Penn State Looks to Make Push for Rose Bowl Bid in 2008

Paul SalmanSenior Analyst IAugust 25, 2008

With the Penn State football season just days away, it's time for my game-by-game analysis and predictions for how this football season will turn out.

Going into this, I have had some mixed feelings.  I feel that this is a team that should win at least 10 games, but with the questions about the coaching staff and how conservative they get in big road games—of which we have a couple this year—I fear for a possible eight-win season.

This would be a huge disappointment given that we have so much experience returning on both sides of the ball, including the top receiving corps in the Big Ten, and the entire offensive line.

This is an offense that many were down on last year because of our performance in big games.  However, Penn State did score 394 total points last year (Ohio State scored 408), proving that they can be explosive at times.

The problem was our two lowest-scoring games were against the ‘The Big Two’ of the Big Ten, Ohio State and Michigan, including just a nine-point outing at "The (former) Big House."

With the return of the spread offense this year, I think things will be more like 2005, when Penn State won the Big Ten.

With that said, let’s begin.


Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

This should be a nice opening game for Penn State to finally apply this new offense to a meaningful game.  This will also be a great way to start for Daryl Clark and/or Pat Devlin against a team that uses a mix of 4-3 and 3-4 defensive looks.
Coastal Carolina does return 21 starters, so this is a team with experience.  The Chanticleers are picked to finish second in the Big South but should be extremely overmatched when they visit Happy Valley.
I predict a very fast start for this Penn State offense, as Joe Paterno likes to open up early in these early non-conference matchups (see Akron 2004, 2007, etc.).  I think both Clark and Devlin should see significant playing time in this game with the fans getting to see how each can/will be used.
Penn State will score touchdowns in all sorts of ways in this game: Daryl Clark running and throwing, Stephon Green returning a kick, Evan Royster running the ball, and let’s throw in an interception and a big start for what should be a big season for Anthony Scirrotto.
In the end, Penn State will win this game, 49-3.

Oregon State Beavers
Week Two brings the Oregon State Beavers of the Pac-10 into Beaver Stadium.  This is a team that finished 9-4 last year and was in the middle of the pack in the Pac-10.  However, only three starters from last year’s team return for the 2008 campaign.  OSU will be relying on junior college transfers on defense who do have some college experience.
Lyle Moevao has proven to be a reliable starter at QB for the Beavers after stepping in late in the season in 2007 and going 4-0.  The main concern on the offensive side of the ball is replacing running back Yvenson Bernard.  Depth at the offensive line should help the Beavers' running back by committee strategy early in the season. 
However, losing so much experience on the defensive side of the ball will prove to be too much for this team.  Penn State will not have to deal with a front seven that recorded 44 sacks last year (only two returning on the front seven) and should be able to run the ball effectively on this young Beavers defense.
I expect a big game for Evan Royster, with Brent Carter and Stephon Green handling the ball as well.  I believe this is the game we really see what Stephon Green can do with his electrifying speed.  Penn State should win this game, 38-10.

@ Syracuse Orange
This is a team that has experienced the worst three-year stretch in their history.  Based on their lack of experience and schedule, year four does not appear to be any better.  This could be the last year for Greg Robinson if his Orange does not improve.
Their offensive line has been their main problem for the past few years, and it should be a problem again when the Nittany Lions come to town with one of the top defensive lines in the nation.  Expect there to be lots of blue and white at the Carrier Dome on Sep. 13, and expect another big win for the Nittany Lions.
With many issues in the secondary for the Orange, expect Daryl Clark to show off what he can do in the passing game, with Pat Devlin also receiving time.  Penn State wins this game, 41-7.

Temple Owls
Al Golden has done a great job improving Temple over the years, and many say he will be the one to succeed Joe Paterno at Penn State.  However, Temple is still a team that will be overmatched on this day.  Temple's strength is its defense, which was one of the best in the MAC in 2007 and was tops in Red Zone defense.
The Owls struggled on offense and don't appear to be much improved in 2008.  Averaging just 16 points a game last year ranked them 116th nationally on offense, and facing an experienced Penn State defense with one of the best defensive lines in the nation won't help Temple.
Expect both teams to struggle to score points early.  Penn State will have some issues dealing with the Owls', front seven but eventually the talent level will prevail.  Penn State wins this matchup, 42-3.

Illinois Fighting Illini
Now we begin the Big Ten Schedule with a nationally televised night game against the Illinois Fighting Illini.  This is a team that surprised many last year and beat both Penn State and Ohio State on its way to a Rose Bowl bid.
Ron Zook has obviously done a great job recruiting and has put Illinois back on the map as a formidable team in the Big Ten.  Returning 13 total starters (seven on offense and five on defense, plus one kicker) gives this team a chance to be a top team in the Big Ten again.  Their opening game at Missouri will provide a litmus test on how good this team really can be.
Juice Williams has shown inconsistency in the passing game but has found a way to win games with his legs.  Running back Rashard Mendenhall's departure will be very tough to replace and will put more pressure on Juice to make big plays with his legs.
I expect the combination of the experienced Penn State front line, along with the full stadium "White Out," to be too much for Illinois offense to handle.  I see Penn State containing Juice and forcing him to throw, which will prove to be a problem as well against Penn State’s experience in the defensive backfield.
The key to this game will be Penn State's defense against Juice Williams.  If the Nittany Lions can contain him—which I believe they will with the help of a rowdy crowd—Penn State should win this game, 24-17.

@ Purdue Boilermakers
This matchup could prove to be a trap game for the Nittany Lions.  Several factors make me nervous: This game follows an emotional night game vs. Illinois, it's right before a tough stretch of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State, and it's a road game against a team that always has a strong offense and will be extra motivated for coach Joe Tiller's last year as head football coach.
That being said, I fear that Penn State comes out flat and Purdue takes advantage with their experience on offense.  Curtis Painter is a quarterback that has NFL potential and throws the ball all over the field.
In the end, using last year’s 26-19 victory as a starting point, I think Penn State should find a way to regroup in the second half and slow the Purdue offense down.  Penn State will have to rely on its passing game and experience at the wide receiver position to win, as Purdue's secondary is the weakest link of their defense.
Again, I see Daryl Clark running the offense on this day, with Devlin seeing limited action throughout the game.  I predict a 27-23 win for Penn State.

@ Wisconsin Badgers
Being that this is a road game, and Camp Randall is a tough place to play, I understand why many think this should be a loss for Penn State.  However, when you look at it more closely, I think this game should be easier than Purdue.
Wisconsin is a team that is very similar to Penn State in that both return most of their starters.  Both also need to replace their quarterbacks, and both should be solid at the RB position.
That said, Penn State played its best game of the 2007 season against Wisconsin, winning that game 38-7.  Granted, that was at Beaver Stadium, and we all know how much better Penn State plays at home.  Penn State also has not won in Camp Randall since 2002.
However, I think that this team will be able to disrupt the Badgers' first-year starter at quarterback with its solid defensive line play.  Wisconsin's inexperience at the wide receiver position will also make it easier for the Penn State defense to get to the quarterback.
I also believe that the spread offense will cause Wisconsin lots of problems on defense, as it did in 2005, and as it did last year for them vs. Illinois.
Wisconsin will try to pound the ball with P.J. Hill, but the experience and depth of the Penn State's front seven should be able to keep them in the game and slow Hill down.
I think only the Penn State coaching staff and its historic conservative style of play on the road can hold this team back.  If that does not happen, which many say won't this year, Penn State should win this game, 31-21.

Michigan Wolverines
Ahhh...a team that Penn State has not beat in over 10 years.  Well, this HAS to be the year, right?  New coach, new system, home game—everything is in Penn State’s favor.
At this point in the season we should know what to expect from this Michigan offense.  Right now it is hard to say, but I don't expect this to be the high-powered offense Rich Rodriguez ran in West Virginia, at least not yet.
Steven Threet will be the starting quarterback and is a transfer from Georgia Tech who is seen more as a "pass first" QB with some mobility.  Pass first is not really a Rodriguez style of offense.
The strong point of this team will be the seven returning starters on defense and a strong front seven.  Michigan will rely on their defense this year to stay in games, as I don't see their offense providing much cushion at this point.
In the end, the streak should end and Penn State should find a way to win.  If they can beat the spread vs. Illinois, Penn State should be able to handle the first year spread at Michigan.  Given the magnitude of this game, what with a chance to finally get over the hump and beat Michigan, the crowd will be a big help in this 4:30 pm ET start game.
Again I see Daryl Clark leading this offense to a win, with a lot of help from the running game attacking the inexperienced Michigan linebacking corps.  Penn State wins this game, 20-14.

@ Ohio State Buckeyes
Since joining the Big Ten in 1993, Penn State has not won in Columbus, and unfortunately all signs point to the same ol' story again.  Ohio State returns one of its best teams in years.  There seem to be no weaknesses on either side of the ball with 18 returning starters.
For Ohio State, the key game is @ USC on Sep. 6.  It's hard to admit this, but I really want Ohio State to win that game for the sake of the Big Ten.  On the off chance the Nittany Lions can pull off this upset, it will look that much better.
However, I also don't think this will be that easy of a game for Ohio State.  These two teams play each other very tough, regardless of how good or bad a season each is having.
Penn State, as I have mentioned, does return a lot of starters and does have a great defensive and offensive line.  This should keep Penn State in the game.
I think Ohio State will use Terrelle Pryor very effectively throughout the season, causing opposing defenses many problems by switching the style of play when he comes in, similar to what Florida did with Tebow in 2006.
In the end, I think Penn State's conservative coaching style on the road will come out in this game.  I think Clark/Devlin will have some problems with this very experienced and strong Ohio State defense.
I don't think Ohio State can just check this game off as a win like many think, and I see this as a low-scoring defensive battle, as most PSU-OSU games are.  Ohio State wins this one, 21-17.

@ Iowa Hawkeyes
This is a team that has underperformed the last few years.  Expectations are usually pretty high, but the team cannot live up to them.
Last year, injuries to their top receiving threats left quarterback Jake Christensen without much to work with.  He ended with just a 53.5 percent completion rate.  Luckily for him and the running game, the offensive line is intact, and both of his favorite targets—WR Andy Brodell and TE Tony Moeaki—are healthy this year.
On the defensive side there has been much turnover, but the returners are some of the best in the Big Ten, including both tackles on the defensive line.  Also, most of the new starters, including both defensive ends and both cornerbacks, did play significant time last year and were impressive.
This is a strong Iowa team that as always has the potential to be solid.  However, potential and what actually happens are very different things.
Penn State’s defense should be able to contain the Iowa offense and disrupt Christensen as it did last year.  If the coaching staff does not hold this team back in another important road game, the Penn State offense, which I expect to have a tough time at first, should eventually be able to pass on the first year starting cornerbacks of Iowa and use the experience at the WR position to take advantage of the secondary.
This should be another game where Clark, and a little bit of Devlin, should be able to pass and run the spread in order to soften up the front seven and let Royster, Carter, and Green close the game out in the fourth quarter.  Penn State wins this one, 27-10.

Indiana Hoosiers
After a tough stretch of games against the top tier of the Big Ten, as well as being on the road for two weeks, the Nittany Lions return home and face the Hoosiers of Indiana.
Kellen Lewis is a very solid dual-threat QB and caused Penn State problems last year.  However, his top target James Hardy, who abused Justin King, is now in the NFL on the Buffalo Bills.  Penn State's secondary should be able to contain the Hoosiers' WRs and will need to focus on Lewis and his legs.  He is another quarterback that PSU will see that can win by running around.
The Hoosiers also return depth at the RB position.  However, losing three starters on the offensive line will not help Lewis and his running backs against the strong Penn State defensive front.
The Hoosiers do return seven starters on a defense that made a lot of big plays in 2007, forcing 31 turnovers and registering 42 sacks.  However, they also gave up a lot of yards (403.4 yards per game) and a lot of points (28.5 per game).  This should continue again this year, and Penn State should be able to run its offense effectively in this matchup.
Penn State scored 36 points on Indiana last year, and I see a similar outcome this year.  Penn State wins this game, 38-21.

Michigan State Spartans
Here is a team that is always hard to predict: always has talent, always starts strong, but seems to find a way to underperform at the end of the season.  Michigan State beat Penn State last year when Penn State blew a huge halftime lead.  Penn State will look to avenge that loss, and it will help being at home this year.
Several key pieces of the MSU offense have left for the NFL: running back Jehuu Caulcrick, who ran for 872 yards and 21 scores last season; WR Devin Thomas, who accounted for 2,590 all-purpose yards and was drafted in the second round of this year's NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins; and TE Kellen Davis, who had 32 catches for 513 yards and six touchdowns as a senior and was drafted in the fifth round by the Chicago Bears.
This is a lot to replace, but luckily QB Brian Hoyer does return and has a full year of experience under his belt.  There are many new names that have impressed the staff during the offseason.  If someone can step up on offense, Hoyer should be successful again, as he proved to be a formidable college quarterback.
On the defensive side, MSU is another team that made big plays on defense last year but still gave up 26.6 ppg.  They lose several key playmakers this year, leading me to believe that things won't get much better.  Penn State lost 35-31 last year, and until the fourth quarter was scoring a lot at will.
With key losses on both sides of the ball, as well as this game being at Penn State this year, I don't see Michigan State pulling off the upset.  Penn State remembers what happened last year and avenges that loss with a solid 45-20 victory.

With this analysis, I have predicted Penn State to go 11-1.  I also predict a total of 399 points without the bowl game included.  Last year they scored 394 points with the bowl game included, so I do expect this offense to be more effective than last year.
I do worry about the Purdue game the most because of the letdown factor.  Of course Wisconsin could be a problem as well, being that it is a road game at a site where Penn State does struggle, but the trap game vs. Purdue is my greatest concern.  If Penn State does lose more than the one game to Ohio State, I would say these are the two teams I would expect the losses to come from.
9-3 is the worst I see this team going and is the lowest number of victories that I would be "OK" with, although I think this is at the very least a 10-win team.
Of course there is always a chance that somehow the upset in Columbus is pulled off, in which case I will be very happy to be wrong.
There is also the chance of injuries or other crazy things that can throw this all off.  Let's hope that does not happen.
With Ohio State being undefeated, the media will be forced to put them in the BCS Championship game again, although very reluctantly after the last two years.  I see Ohio State facing a team from the Big 12, probably Big Game Bob and his Sooners.
Oklahoma will be on a mission this year to make up for the last two disappointing ends to their seasons and return a solid team and experience at the quarterback position, which is key in college.
This leaves Penn State at 11-1 and second in the Big Ten, and they will get a Rose Bowl bid to face the Trojans of Southern California.  This would match up two of the best defensive lines in the nation and feature two teams with a first year starter on offense.
It is hard to pick against Pete Carroll in bowl games, especially in their own backyard.  I would begrudgingly say that the USC defense will lead them to victory over Penn State, although Joe Paterno is a great bowl game coach when he has six weeks to prepare and does have the most bowl wins in history.
I get the sense that this game would be closer than most think right now, but I do not want to show too much bias and say Penn State will win the Rose bowl.
My prediction is 11-2 and a loss in the Rose Bowl to USC, a prediction that forecasts a successful season but also leaves some room for me being wrong in a positive direction, although not that much room indeed.
The next question is, what will Joe do following this 2008 campaign when his contract runs out?


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