This week the folks at Bleacher Report wanted me to come up with 11 reasons why Penn State should start the season in the Top 10 polls.
Upon reading that, I admit I was stumped. After all, this is a program that will be coming off a 7-6 season with much of the same issues they had last season.
And you want me to tell you why this should be a top ten team? And you want 11 different reasons?
Surely, I have my work cut out for me with this assignment, but I will put on my eternal optimist cap and see if I can come up with some reasons why Penn State could be considered a Top 10 program this season.
Penn State's quarterback situation remains a bit of a mystery for 2011, although Joe Paterno has said before that the starting job will very likely to be handed to Rob Bolden or Matt McGloin.
A year after splitting the starting duties for Penn State, the debates still rage about which quarterback gives Penn State the best chance to win.
This writer tends to lean toward Bolden, who was just a freshman last year and appears to have a higher ceiling than McGloin, who last was seen throwing interceptions to Florida Gators defensive players more often than anything else.
Each candidate for the job has their pros and cons, but if Bolden has matured and grown, then he should be the first option under center for Paterno. There is nothing McGloin can do that Bolden can not.
The Big Ten has a good number of quarterbacks that people already know about. Michigan's Denard Robinson, Northwestern's Dan Persa, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Wisconsin's Russell Wilson are all good names.
But by the end of the 2011 season, Bolden's name will start to be mentioned as well.
Just as Bolden will emerge and become one of the better quarterbacks in the Big Ten, sophomore running back Silas Redd will become one of the leading rushers in the conference.
Seven players rushed for over 1,000 yards in the Big Ten in 2010, including Penn State's Evan Royster. Three of those players (Royster, Mikel Leshoure from Illinois, and John Clay of Wisconsin) have moved on to the pros, and Ohio State's Dan Herron will miss the first five games of the season due to a suspension.
So is it crazy to think that Redd could become one of the premier running backs this in 2011? With Royster gone, Redd's touches should increase immediately.
Aside from the Outback Bowl, Justin Brown had at least 50 receiving yards in each of the final three weeks, including a 100-yard performance against Michigan State in the regular season finale.
If Brown can keep his development rising, then Penn State could have a very potent receiver to line up on the opposite side of Derek Moye.
Penn State has one of the most veteran defensive secondaries in the country, which is why ESPN Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg may have placed the Nittany Lions on the top of his Big Ten position rankings.
Here is what Rittenberg had to say about the Penn State secondary.
"The Lions' linebackers seem to be generating more preseason buzz, but I really like what Penn State brings back in the defensive backfield. There's plenty of experience with safeties Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay, and cornerbacks D'Anton Lynn and Stephon Morris.
Penn State needs Sukay to regain the form he showed in the first half of 2010 before a torn pectoral muscle ended his season. Lynn is a bona fide All-Big Ten candidate.
If Malcolm Willis, Chaz Powell and others solidify depth here, Penn State should have an elite secondary."
Penn State linebackers will look to have a solid season, living up to the tradition at the position at Penn State this fall.
With Michael Mauti in the middle and Gerald Hodges and Nate Stupar along side of him, the middle of the defense will be as good as any in the conference, although they will fly under the radar, as can usually be the case for a unit without any flashy or fierce players that stand out.
While those three players alone will make up a sound unit, the other players looking to see some playing time this season could provide depth that would be starters at some programs in the country. Khairi Fortt is one player opposing offenses should be worried about next season, and he will be in the mix this season.
Good teams have good special teams, and Penn State fans are hoping that their special teams unit has some difference makers. Last season there were multiple players returning punts and kickoffs throughout the year but two guys who saw the most opportunities were Chaz Powell and Devon Smith.
Smith is small and speedy so if he can find some room to slip by opposing players and if he can see some blocks forming in front of him, Smith can put Penn State's offense in good position every time they get the ball.
Smith can also help out on offense, where he will be likely to run past defensive backs and slip by safeties on a regular basis as he stretches down field for a deep pass. The fastest player on the offense, Smith can make some big plays.
If there is a motivational theme to the 2011 season for Penn State, it might be to seek revenge. Penn State was dominated on the road at Alabama and Iowa, flattened at home against Illinois and beaten by Ohio State. The Nittany Lions will get to play all of those teams except for Ohio State in Beaver Stadium this season.
Beating Alabama and Iowa will be tough. The Crimson Tide will be a BCS championship contender from start to finish this season but quarterback A.J. McCarron will be making his second career start in Beaver Stadium.
The last time that happened for a quarterback from a big-name program like Alabama was when Jimmy Clausen led Notre Dame's offense in the 2007 season. That one did not go Notre Dame's way either, as Penn State avenged a loss from the season before in a romp.
If Penn State can get by Alabama in Week 2, is there anybody who has a better chance to beat them before November?
Jack Crawford was hampered by nagging foot injuries last season and during the spring. His status for 2011 will remain a question as summer practices get underway. Can he live up to the hype surrounding him before last season, or might he bit in for another up-and-down season?
Even when healthy, Crawford has some making up to do in order to live up to some of the preseason hype surrounding him last season. Crawford has been bothered by a nagging foot injury and was limited in spring practice.
If healthy, Crawford should lock down the starting job on the right side of the line, where he started in 2010.
Devon Still came on strong toward the end of the season and finished in the top 10 in tackles among Penn State's defensive players. Having benefited by increased playing time due to injuries on the defensive line, Still was able to become more of a factor, and that momentum could carry in to 2011.
Of his 39 tackles in 13 games, 10 were for a loss. With uncertainty surrounding the outside of the defensive line due to injuries, the importance of Still in the middle increases.
Still will lead the push on the line along with upcoming players such as Evan Hailes, DaQuan Jones, Jordan Hill and more.
Still has the experience behind him to take on a full load for the season, and if he cannot bring some pressure up the middle, then Penn State's defensive line could be a problem in 2011.
With Still emerging and Crawford looking to redeem himself, this could be a sign of a pretty good defensive line, even without Pete Massaro at defensive end.
Joe Paterno does not normally give off a really optimistic feeling about his team each year, but this off-season has seemed a bit out of the ordinary.
This could all chance when Penn State holds their annual media day in August and as Big Ten media days get started this week in Chicago, but Paterno has yet to say that his team is not that good, and that he does not think he will know how good his team will be until they play a few games.
These are trademarked expressions from Paterno, so do not be surprised if he says that this week. Paterno has said he is pleased with his quarterbacks, Bolden and McGloin, and he seems to feel comfortable having either take snaps in the fall.
If Paterno is speaking so highly about a position that remains a bit of a debating point among fans, maybe it should be considered a hint as to how he feels about his team's chances this season.
The 2011 season sees Nebraska joining the Big Ten and being thought of as a Legends Division favorite and possible Big Ten championship contender.
Wisconsin adding Russell Wilson seems to have everyone picking the Badgers in the Leaders Division. And Ohio State and Michigan, despite changing head coaches, still grab the attention of the media. Is anyone thinking about Penn State?
It does not seem like it, and perhaps that is a good thing.
In the 2005 and 2008 seasons, few people were considering Penn State as a Big Ten favorite. In each of those seasons the Nittany Lions claimed the Big Ten's automatic bowl berth, going to the Orange Bowl in 2005 (2006 Orange Bowl, the Rose Bowl was used for the BCS championship game), and the 2009 Rose Bowl where they came up short against a strong USC team.
Penn State has a young offense and a defense that could be flying under the radar. Why not Penn State in 2011?