So what happened?
You can say what you want about the off-field incidents. Penn State played its best game of the season in the wake of a fight involving players.
This year was about talented players underachieving. Was it the coaches' faults? I couldn't tell you.
I know some people point fingers at the "conservative" play-calling, but the offense had the most success when they were complementing the run game with play-action. When Joe Paterno and offensive coordinator Galen Hall tried to spread things out and go west-coast, the offense was less effective.
It's impossible for anyone outside the program to really know if Jay Parterno ruined quarterbacks or if they were just overrated to begin with.
That said, let's take a trip down memory lane...
This one's a no-brainer.
A lot of people didn't think the Lions could handle P.J. Hill, Travis Beckum, and the Wisconsin Badgers when they rolled into town on October 13th. Yet Penn State rushed out of the gate, forcing a Hill fumble and quickly taking a 7-0 lead.
The Nits then cruised to a surprisingly easy 38-7 victory that gave fans a lot of confidence heading into the Ohio State game. Rodney Kinlaw ran for over 100 yards, while maligned QB Anthony Morelli threw for a solid 7.7 yards per throw with no turnovers.
This is a much tougher choice.
The knee-jerk reaction would be the disaster in East Lansing when the Lions blew a 24-7 third quarter lead and surrendered the Land Grant Trophy for the first time since 2003.
However, the real crushing blow to the season came early on when the Lions—seemingly finally—had a chance to beat Michigan. Not only had the Wolverines already lost to Appalachian State and Oregon, but starting quarterback Chad Henne was injured.
While the Lions were able to get in freshman QB Ryan Mallet's head, Michigan countered by handing the ball to senior RB Mike Hart over and over again. That offensive game plan wasn't very productive, but it was enough to beat the Nittany Lions, whose offense lost momentum repeatedly inside the red zone.
Down 7-3 early in the 1st half, Anthony Morelli saw WR Deon Butler on a slant to the end zone, but overthrew him badly. It turned out to be PSU's best chance to score a touchdown that whole afternoon.
When the dust cleared, the Lions had lost a 14-9 decision. Half of Michigan's points were scored when Morelli fumbled deep in Michigan territory in the first quarter.
Penn State had at least managed a touchdown when the same teams met in 2006. No such luck in Ann Arbor. The loss showed that little had changed since last year. PSU still couldn't score against the conference's best teams.
It can't go to the underachieving wide outs or the struggling quarterback, so most people would give this award to RB Rodney Kinlaw, but I think LT Gerald Cadogen deserves it more.
Number 76 was able to fill the big, big shoes of 1st round draft pick Levi Brown. Penn State's O-line actually improved in performance from 2006 to 2007, and Cadogen was a big part of it.
The unit opened up holes for Kinlaw and RB Evan Royster all year long and protected Morelli long enough for him to make the occasional big play in the passing game.
LB Sean Lee is another unconventional choice. LB Dan Conner and DE Maurice Evans are close runner-ups.
I just thought Lee was a bigger playmaker. He seemed to hit harder and force more fumbles than the other players. The linebackers weren't great in pass coverage all year, but Lee's interception against the Spartans late in the year was very impressive.
Most Disappointing Offensive Player
This dubious honor easily goes to TE Andrew Quarless. Even after an underage citation early in the season, Quarless had a chance to prove himself on the field, but failed to do this in every regard.
Quarless underachieved in both the blocking and receiving portions of his job. JoePa had to pull him from more than one game in favor of Mickey Shuler.
Most Disappointing Defensive Player
This one's easy: it's Justin King. I don't think he was as bad as a lot of PSU fans say he was, but a lot of people expected him to shut down the best WRs in the Big Ten, and he failed to do that.
The game that stands out is at Indiana when WR James Hardy caught 14 passes for 142 yards. To King's credit, he didn't let Hardy get loose for any big gains. 10 yards per reception is pretty low for a threat such as Hardy. King is the biggest disappointment only because expectations for him were so high.
My take on this is that PSU's corners were misused by Defensive Coordinator Tom Bradley. If the corners were so good, why did the Lions play so much zone? I think King could've been evaluated more fairly if the Lions rushed linebackers and allowed King to play tight man-on-man coverage.
It's not over yet...
Just a few hours ago, it was announced that Penn State will head to the Alamo Bowl to face a Big XII opponent on December 29th. The Lions will probably play either A&M or Texas Tech.
In my humble opinion, Tech would be a more intriguing test for Old State because of the Lions' weak pass defense against Indiana and State. Tom Bradley must find ways for the Lions to more consistently pressure the passer for PSU to emerge victorious.
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