I just finished reading cover-to-cover Phil Steele's 2009 College Football Preview. While I'm going to leave it up to all of you to go out and buy your own copy, we can take a quick look into how Penn State fits into this year's edition. As growing buzz would indicate, Phil Steele is very high on the Nittany Lions in '09. Much of that excitement should be attributed to the pretty manageable schedule, and a more purely talented team than we've seen in years, even if it lacks some experience. Here are some Penn State highlights from Steele's '09 mag.
Rose Bowl repeat. That's right folks, PS has the Lions heading back to Pasadena in a rematch with Southern Cal. I'm not sure if this makes me comfortable or not. Hell, who am I kidding? I love this. What better way to ease the lingering pain following the 2009 Rose Bowl, than take on the Trojans again?
Brilliant backfield. Daryll Clark comes in as the No. 23 quarterback, while Evan Royster and Stephfon Green are the No. 9 and No. 41 running backs, respectively. Remember that Royster was banged up his freshman season, so he didn't get nearly as many carries as the coaches wanted, resulting in lower numbers. Last season, Royster could have run for 1,600 yards, but with the passing game clicking so well, the coaches de-emphasized the run in more than a few games.
Clark is ranked about right. He's an excellent quarterback, but should not be elevated to elite status right now. Penn State's offensive backfield returns all the key components for a championship run. The Lions' quarterback unit (including Newsome and McGloin) comes in at No. 15 nationally in Steele's unit rankings, while the running backs shoot up to No. 6 overall.
Light on the receivers. After several seasons with one of the best receiving corps in college football, Penn State failed to land a single wideout in Steele's top 72 list. It's not unexpected, but it's a bit depressing to see the dropoff.
A nice bright spot, however, is that both Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler make Steele's tight end list, at No. 13 and No. 22, respectively. It would be a real shame if Penn State's coaching staff continued to under utilize the tight ends, particularly with this kind of talent at that position.
Despite the fantastic tight ends, Penn State was left out of the top receiving units ranking in this year's magazine.
Up and down offensive line. Stefen Wisniewski (No. 6 center) and Dennis Landolt (No. 22 tackle) both made the individual player rankings at their positions. However, that was it for Penn State's offensive line. Steele wrote that this year's line could have just as much raw talent as the last few, but with less experience, won't put up the same kind of numbers as in 2008.
Wiz's rank, considering it will be his first season at center, was a little surprising. Although everyone knew he could play center, for Steele to peg him as the sixth best center this year was surprising. Like the receivers, Penn State's offensive line was not listed among the top units this season.
Interior intimidation. After losing three top-notch defensive ends following 2008, it's not at all a shock that Penn State was absent from the defensive end individual rankings. However, with Jared Odrick (No. 6 DT), Ollie Ogbu (No. 32 DT) and Abe Koroma (No. 53 DT) coming back, Steele was inclined to keep Penn State among the top defensive line units, at No. 32 overall.
Linebacker U. Steele made every Penn State fan break out in goosebumps, as he rates this year's linebacker corps the best in the nation. With two All-America candidates, and almost every other man on the two-deep a VHT ("very highly touted"), Steele also thinks this unit could make up for some of the weaknesses in other parts of Penn State's defense.
Navorro Bowman comes in as the No. 6 outside linebacker nationally. Sean Lee and Chris Colasanti (even though he will most likely redshirt this season) rank No. 4 and No. 33 at inside linebacker, respectively.
Sketchy secondary. Since the Rose Bowl, Penn State fans have worried about this year's secondary. Steele is also worried, but not quite as much as we are. AJ Wallace took a step back, after an injury-plagued year, coming in as the No. 30 corner going into this season.
Surprisingly, Steele rates Andrew Dailey (No. 12 SS) and Nick Sukay (No. 40 FS) among his top safeties, despite neither starting a game at Penn State. What's more interesting is that part-time starter Drew Astorino did not make either list. I wonder what Steele sees in Penn State's safety situation. The Lions' defensive backfield, understandably, did not make the top unit rankings this year.
Darkhorse contenders. Well, when Steele gives your team the nod as the year's No. 1 Surprise Team, and starts them off No. 5 overall, then they're not really a true darkhorse for the national title game. Five of Steele's nine power sets call for Penn State to go 12-0. The Big Ten also moved up two spots in the conference rankings, from No. 6 to end '08, to No. 4 going into '09.
Readablilty. If you're going go buy Steele's magazine for the first time, then you're in for a treat. Each year, he takes suggestions from readers, and actually listens to them! The best college football annual just gets better every edition.
Even for those of us who are veteran Steele readers, the excitement leading up to its release rivals that of Christmas morning. However, sometimes the unit breakdowns get a little repetative, but that's really nit picking. Only the hardcore readers might notice those kinds of things. It's really unavoidable, though, as many of the storylines don't change from year to year (see: PSU LBs).
Overall, it's the best ten bucks a man could spend. I purchased mine at Wegmans' in Ashburn, VA. I picked up all four major preview magazines, but Steele's was the Holy Grail of my quest.
Go and get yours today!
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