FanHouse's 2010 Preseason College Football Poll -- No. 15 Penn State
Joe Paterno is about to become the most celebrated sports figure to hit 400 since Ted Williams did so in 1941. JoePa, who begins his 61st season as a member of the Penn State coaching staff (he's only been head coach since 1966) is six wins away from becoming the first FBS/Division I coach to eclipse the 400-win mark. Although, to listen to the Nittany Lion in Winter tell it, nothing could be more meaningless.
"When I'm down and looking up, are they going to put 399 on top of me, or are they going to put 401?" Paterno said recently. "Who the hell cares? I won't know."
Paterno is much more comfortable discussing personnel, such as tailback Evan Royster, who enters the season 482 yards shy of becoming the all-time leading rusher in school history (Franco Harris, Lydell Mitchell, John Cappelletti, Curt Warner, Larry Johnson, etc.). As Paterno and Royster chase these historic summits, the Beaver Stadium faithful, who will now pay $40 for parking, would be content if the Nittany Lions could simply remain at the 11-win plateau they've achieved the past two years.
There are studs on the line, from All-American candidate Stefen Wisniewski at right guard to defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu and defensive end Jack Crawford, the latter a London native who only began playing organized football as a high school junior. Inexperience at key positions, such as quarterback and linebacker, will test both Penn State and Paterno's patience.
Paterno, 83, will pass the 400-win mark. If he does so before Penn State's eighth game, Oct. 30 against Michigan, consider it a successful season.
THE BASICS: Penn State has won 11 games in each of the past two seasons, and in three of the past five. In two of those years, however, the Nittany Lions had a returning starter at quarterback, which they won't in 2010. Linebacker U. must also replace all three starters at that position (last season's were all selected in the NFL draft) and will play its three toughest opponents (Alabama, Ohio State and Iowa, all of whom are ranked ahead of them in the preseason polls) in the road whites.
Before last January's Capital One Bowl win against LSU, the Nittany Lions had not beaten a higher-ranked opponent since October '07. Experts are expecting that form to hold true in '10, which is why you see all the 9-3 predictions. The keys will be how quickly the offensive line, which has three new starters, can gel to both protect quarterback Kevin Newsome and open holes for Royster. "We have a very average offensive line," Paterno said at the conclusion of spring practice.
Don't be surprised if, come bowl season, the Nittany Lions' record contains the same two digits as their head coach's age at that point: 8-4.
KEY PLAYER YOU DON'T THINK OF AS A KEY PLAYER: Wide receiver Derek Moye. A 6-foot-5 target such as Moye can be an inexperienced quarterback's best friend. Last year, in his first season as a starter, the then-redshirt sophomore led the Nittany Lions in receptions with 48. Moye is also a speedster (former Pa. state champ in the 200 and 400), which will keep safeties honest and alleviate the pressure on tailback Royster.
FLY IN THE OINTMENT: Michigan State in the season finale. Penn State has not lost at home to the Spartans since joining the Big Ten, but there's a first time for everything. Linebacker U. will welcome the best player at that position in the Big Ten (if not the nation) in Greg Jones, and the Spartans have a soft month (two games, both home, versus Minnesota and Purdue) leading into this Nov. 27 showdown.
DON'T MISS: Penn State at Alabama, Sept. 11. A lot of people are calling this the game of the year. It isn't. Newsome will be making the first road start of his career versus the defending national champion Crimson Tide, who finished second in the nation a year ago in total defense and figure to be atop the national polls. "We've had some success down there," Paterno said recently, and he's right. The Nittany Lions have won two straight at Alabama, the most recent victory being a 9-0 shutout in 1990. Royster will be a marked man, but this is also his opportunity to impress NFL scouts. The Nittany Lions have lost four straight against No. 1's dating back to 1998.
FanHouse's Penn State team page with schedule