As much as a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl appearance meant to the Nittany Lions, a look to the 2009 season has Penn State fans excited about what the future holds within the next couple years.
You can't start a conversation about Penn State without first mentioning its historic coach Joe Paterno. After renewing a contract extending to through the 2011 season, the Nittany Lions will surely attract recruits looking for a stable coaching team in the following years.
That was one issue quickly resolved once the contract extension was announced. Almost immediately, dual-threat quarterback Kevin Newsome committed to Penn State.
Newsome will just be adding depth to the quarterback position and will gain valuable experience from Daryll Clark, whose athleticism mirrors Kevin's. With Pat Devlin transferring, a pocket passing offense should not be the main focus come spring time.
Throughout the 2008 season, Clark wanted to prove to the nation that he can make plays happen with his arm just as much as his legs. Losing the speedy receivers out wide should turn the "Spread HD" offense into a "Spread Option HD" offense, especially with the return of game breakers Evan Royster and Stephfon Greene at running back.
Receivers won't be the strong point of the Nittany Lion offense come 2009, but that doesn't mean they will be inadequate. Brett Brackett adds height as well as strength to the wide receiver position, and will be a junior next year along with Graham Zug. Assuming tight end Andrew Quarless can stay out of trouble, the passing game with Clark at the helm won't falter.
Given the offensive line can hold up, of course.
Four out of the starting five offensive linemen are gone. That's bad. If Clark wasn't as fleet-footed as he is, this would be a long year watching him drop back for passes. The offense relies almost solely on the play of the linemen in 2009, both protecting Clark and Newsome as well as opening up some holes for Royster.
Newcomer Eric Shrive might also have some potential for future years on the line for the Lions, a 6'7", 285-pounder from Scranton. Nate Cadogan will also join Penn State, following the footsteps of his brother Gerald.
The defensive side of the ball suffers. Maurice Evans followed Aaron Maybin for the NFL draft and Josh Gaines graduates. That hurts the pass rush. The return of All-American Sean Lee to Linebacker U will make the defense stronger up the middle as well as provide some sense of leadership among the underclassmen.
Lydell Sargeant, Mark Rubin, Tony Davis and Anthony Scirrotto are all graduating this spring. That's a huge shot to the secondary. Freshman Drew Astorino will have to step up big in 2009 or Big Ten teams may just explode through the air against Penn State.
Look for recruits Darrell Givens and Derrick Thomas to get some playing time in the spring game as well as the opening weeks of the season, mostly out of a lack of depth.
Given the Nittany Lions' relatively easy schedule in 2009, with home games against Ohio State and Iowa, a successful season is for certain, and a BCS-worthy one depends on the play of the underclassmen as well as the leadership of the veterans.
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