Friday, August 28, 2009

CFI Countdown: #14 Penn St. Nittany Lions

2008 Record: 11-2 (Big Ten 7-1)
Bowl Game: Lost Rose Bowl to USC 38-24
Location: University Park, Pennsylvania
Stadium: Beaver Stadium (107,282)
Head Coach: Joe Paterno
Overall: 381-129-3 (44th season)
@ Penn St. 381-129-3 (44th season)
Link to PSU Football Page

The Nittany Lions are coming off a season in which they won 11 games and a Big Ten title and although it didn’t end quite the way they wanted—a Rose Bowl loss to USC—Joe Paterno silenced any doubts his critics had. He proved—as if he had to—that he can still recruit and can still coach ’em up. With only nine starters back, this might be one of Paterno’s tougher coaching jobs considering the always-high expectations in Happy Valley.

When the Nittany Lions Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Galen Hall (6th season)
Scheme: Spread HD
Starters Returning: Five
Key Losses: WR Deon Butler, Derrick Williams, WR Jordan Norwood, OT Gerald Cadogan, C A. Q. Shipley, OG Rich Ohmberger, K Kevin Kelly

Not many teams can rival what the Nittany Lions bring in the offensive backfield with senior signal caller Daryll Clark and junior tailback Evan Royster, a pair of likely All-Big Ten performers. Clark is an ideal quarterback for the spread offense as he is a capable thrower and runner. He is accurate, efficient, and possesses a strong arm, with excellent decision-making skills. He doesn’t run that much, instead picking his spots to tuck and run when the Nittany Lions need to move the chains or cross the goal line. Royster isn’t the biggest or the fastest, but he knows how to make opposing tacklers miss and uses his excellent vision to find holes. Backing him up is blazer Stephfon Green, who is still more potential than production. Look for Green to break off some big runs after Royster has worn the defense down. The offensive line and wide receiving corps is not as sound. Gone are three first-team All-Big Ten performers along the offensive line and three of their top-four all-time pass catchers. The center position is solid, with junior Stefen Wisniewski moving over from guard, but they must replace their left tackle and break new guards into the starting lineup. At receiver the feeling is they have talent, but it is unproven. Helping out the passing game could be a talented duo at tight end—Andrew Quarless has a lot of potential and Mickey Shuler is as solid as they come.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) C/OG Stefen Wisniewski (JR), 2) RB Evan Royster (JR), 3) TE Andrew Quarless (SR)

When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Tom Bradley (10th season)
Scheme: 4-3
Starters Returning: Four
Key Losses: DE Aaron Maybin, DE Maurice Evans, DE Josh Gaines, LB Cameron Wake, CB Lydell Sargeant, CB Tony Davis, S Anthony Scirrotto, S Mark Rubin

They must replace three productive defensive ends and the entire back four—both the last line of defense as well as key components to the front line—no easy task for any defense. They are solid up the middle, with tackles Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu. Odrick in particular is a difference-maker—a 300-pounder with the ability to clog the middle and enough quickness to make plays. The ends are not as secure, where Aaron Maybin’s explosiveness will surely be missed. There is talent, but as is the case at receiver, it is mostly unproven. The entire secondary is brand new, which wasn’t helped by corner A. J. Wallace missing classes and looking at a suspension. The senior is the most experienced of the defensive backs and has some playmaking skills. There are high hopes for sophomore safety Drew Astorino. The strength of the defense should be the linebacking corps where they return starters Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull, as well as Sean Lee from his injury-induced red-shirt season. According to all accounts, Lee is healthy and should be back to his productive self. Both Lee and Bowman have the ability to be disruptive forces and first-team all conference performers. Even so, this unit has already suffered a major loss, as projected starter Michael Mauti is out for the season. He was slated to take over at one outside linebacker spot and allow Lee to slide over to the MIKE (instead of Hull).

Top Pro Prospects: 1) DT Jared Odrick (SR), 2) LB Navorro Bowman (JR), 3) LB Sean Lee (SR)

The Schedule

The out of conference schedule is not impressive, not in the least bit. PSU plays Eastern Illinois, Akron, Syracuse, and Temple—and they play them all at home! Last season Syracuse was 3-9, both Akron and Temple finished 5-7 in the MAC, the same record as Eastern Illinois, a FCS school. What, The Little Sisters of the Poor were busy? In conference the schedule breaks their way as well, not that missing Purdue is a good thing. (They also miss Wisconsin this season.) Their two toughest games, Iowa and Ohio St., should be white-outs in Happy Valley. They do play a quartet of potentially dangerous road contests at Michigan St., Illinois, Northwestern, and Michigan.

Pivotal Point

Player development. Before last season, Aaron Maybin and Navorro Bowman weren’t exactly household names, yet they emerged as the key pieces to a defense that finished eighth in scoring, total, and rushing defense. Bowman led the team in tackles and tackles for a loss against the run, while Maybin paced the conference in sacks. They will need similar progress on their offensive line, at defensive end, wide receiver, and in the secondary. If tackle DeOn’tae Pannell, wide out Chaz Powell, and defensive end Jack Crawford become recognizable names, a second straight Big Ten title might in the stars.

CFI Final Analysis

The fact that they open the season with Akron, Syracuse, and Temple at home before hosting the Iowa Hawkeyes to open up the Big Ten season gives Paterno and his staff three games to work in the 13 new starters. This team can really go either way in the Big Ten and it’s hard to rank them any higher until we know more about their blockers, who their pass rushers will be, and how they replace four starters in the secondary, not to mention three of the best receivers in school history. They won’t take a major step back, but don’t expect another Big Ten crown either.

College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos
#15 North Carolina Tar Heels