Many of the experts are touting Penn State as a National Title contender in 2009 which kind of surprises me. Phil Steele, who I respect as much as anybody in the business of forecasting college football, has PSU picked first in the Big Ten and fifth in the nation. Meanwhile, a couple of the writers for Scout's "College Football News" list the Nittany Lions as a sleeper BCS Title team, and just about everyone has them in their top 10.
Maybe I'm missing something, but here is why I'm not so sure the Nits will be as good as predicted:
1. Joe is losing it. I love Joe Paterno, and he is an icon of the game, but he needs to be taking his grandkids fishing at this point in his life. While he has abdicated most of the power to his assistants, I still think he plays a major role in coaching and, last year aside, I think his best days are behind him.
2. The lines are much weaker this year. Games are usually won in the trenches, and that's why PSU was so tough last year. However, the offensive line lost three starters including their anchor, A.Q. Shipley.
And, the defensive line lost their pass-rush specialists from the past couple of years, and will be hard-pressed to get as much pressure on opposing quarterbacks. I'm not saying their lines will be weak, but I don't see them dominating like they did in '08.
3. Who is going to catch the ball? The incredibly talented and experienced trio of Deon Butler, Derrick Willams, and Jordan Norwood is gone, and they made life pretty easy for Daryll Clark last fall. Again, I'm sure they have some talented players in the wings, but you can't convince me that PSU won't miss the reliable and explosive talents of that terrific trio.
4. The secondary. Last year PSU was fantastic at defending the pass—at least until they got manhandled by USC in the Rose Bowl. However all four starting DBs are gone, and while the guys filling the holes have some experience, they will be hard-pressed to match last year's production.
Now, on a positive note, Penn State returns a very solid and battle-tested quarterback in Clark, two fine, if not spectacular, running backs in Evan Royster and Stephfon Green, and some excellent linebackers who are buoyed by the return of Sean Lee.
Don't get me wrong, there's plenty to like about PSU, and they have a soft schedule, with four sacrificial lambs in non-conference play, and Ohio State on their home turf, at always-intimidating Beaver Stadium.
However, the Nits do take to the road against Illinois and Michigan State, which are both losable, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Pennsylvania native Terrelle Pryor will be cooking up some revenge for his miscue last year. So count me as skeptical when it comes to the title talk coming out of State College.
The Lions will be good in '09, but not elite.
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