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Predictions as PSU starts practice: This won't be JoePa's last year; Bolden will start; 7-5 regular season
August 3, 2011 - Cory Giger
Penn State starts football practice Thursday with one obvious question mark at quarterback, the usual question marks about the offensive line and whether this will be it for Joe Paterno, plus plenty of optimism thanks to a manageable early season schedule.
Here's a quick primer for PSU as practice gets under way.
* This will be Paterno's 46th season as head coach at Penn State. He's 401-135-3, and last year he became the first Division I coach to reach 400 victories.
* Will this be JoePa's last year? Don't count on it.
It's the final year of his contract, sure, but contracts don't mean anything with regard to this living legend. His health is good, and he wants to keep coaching. As long as the Nittany Lions don't collapse to a 5-7 record or worse -- which is highly unlikely given the favorable schedule -- Paterno will maintain his considerable leverage and keep coaching as long as he wants.
* The Lions return seven starters on both offense and defense from last year's 7-6 club. They also lost career rushing leader Evan Royster.
* Matt McGloin is the better quarterback right now, but look for Rob Bolden to be the starter.
If you believe Bolden is better, cite anything he has done on the field so far to prove it. Anything, from games last year to the Blue-White Game in April.
The only things people can point out are that Bolden has better potential for the long haul and that McGloin looked bad in the Outback Bowl with five interceptions. So basically the arguments for Bolden are that people assume he will be better than he showed last year and, well, that he's a prized recruit rather than a former walk-on like McGloin.
Oh, but Bolden surely would have played just as well against those bad defenses as McGloin did had he not been hurt with a concussion last year. Really? Says who?
Nothing Bolden showed the first seven weeks as the starter gave any indication he was the kind of confident or capable leader who could move the offense the way McGloin did.
Nevertheless, Bolden likely will be the starter.
It's too risky not to give him the job.
He has already threatened to transfer once, and if he were to lose out to McGloin in camp, there's no guarantee he won't do so again or fold up the tent mentally.
The coaches already know what McGloin can do as the backup. They can give Bolden another shot to start, and if he struggles, they can turn to McGloin and know they'll get a guy with a chip on his shoulder looking to prove himself.
Additionally, with Paul Jones being academically ineligible, the coaches have to know they can't risk losing Bolden with only Kevin Newsome and Shane McGregor as backups. Naming Bolden the starter keeps him happy and the overall position in good shape.
* Aside from quarterback, the biggest question mark is the offensive line. What else is new?
The line has three starters returning -- tackles Quinn Barham and Chima Okoli and guard Johnnie Troutman -- but has to replace guard Stefen Wisniewski and center Doug Klopacz.
It's amazing a program the caliber of a Penn State can have the same issues year after year on the line, but the unit is almost always a trouble spot, particularly early in the year.
* All eyes are on Alabama visiting Happy Valley in week two, and Penn State can make a big statement there. But even with a loss, the schedule sets up great for a strong start.
The Lions should be 4-1 for the Big Ten opener at home against Iowa, which has suffered major personnel losses, and should be 6-1 heading to Northwestern on Oct. 22.
Northwestern will be tough with quarterback Dan Persa, and I'm picking a close loss there. But the game could go either way, and with a win and victory at home over Illinois in week nine, PSU could be 8-1 going into the brutal three-game stretch to end the season (at home against Nebraska, at Ohio State, at Wisconsin).
The best-case scenario is that 8-1 start and the team taking a lot of confidence into the closing stretch, perhaps enough to help it pull out one or two of those tough games for a 10-2 or 9-3 season.
I'm predicting a good start at 7-2, but those final three opponents will offer a major challenge and yield three losses for a 7-5 regular season.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.