We all know the story. Daryll Clark returns with an experienced and talented backfield. Penn State gets Lee back (loses Mauti) but still has one of the premier linebacker corps in the country.
But what about rebuilding the secondary that was lit up by Sanchez in the Rose Bowl? What about losing Evans and Maybin? How can Penn State possibly even think about replacing the three amigos of Williams, Norwood and Butler, the most productive trio of receivers in school history?
And then there’s that whole rebuilding of the offensive line thing and replacing the solid AQ Shipley at center.
Dare Penn State even perchance to dream of another Big Ten Title?
Well, folks, there certainly do seem to be a lot of questions. But there is good news. JoePa might have some answers. Wisniewski, Astorino, Crawford, Brackett, Moye, Zug, and Powell to name a few. Recent recruiting success has the Lions poised to finally reload instead of rebuild. The schedule–a double edged sword, appears to be near perfect for a team with questions. It may not be good enough for a team with national title aspirations.
I think the receivers will be just fine and the added height over last year will be an asset for Clark. Having a smart, senior quarterback with athleticism cannot be over emphasized. I really think Clark has a great season. The O-line will perform well enough to protect him and keep the running game in high gear. I also have a feeling the secondary will be just fine, but I suspect we’ll see the same old soft zones in big games, but maybe some more linebackers dropping back in coverage.
Without further ado, here are the predictions from The Lion’s Den.
AKRON: There was a time earlier in the decade when a MAC team could strike fear in the hearts of Penn State fans. We are not that far removed from Holy Toledo! But this Akron team is not that Toledo team that won 10 games that year, and this is not that Penn State team that posted a losing season. Akron will get some passing yards but find rushing yards in precious supply. The Lion offense works out some kinks, but wins this game easily, pulling away from the feared Roos. Win #1.
SYRACUSE: New coach. New QB. Same old crappy team. Is there any way this team will be that different from the team that Penn State mauled last year in the Dome? Not really. Don’t confuse Syracuse with a real threat. Win #2.
TEMPLE: I haven’t heard much hooting this year. Al Golden has improved things, but they still have far to go before they can win at Beaver Stadium. The only thing going for them is a huge WhiteHouse game against the Hawks on the horizon. Golden better hope Penn State is looking ahead. Win #3.
IOWA: A four letter word if ever there was one. Words cannot describe my emotions last year as the Hawkeyes (they taste like chicken!) drove the field and dashed any chance of a BCS title appearance amid the cornfields of Iowa. Captain Kirk is going to be begging for more power, but you won’t find any dilithium crystals in the stadium this night. Penn State rises to their first test in a game that may be close all the way. Win #4.
ILLINOIS: For the first time in five weeks, the Lions will leave the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium. Juice and Benn are honing their skills, hoping to establish their team as a dark horse in the Big Ten. This is the game that nearly every sportswriter has circled as THE ONE. This is the game that can ruin the season. You certainly don’t have to look too hard at the polls to figure out who should be favored. It’s certainly not a trap game–not like Northwestern. And certainly the leadership on this Penn State team knows that. Illinois doesn’t have the defense to handle Penn State if JoePa lets them play their game. He will. This game will put Clark in the Heisman hunt and Penn State in the title hunt. We might be behind at halftime, but just like the 94 team made the comeback, Clark will find a way. Signature Win for #5.
EASTERN ILLINOIS: Nothing to see here. Enjoy the tailgate. Hope it doesn’t rain. Win #6.
MINNESOTA: Homecoming. The Lions are rolling and had a week to nurse any wounds from the back to back power I’s. Another Hail Minny pass? Minnesota is one of those teams that just loves to ruin homecoming. They won’t, but this game will be close as we save it up to bring it to Ann Arbor.
THEM: Carr is gone, and so is the streak. No more mystique. Rich Rod is being hammered in the pre season. Will this bring his troops together? Can they rally? Or will the reports of players ratting out the system undermine team unity. Will it be a distraction? I tend to lean toward the latter. A scandal like this wouldn’t affect a successful, senior led team as much. But Forcier is a freshman, and this was not a successful team last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if the wolverines sit home during bowl season again. Lions win #8.
NORTHWESTERN: This is the trap game, on the road and caught between THEM and Ohio State, late in the season when its sometimes hard to maintain focus. Pat Fitzgerald is doing a good job in Evanston, but too much is on the line for Paterno and his minions. Win #9, but not easily.
OHIO STATE: Whoa Nellie! This is the game. It’s all on the line here. The fans will surely bring it. Paternoville will be scary crazy. But fans and noise don’t make tackles or catch passes. But if my predictions hold true to this point, I just don’t see Penn State letting this one slip away. As I said in my countdown, Pryor will have to prove to me he can pass the ball. If he can do that in the midst of Beaver Stadium, then I’ll believe. But until then. I’ve got to lean toward Penn State winning this one. 10 and counting . . .
INDIANA: You can’t overlook any team in the Big Ten, but if you had to pick the easiest Big Ten game–this has to be it. It’s also at home. Lions continue their march through the Big Ten undefeated. Win #11.
MICHIGAN STATE: I still remember Dantonio calling timeouts when the game was lost, just to prolong the fan’s celebration. [bleep] him (ask my Buckeye buddy Dick Foust if you need a word to insert there.) The Spartans will win some games this year and will likely be bowl bound. I doubt they’ll be in the title hunt, but it’s not outside of the realm of possibility, especially since they don’t face the Buckeyes. If they weren’t replacing Hoyer and Ringer, I might even wonder if these two teams might be undefeated coming into this game. Hmmm? This could be one of those back and forth games, but I think our defense will be freakish good by this point. Chalk up another undefeated regular season for Paterno.
12-0 may be a sign of too much Kool Aid or too little oxygen to the brain. But it is certainly foreseeable. There is not a team on this schedule that cannot be beaten, that doesn’t have it’s own set of questions and concerns. Things don’t always go smoothly, and 10-2 or 11-1 might be more realistic. Anything less I think will disappoint most fans.
Paterno will stay ahead of Bobby Bowden. I think comfortably ahead, even despite the appeal for the forfeited wins.
But I fear our stupid schedule that gets us to this point, will also lock us out of the title game. Paterno will add a a fifth undefeated season that will go uncrowned. But the backlash will be so great that it might just be the final straw on the BCS back. Will it lead to a change in the system? That’s my prediction. And yes, that’s my final answer, Regis.