College Football Predictions 2011: Why Penn State Can Win the Big Ten
Joe Paterno has led his Nittany Lions to the Big Ten title twice.
In 2005 and 2008, the years that Penn State captured the title, the Lions were not the trendy pick to win the conference title and earn a berth in a BCS bowl game. That did not stop them, as Joe Paterno guided his team into the national title conversation.
This year, Penn State is predicted to finish close to the top of the Leaders division, but no one expects the Nittany Lions to so much as appear in the conference title game. They are not even ranked in the Top 25 of most preseason polls.
Despite the lack of expectations for this year's version of the Penn State Nittany Lions, this could actually be a special year in Happy Valley.
The potential is there for a run to the Big Ten title. Joe Paterno has surprised the college football world before and he can do it again this season.
Rob Bolden Will Emerge as a Dynamic Quarterback
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In each of Penn State's Big Ten title runs, the Lions had a dynamic quarterback capable of running Jay Paterno's version of the spread offense.
Michael Robinson and Daryll Clark were exceptional leaders, but they were never as heralded as Robert Bolden coming out of high school.
Bolden surprised many by picking the Nittany Lions. He won the starting job as a true freshman, but struggled mightily at times before suffering a concussion that forced Matt McGloin into the starting role.
McGloin does not possess the ability of Robert Bolden and Penn State needs Bolden on the field to run the spread offense that brought them success in the past.
He has the talent and the experience he got as a freshman will go a long way in his development into the dynamic player he was touted as. In the Big Ten, where defense dominates, having a dynamic player at quarterback can be the difference between winning the conference and finishing in the middle of the pack.
In Bolden, Penn State has a quarterback with the potential to deliver a title.
The Lions Always Match Up Well with Wisconsin
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Wisconsin is the presumptive favorite to represent the Leaders division in the conference title game. The Badgers have certainly earned their status as preseason favorite after representing the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl last season.
Although the Badgers look to be the class of the division, Penn State should not necessarily fear the boys from Madison.
That is because the Nittany Lions have dominated the matchup of Big Ten heavies in the last six seasons. The two teams have met four times with the Lions winning three times by a combined score of 121-28.
The Lions match up well with the Badgers. Wisconsin's strength is running the ball down opposing teams' throats, something they cannot do against Penn State. To beat Penn State, you must be able to move the ball through the air.
When Wisconsin struggles to run the ball, they cannot fall back on the pass. The run defense looks to be in great shape at Penn State with Michael Mauti finally healthy. If they can hold the Badgers rushing attack in check, the Lions will have a great chance to take down the division favorites.
Michael Mauti Is Healthy
Penn State's linebacking corps did not live up to the Linebacker U heritage their predecessors have laid before them.
That was due largely to the fact that Michael Mauti was still recovering from a torn ACL and was not playing at 100 percent.
This season, Mauti is finally healthy and playing without a knee brace. He is ready to take his place in a long line of linebacking legends at Penn State. Mauti will be playing inside linebacker this season after spending time on the outside last season.
With Mauti anchoring the middle of the defense, look for Penn State's defense to prove that their weak showing against the run last season was a fluke. Stopping the run is key in the Big Ten.
Now healthy, Michael Mauti is ready for full time enrollment in Linebacker U.
Silas Redd Is an Explosive Runner
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Evan Royster graduated as the all-time leading rusher in Penn State football history.
Hard to believe, but the Lions may have gotten better at the running back position when Royster graduated.
Royster was the definition of consistency while at Penn State, but he lacked the home run ability of his replacement Silas Redd. Royster was good for four to five yards a carry, but he was never really a threat to score every time he touched the ball.
Silas Redd has that potential. Whether on a simple stretch play or a swing pass out of the backfield, Redd has the potential to make tacklers miss in the open field that makes him a threat to score each time he touches the ball.
Royster needed gaping holes to glide through. Redd needs only the slightest opening to utilize his game changing speed. So while the Nittany Lions will miss Evan Royster's quiet consistency, they have a more than capable replacement in Silas Redd.
Ohio State Is Reeling from an Offseason of Scandal
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Ohio State had been a model of consistency the six years prior to 2011, a period that saw the Buckeyes claim at least a share of the Big Ten title each season.
That all changed this summer when THE Ohio State University was rocked by scandal that saw them lose their respected coach Jim Tressel and their star quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
The Buckeyes have dominated Penn State since the Nittany Lions joined the conference, but with an unsettled coaching situation, an untested quarterback and the NCAA looming over their heads, this may be the year where Penn State topples the Buckeyes.