Penn State football has had a rather noisy offseason, but not much of it has dealt with on-field play.
Their most talented cornerback, Justin King, left school for the NFL draft. Penn State lost in the Terrelle Pryor recruiting sweepstakes. Many players drew negative media attention for their off-the-field behavior.
Sean Lee, the team's best returning player and best hope to continue PSU's tradition of three straight Bednarik award winners, is lost for the season with an injury. Joe Paterno is in the last season of his contract, still with no exit strategy in place.
However, the outlook remains optimistic for the upcoming season.
Penn State will most likely look to senior Darryl Clark to take over as quarterback, a player who will hopefully give the offense the look it had with Michael Robinson at the helm three years ago.
The talented receiving core of Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood, and Derrick Williams are all entering their senior seasons.
They, along with two talented young running backs (Evan Royster and Stephfon Green) and two outstanding tight ends (Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler), should give Clark plenty of options on the offensive side of the ball.
The defense remains deep at linebacker, despite the injury to Lee, and returns a lot of talent both in the secondary and on the defensive line. Don't be surprised to see big seasons out of safety Anthony Scirotto (who has put his off-field issues behind him) and corner A.J. Wallace, who will take over Justin King's spot.
The pieces look like they are all in place, but time will tell if the coaching staff can bring these players together to become a successful team.
Here are my predictions for the upcoming season.
August 30: Penn State vs. Coastal Carolina
August 30: Penn State vs. Coastal Carolina
Although I hate to see Penn State scheduling weak opponents like Coastal Carolina, this game should give the Nittany Lions a chance to get accustomed to playing with each other with very small risk of losing. I expect a slow start, especially offensively, but in the end this should be a blow-out.
Penn State 48, Coastal Carolina 6 September 6: Penn State vs. Oregon State
Penn State 48, Coastal Carolina 6
September 6: Penn State vs. Oregon State
This game should give a good indication of what to expect for the rest of the season. Penn State very rarely loses to teams they should beat. Oregon State is coming off a solid season, and Penn State has not matched up against a Pac-10 team in recent years.
Thoughts of Oregon thrashing Michigan and USC pounding Illinois last year scare me a little, but I think Penn State has enough talent to get by the Beavers, especially at home.
This win should give the Lions a lot of confidence for the Big Ten schedule. I predict a strong start for PSU at home, and for them to hold on to a comfortable lead for the rest of the game.
Penn State 31, Oregon State 20 September 13: Penn State at Syracuse
Penn State 31, Oregon State 20
September 13: Penn State at Syracuse
Syracuse is coming off an extremely poor 2007 season. Still, they have enough talent to scare Penn State in the first road game of the season. With the game in New York, Penn State should have a strong following at the game that will help them past a slow start. Clark should earn the confidence of the Penn State faithful by bringing the team back from behind.
Penn State 24, Syracuse 17 September 20: Penn State vs. Temple
Penn State 24, Syracuse 17
September 20: Penn State vs. Temple
Temple is an extremely poor football program that is on the rise. They hung with Penn State for most of the game last year at their home stadium, but relied on many Penn State mistakes. This will be Penn State's statement game. While Darryl Clark has performed well to this point, this will be a huge passing game for him and his talented receivers.
Penn State 49, Temple 7 September 27: Penn State vs. Illinois
Penn State 49, Temple 7
September 27: Penn State vs. Illinois
Penn State's first Big Ten game of the season is a big one. The game against the Fighting Illini is a night game, and the Penn State students will be out in full "white-out" force.
Illinois is coming off a fantastic season where they earned a berth in the Rose Bowl. They have a significant test in their first game of the season against Missouri, and then two much easier games after that. I think how Illinois comes out against Penn State will have a lot do with their result against Missouri.
Penn State should have a lot of confidence and a ton of support from the home crowd, but if both teams are undefeated, Illinois will undoubtedly match that enthusiasm.
Penn State has had some spectacular performances in night games (Ohio State in 2005, Nebraska in 2002), but they were also run right off the field last year in a night game against Ohio State.
If PSU can win this one, they will be well on their way to an outstanding season. But if they lose, it should be more of the same from the last two years. As of now, I believe the emotion in Beaver Stadium will give the Lions the edge they need.
Penn State 27, Illinois 24 October 4: Penn State at Purdue
Penn State 27, Illinois 24
October 4: Penn State at Purdue
For whatever reason, Penn State always does well against Purdue. Purdue played the Nittany Lions close at home last season, but Penn State always seems to come out on top in these matchups. The PSU defense will continue to shut down the passing attack of the Boilermakers, and Penn State's offense should have enough scoring to win a defensive battle.
If Penn State is coming off a loss, a slow start would be expected, but either way the Lions should be able to win this one.
Penn State 16, Purdue 9 October 11: Penn State at Wisconsin
Penn State 16, Purdue 9
October 11: Penn State at Wisconsin
More than any other game on the schedule, this one screams danger to me for PSU. Penn State dominated the Badgers last year, but rest assured they will be looking for revenge.
If my predictions thus far stand correct, then I expect the Lions to give Wisconsin a tough fight—but in the end Wisconsin will do what they do best, and methodically defeat Penn State.
Wisconsin 26, Penn State 17 October 18: Penn State vs. Michigan
Wisconsin 26, Penn State 17
October 18: Penn State vs. Michigan
This is by far the most intriguing game on the schedule. Penn State has lost their last nine meetings to the Wolverines. And this is their homecoming game! But this will be the year.
Penn State played their best game by far last year on homecoming against a difficult opponent in Wisconsin. Michigan has a new coach and is implementing a new system. Penn State rebounds from their Wisconsin loss with a decisive win.
Penn State 34, Michigan 13 October 25: Penn State at Ohio State
Penn State 34, Michigan 13
October 25: Penn State at Ohio State
Ohio State returns almost their whole team from their National Runner-Up season last year. However, I firmly say they won't enjoy as much success in the Big Ten this year as they have for the past two years.
Penn State has usually played Ohio State very closely, with the exception of last season. Ohio State ran up and down the field and completed any pass they needed to against the highly touted PSU defense. The inept Penn State offense was unable to do anything against the Buckeye defense.
Penn State will want revenge after last year, but I believe they come into this game a little overconfident from their Michigan win. The Buckeyes have figured out how to beat the Lions.
Ohio State 27, Penn State 12 November 8: Penn State at Iowa
Ohio State 27, Penn State 12
November 8: Penn State at Iowa
After a week off, Penn State should be well prepared for a young Hawkeye squad. Iowa will be much better this year than last, as they showed improvement over the course of the year.
I expect Penn State to play extremely well, and they will need all of it to win this game. I am looking forward to a great season from Evan Royster, but I think around this time Stephfon Green will start to make his mark as well.
Penn State 24, Iowa 20 November 15: Penn State vs. Indiana
Penn State 24, Iowa 20
November 15: Penn State vs. Indiana
This is an Indiana team that should be playing with a lot of confidence after qualifying for a bowl last season. Unfortunately, they still aren't very good. They could give the Lions a relatively close game, but they are no threat to beat PSU at Beaver Stadium.
Penn State 33, Indiana 21 November 22: Penn State vs. Michigan State
Penn State 33, Indiana 21
November 22: Penn State vs. Michigan State
Penn State's loss against Michigan State last season was the one game they should have won. Although MSU was a bowl-quality team, Penn State lost a lead late in a game that signified everything the Morelli era stood for. Penn State had everything they needed to win, but just could not pull through.
With only two losses to this point, Penn State will look to finish their season strong and should be able to win this game. Michigan State is traditionally very poor in the later part of their season.
While Penn State may be out of the Big Ten race at this point, I expect this performance to boost their bowl status significantly.
Penn State 45, Michigan State 20
Penn State 45, Michigan State 20
It should be a three team race for the Big Ten title between Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Penn State. I think the edge goes to Wisconsin, and Ohio State and Penn State tie for second with two Big Ten losses apiece.
Ohio State holds the tiebreak but should have no shot at a BCS bowl after getting thrashed by USC in the regular season, and with Wisconsin taking the Rose Bowl spot.
Penn State takes the bid to the Hall of Fame Bowl against the third-place SEC team. They should win their bowl game for the fourth straight year, catapulting them into a top 10 ranking to end the season.
All in all, I expect a great season from the Nittany Lions. They have the talent and personnel to win a lot of games, and I get the feeling they will pull it together this year.
FINAL RECORD: 11-2
FINAL RECORD: 11-2
With a great season, Joe Paterno may give more thought to retirement. I wouldn't be surprised if this is his last season. Of course, he is more than welcome to stay as long as he wants.
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