what was just said above, they're a year older, so they HAVE to be better. If anything, perhaps Rob Bolden will be given a longer leash this season as the coaches hang in to see what he can do as an experienced quarterback. Because once they bench him, he's gone.
What's Gotten Worse?
The interior of the offensive line. Penn State will have to replace guard Stefan Wisniewski and center Doug Klopacz. They are still trying to figure out who will be their right guard, but right now it looks like it will be John Urschel, who played in three games last season as a redshirt freshman. Center will be manned by Matt Stankiewitch, who missed the second half of last season with mononucleosis.
Anything Else We Should Know About?
The defensive line has to do a better job of rushing the passer. The defensive ends only managed a total of seven sacks last season. If they are going to be a contender, that number will need to be obliterated just by starters Eric Latimore and Jack Crawford themselves. Expect defensive tackle Devon Still to remain a pass-rushing threat, but losing trenchmate Ollie Ogbu might be difficult to overcome. Fellow tackles Jordan Hall and James Terry are more run stoppers than pass rushers.
Injured receiver Curtis Drake could be back for the Alabama game. Drake might be the most explosive receiver on the team, but he's coming back from twice breaking his left tibia. The first time it happened, he missed all of 2010. The second time was just this spring. He was kept off of the 105-man roster, and he has not yet been cleared by the doctors, but Drake is telling reporters that he could be back in time for the clash against the Crimson Tide.
Make a Wish
A quarterback - it doesn't matter which one - emerges and plays well enough to keep the other on the bench.
Penn State will be within a touchdown of Alabama in the fourth quarter.
Scandal Most Likely To Rock the Program
Tape-gate. A player will be found to have been involved in illegally smuggling a brand new technology to State College--VHS tapes!
If The Head Coach Was a Superhero, What Would His Super Power Be?
The super-ability to keep people off of his lawn. Even on one of the two or three days per week when he's at the office, he still has a sixth sense about darn kids on his lawn.
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