The Mirror provides the ultimate breakdown of 2009 Penn State football. There's no need to go out and buy a preseason magazine when you can get all you need to know right here.
LISTED ON THIS PAGE:
Season facts and figures
Penn State coach Joe Paterno chats with the Mirror's Neil Rudel (left) and Cory Giger during a summer press conference.
Season overview: Soft schedule may help Lions
JoePa's health better this season
Preview of every game
SEASON FACTS AND FIGURES
Preseason rankings: No. 8 USA Today coaches, tied for No. 9 AP; finished last season at No. 8 in both polls
Offensive starters returning: QB Daryll Clark, RB Evan Royster, LT Dennis Landolt (RT last year), C Stefen Wisniewski (RG last year), TE Mickey Shuler
Defensive starters returning: LT Jared Odrick, RT Ollie Ogbu, OLB Sean Lee (injured last season), OLB Navorro Bowman, MLB Josh Hull, P Jeremy Boone
Key offensive losses: WR Derrick Williams, WR Deon Butler, WR Jordan Norwood, LT Gerald Cadogan, LG Rich Ohrnberger, C A.Q. Shipley, PK Kevin Kelly
Key defensive losses: DE Aaron Maybin, DE Josh Gaines, DE Maurice Evans, RT Abe Koroma, OLB Tyrell Sales, S Anthony Scirrotto, S Mark Rubin, CB Tony Davis, CB Lydell Sargeant
Games to watch: Week four against Iowa should be a tough Big Ten opener, then a major test comes the next week with a trip to Illinois, which has a lot of offensive firepower. It's always tough winning at Michigan, even if the Wolverines are down, and a trip to Northwestern the following week could be tough. The marquee game of the season is Nov. 7 when Ohio State visits Beaver Stadium, which should determine the Big Ten champion.
SEASON OVERVIEW: SOFT SCHEDULE MAY HELP LIONS
Penn State has a legitimate chance to play in the national championship game this season thanks to its schedule, but the flipside is the schedule could keep the Nittany Lions out of the BCS title tilt.
Joe Paterno enters his 44th season as head coach with three potential trouble spots after heavy graduation losses. The secondary, which struggled at times last season even with four senior starters, is young and may be the biggest concern, followed by a revamped offensive line and receiving unit that lost the best wideout trio in school history.
With so many new players, it would be unrealistic to expect Penn State to navigate a difficult non-conference schedule undefeated. If Alabama, for instance, were on the schedule in week two this season like it is next year, this inexperienced Penn State squad likely would see its national title hopes vanish in a hurry.
The Lions' non-conference schedule has been widely criticized, with games against Akron, Syracuse, Temple and Eastern Illinois offering little threat. But three easier games to start the season do serve a purpose: They will give the younger players a chance to jell and gain valuable experience for the conference slate.
Paterno has refused several times to discuss the merits, or lack thereof, with the schedule.
"Who knows?" the coach said. "Michigan opened up [two years] ago and got licked [by Appalachian State]. All right? And somebody else a year ago got licked. All right? I worry about Akron."
The Big Ten schedule is manageable with tough games against Ohio State and Iowa at home, and the Lions could be favored in all 12 games.
The problem is there are no guarantees an undefeated Penn State team would be ranked first or second in the BCS at season's end. The soft non-conference schedule could hurt the Lions' chances with human voters and in the computers, which may favor other undefeated teams or even a one-loss squad that played tougher opponents.
"I don't like the BCS situation," Paterno said. "I've said that 1,000 times. I think that we ought to try to figure out a way to have a good playoff."
Penn State will not need a playoff if the best-case scenario works out this season. The Lions can beat up on weaker competition and reign in the Big Ten, then let all the other contenders play their way out of the national title race by losing tough games.
The Lions have such high hopes because they return enough proven players in key positions to think about going undefeated. Senior quarterback Daryll Clark leads the contingent on offense, along with junior tailback Evan Royster.
"I know that I'm going to be the starter," Clark said. "Up to now last year, I didn't know. I was working to try and get the starting job [over Pat Devlin]. I don't want to say it's a comfort level, but it's just something that I don't have to worry about. Now I can just worry about getting this offense together to be where we need to be to win football games."
Penn State's success depends heavily on Clark staying healthy since his backup is true freshman Kevin Newsome. The burden of keeping Clark safe falls on an offensive line that has three new starters.
"We're still struggling with that offensive line right now," Paterno said this past week.
"We kind of don't like hearing that all the time, that we're a question mark," junior center Stefen Wisniewski said. "I think if anything, it's just challenging us to work harder."
The receivers are another question mark as Clark's targets face the tough task of replacing Deon Butler, Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood.
"We feel some pressure, but we're three completely different people," junior Graham Zug said of himself and other new starters Chaz Powell and Brett Brackett.
Penn State's linebacker unit is ranked as the best in the nation by some preseason magazines, and the defensive line also is expected to be very good. The secondary, though, appears to be the team's weakest unit.
The way to beat the Lions could be by airing it out in the passing game, trying to take advantage of the inexperienced defensive backs.
"Everybody is going to be coming after us," sophomore cornerback D'Anton Lynn said.
JOEPA'S HEALTH BETTER THIS SEASON
Joe Paterno endured a painful 43rd season as Penn State's head coach but has a fresh, new perspective for season No. 44.
Paterno was forced to coach from the press box for the final seven regular-season games last year, then underwent hip replacement surgery the day after the finale against Michigan State.
The 82-year-old coach felt much better leading up to the Rose Bowl against USC but ended up having to spend that game in the press box, as well.
Paterno expects to be back on the sideline this season and said his health has been good since the surgery. The only trouble he encountered during the preseason was fatigue.
"Right now, when I come off that practice field, my legs are tired," Paterno said early in camp. "I didn't do as much walking as I should have this summer. But you know, I'm fine, except I get tired quicker."
POSITION BY POSITION BREAKDOWN
Starter: Sr. Daryll Clark
Backups: Fr. Kevin Newsome, Fr. Matt McGloin
2008 stats: Clark completed 192-of-321 passes (59.8 percent) for 2,592 yards, 19 TDs and six interceptions; just 87 yards shy of Kerry Collins' school single-season record of 2,679 yards; averaged 8.1 yards per completion and 199.4 yards per game; sacked 11 times.
Comfort zone for Clark: "I know that I'm going to be the starter. Up to now last year, I didn't know. I was working to try and get the starting job [over Pat Devlin]. I don't want to say it's a comfort level, but it's just something that I don't have to worry about. Now I can just worry about getting this offense together to be where we need to be to win football games."
Best-case scenario: Clark stays healthy and makes good progress in all facets during his second year as the starter. His completion percentage topped 60 percent for most of last season, and if he's above that this year with the new receiving corps, the offense should be very good.
Worst-case scenario: Clark gets hurt. If that happens, all bets are off for the entire team because the true freshman Newsome would have to take over. There's a new offensive line with only two starters back, and the guys up front must protect Clark. A lot of responsibility falls on projected new left tackle Dennis Landolt, who started last year on the right side.
Clark on Newsome: "He's matured as fast as we wanted him to. He's just getting better each and every day. The workouts, as far as running and lifting, he's been coming along very strong, asking a lot of questions, which is one key that you need to be a good quarterback at this level. ... He has to grow up faster than everyone else. God forbid I get hurt and he has to step in. With everything going as well as it is right now, there's not a doubt that I have in my mind if I happen to get hurt he would be able to fit the mold."
Fumbleitis: Clark fumbled 10 times last season, though he lost only four. He has an upright running style and is such a big target, so he takes a lot of solid hits in the open field. He not only must protect the football, but also himself after suffering two concussions already in his college career.
The bottom line: Clark is the best quarterback in the Big Ten. He's more polished than Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor and more consistent than Illinois' Juice Williams. The coaches may not let him run much to keep him healthy, but defenses will know he's dangerous with his arm and his feet.
Starters: Jr. TB Evan Royster (6-1, 209), So. FB Joe Suhey (6-1, 220)
Backups: So. TB Stephfon Green (5-10, 192), So. TB Brandon Beachum (6-0, 219), Jr. TB Brent Carter (6-2, 211), Sr. FB Larry Federoff (5-11, 236)
2008 stats: Royster rushed for 1,236 yards on 191 carries, averaging 6.5 yards per attempt; he finished fourth in Big Ten in yards and first among all backs with at least 100 carries in yards per attempt; also scored 12 TDs; Green gained 578 yards on 105 carries (5.5 average) and scored five TDs (one receiving); Beachum carried 28 times for 114 yards as true freshman; Royster was fourth on team with 17 catches, Green fifth with 15.
The big question: Will the backs be able to match last year's solid numbers running behind a new offensive line? The guys up front were very good and opened a lot of holes last season. The backs may have to do more on their own this year with three new starters on the line.
Record watch: Royster has 1,749 yards rushing in two seasons and needs 1,650 over the next two to become PSU's career rushing leader.
Smooth operator: PSU safety Drew Astorino on Royster: "He's the smoothest runner that I have ever played against. He's so smooth, you think you can just go tackle him, and then he lowers his shoulder and he runs you over."
Injury front: Green broke his right fibula and ankle late in the Rose Bowl and underwent surgery that kept him out of spring drills. He should be 100 percent by the opener and isn't expecting the injury to cost him any of his blazing speed. ... Carter suffered ACL injury in his right knee against Wisconsin and missed the rest of the season. He's also expected to be fully recovered.
Healthy competition: Royster and Green figure to get most of the carries, but Beachum and Carter give the Lions four quality tailbacks. They push each other and have confidence in one another. "It's not really an individual thing," Royster said. "We're going out there as a team to win, and I think it gives the team more confidence that whoever is in can get the job done."
Best-case scenario: The offensive line is better than expected. If so, the talented backs will produce.
Worst-case scenario: The opposite of above.
The bottom line: Royster is one of the Big Ten's best, and Green has game-breaking abilities running and catching the ball. Look for Beachum to get his share of opportunities, as well.
Starters: Sr. Dennis Landolt (6-4, 303) said he moved to LT this summer; that means So. DeOn'tae Pannell (6-5, 313), the projected starter there, would move to RT; nothing is finalized, however, though it would make sense to have the more experienced Landolt protecting QB Daryll Clark's blindside; So. LG Johnnie Troutman (6-4, 322); Jr. C Stefen Wisniewski (6-3, 302); Jr. RG Lou Eliades (6-4, 305)
Backups: Sr. T Nerraw McCormack (6-5, 295); Fr. LG Matt Stankiewitch (6-3, 290) is battling Troutman for starting job; So. C Quinn Barham (6-3, 288). It's presumptuous to list many more backups since lack of experience will create lots of position battles in camp.
2008 stats: Landolt started every game at RT; Wisniewski started 11 games at RG and one at LG.
Pressure on to keep pressure off: This unit is considered by many to be the team's biggest concern, and the players have heard the criticism. "We kind of don't like hearing that all the time, that we're a question mark," Wisniewski said. "I think if anything, it's just challenging us to work harder and to really make sure that we're doing all we can to protect Daryll and open up holes for [Evan] Royster."
They will be missed: Gone from last year's O-line are second-team All-American C A.Q. Shipley, third-team All-American LG Rich Ohrnberger and all-Big Ten LT Gerald Cadogan. They helped form one of the best lines in recent school history. "We lost three really fine offensive linemen," Joe Paterno said.
Landolt likes left side: "I've played plenty of left [tackle]; that's what I played all the way up through high school," Landolt said. "So really, it's not much of an adjustment for me. I can play either side. I feel comfortable either side." Wouldn't it be best for the offense to know as early as possible in camp who will be at LT? "There's some merit in making [the decision] sooner," Landolt said. "But with the athletes we have, Daryll has confidence in us. He knows that the coaches are going to put the guy there that can get the job done."
Best-case scenario: The new linemen get comfortable enough playing together during the three easy games -- Akron, Syracuse and Temple -- that they are a cohesive unit by the time conference play starts in week four.
Worst-case scenario: All it takes is one blown assignment for Clark to get a crushing hit that knocks him out of action. If that happens, the season could collapse in a hurry.
The bottom line: Last year's line was outstanding, and this one probably will not be anywhere near as good. But as long as the line doesn't stink, the offense should be effective.
Starters: Jr. Graham Zug (6-2, 178); Jr. Brett Brackett (6-6, 231); So. Chaz Powell (6-1, 195); Sr. TE Andrew Quarless (6-5, 253)
Backups: So. Derek Moye (6-5, 195); Fr. A.J. Price (6-4, 173); Sr. TE Mickey Shuler (6-4, 249)
2008 stats: Zug caught 11 passes for 174 yards and two TDs; Brackett caught 13 passes for 160 yards and one TD; Powell had only two catches for 37 yards; Quarless caught 11 passes for 117 yards and one TD; Shuler caught nine passes for 120 yards and one TD; Moye caught three passes for 71 yards and one TD.
Big shoes to fill: The Lions have to replace the best receiving trio in school history. Deon Butler set the PSU career record with 179 catches, while Derrick Williams finished third (161) and Jordan Norwood fourth (158). "We feel some pressure, but we're three completely different people," Zug said of the new starters.
Role play: Look for Zug to fill the Norwood role as the across-the-middle and short-yardage target. Powell will take over the Williams role as Mr. Versatility and should get a lot of opportunities to run the ball out of the wildcat package. There's really no replacement for Butler, a speedster who ran great routes and was outstanding as both a short-yardage and deep threat.
Powell on D-Will comparison: "Me and him are different in a lot of ways. I'm going to go out there and do what I have to do. ... We'll see when the season comes around what I bring to the game." He may even surprise people by throwing the ball on occasion. "Oh yeah, yeah. I can throw the ball a little bit."
Smurfs give way to size: Brackett, Moye and Price will give QB Daryll Clark much bigger targets than the smaller departing trio.
Last chance: Quarless had an impressive freshman season but has been in and out of trouble since. "I want to leave going good, leave at the top," he said. "It's my last year ... so I definitely just want to prove to the country that I was able to bounce back from my situations."
Best-case scenario: Clark's accuracy helps the new starters make a smooth transition. "Having a quarterback that can put it on the money makes it easier for us to make plays," Zug said. "We don't have to help him out, he just helps us out by putting the ball on the money and making sure he's on time with his throws."
Worst-case scenario: Lack of speed prevents Zug and Brackett from getting open consistently.
The bottom line: There's some cause for concern simply because the Terrific Trio is gone, but these guys got enough experience last season that they should be solid.
Starters: Sr. LT Jared Odrick (6-5, 306) and Jr. RT Ollie Ogbu (6-1, 292) are givens, while the DE spots are up for grabs; look for So. Jack Crawford (6-5, 262) to be the primary rush end and Sr. LB Jerome Hayes (6-2, 250) to fill the hybrid stand-up DE spot the Nittany Lions like to use.
Backups: So. DT Devon Still (6-5, 305), So. DE Kevion Latham (6-2, 248), So. DE Eric Latimore (6-6, 264), So. DT Chima Okoli (6-4, 293)
2008 stats: Odrick started 11 games and had 41 tackles, 9 1/2 tackles for losses and 4 1/2 sacks; Ogbu started 10 games and had 17 tackles, 2 1/2 tackles for losses and 2 sacks; Crawford appeared in all 13 games as a backup, while Latimore played in nine, Latham eight and Okoli seven.
Violence can pay off: Odrick is a monster on the D-line and should be in the running for first-team All-America honors. He made news with an interesting comment during the spring. "My whole goal is to be more violent," he said of his play this season. He went on to add he wants to "destroy the guy in front of me."
The next great DE?: Aaron Maybin, a first-round NFL draft pick this year, and Maurice Evans came out of nowhere to be star DEs the past two seasons. British import Jack Crawford looks like he has the ability to do the same this year. Crawford is an incredibly impressive physical specimen who's still learning football after only taking up the sport as a junior in high school. "You can just imagine what he's going to be like once he gets a couple more years under his belt," Still said.
Key departure: DT Abe Koroma recently left the team for undisclosed personal reasons and will not play this season. He may return next year. Koroma, who played in 10 games last season, was expected to provide experience and depth on the line.
Hybrid Hayes: Penn State has had so many good LBs that the coaches wanted an extra one on the field, so beginning with Tim Shaw in 2006 the Lions created a stand-up DE role. Hayes was in that spot last year before suffering a season-ending ACL injury in his left knee week two against Oregon State. "If you get injured, you get a better understanding of the game by watching it," Hayes said. "For the past two seasons I've fortunately had a great teacher on the field in Josh Gaines. ... I really got a chance to pick his brain and learn from him different techniques."
Best-case scenario: The line emerges as one of the best in the country.
Worst-case scenario: Injuries or anything else that hurts the depth could be a problem, and there's no guarantee Crawford will be as good as projected.
The bottom line: The D-line should be fantastic and will join with the LBs to form one of the best front sevens in the nation.
Starters: Sr. Sean Lee (6-2, 236), Jr. Navorro Bowman (6-1, 230), Sr. Josh Hull (6-3, 236)
Backups: So. Michael Mauti (6-2, 224), Jr. Bani Gbadyu (6-1, 228), Jr. Chris Colasanti (6-2, 235), So. Nathan Stupar (6-1, 226)
2008 stats: Bowman started all 13 games and had 106 tackles, 16.5 tackles for losses and 4 sacks; Hull started every game and had 75 tackles and 5.5 tackles for losses; Mauti played in every game and had 26 tackles; Gbadyu played in 10 games and had 25 tackles; Stupar had 21 tackles and Colasanti 16, each playing all 13 games; Lee started every game in 2007 and had 138 tackles, 10.5 tackles for losses, 3.5 sacks and eight pass breakups.
Best in the land: Phil Steele's College Football Preview magazine ranked PSU as the best LB group in the nation. Lee and Bowman both are expected to be in the running for first-team All-America honors.
Lee longing to return: Lee said he is "chomping at the bit mentally" to get back in action after missing all of last season. He tore the ACL in his right knee during the spring of 2008. "If there is rust, it won't have anything to do with my knee," Lee said. "Once I get into pads and get that first scrimmage, I think I'll be fine."
Bowman back after difficulties: Bowman was in court in April for parole violation and was sentenced to 12 months' additional probation. If he is caught with alcohol or even in a bar, he will be sentenced to six months in prison. "I think I need to get his attention because I don't think he's taking this process very seriously," Centre County Judge Bradley Lunsford said at the hearing. Paterno is giving Bowman another chance after the LB admitted to smoking marijuana twice.
Middle man: One of the team's biggest questions is who will play middle LB. Hull started there last season, but the coaches may move Lee inside. If so, Hull may not be quick enough to play outside, so Mauti could get the starting nod. Paterno has always been high on Hull and stuck with him during his struggles early last year, so expect the coach to be loyal to the upperclassman in the early going. Hull might, however, give way to Mauti at some point.
Best-case scenario: The unit is the best in the country.
Worst-case scenario: Bowman gets into trouble and goes to prison. "Every college student makes mistakes," Bowman said. "I'm in the limelight, looked at closely by a lot of people. I've just got to take it day by day and live my life also and not let this thing control what I do."
The bottom line: This group is the reason Penn State is called "Linebacker U."
Starters: So. S Drew Astorino (5-10, 193) is the only lock right now; Sr. CB A.J. Wallace (6-1, 201) will start if he can stay out of trouble; Sr. CB Knowledge Timmons (5-10, 187) and So. S Andrew Dailey (6-2, 221) are penciled in.
Backups: So. CB D'Anton Lynn (6-1, 198); Jr. S Cedric Jeffries (6-2, 203); So. S Nick Sukay (6-1, 208); Fr. S Gerald Hodges (6-2, 223)
2008 stats: Astorino had an impressive freshman season, starting three games, intercepting two passes and finishing ninth on team with 39 tackles; Wallace started two games and had 20 tackles; Timmons and Jeffries played in all 13 games, while Dailey appeared in 12 and Lynn nine.
Big, big concern: The secondary looks to be by far the team's biggest weakness. The unit has to replace four starters, and even those experienced guys (Anthony Scirrotto, Mark Rubin, Lydell Sargeant, Tony Davis) were no match for USC in the Rose Bowl. "We're going to have to take some young people and put them in key spots," Joe Paterno said. "There will probably be a couple of kids I haven't seen play yet."
What about Wallace?: His status is unclear after Paterno called him out for cutting classes this summer. Wallace has been in and out of JoePa's doghouse and has battled injuries throughout his career, so this is his last chance to fulfill his potential. "I had a couple setbacks here and there, but I feel I just got to fight through what I have to fight through," Wallace said.
Playing the respect card: PSU allowed 413 passing yards to USC's Mark Sanchez in the Rose Bowl. "I felt as though USC didn't respect us enough because they were doing whatever they were doing on the field and stuff," Timmons said. "I kind of took it as embarrassment, as fuel to the fire so I can get ready because I want to go back to California and play those guys again."
Scouting report: "We have a lot of young guys who just came in, a lot of people who were injured," Astorino said. He described Sukay, who has battled injuries the past two years, as a "big, strong guy. He likes to hit, and he's very fast." Astorino described Hodges as a "big, very physical safety. He's young, and he doesn't have the whole grasp of things, but he's getting it real well."
Best-case scenario: Wallace stays healthy and out of trouble and helps the secondary avoid being the team's weak link.
Worst-case scenario: The coaches stick with the soft coverage schemes that allow even mediocre quarterbacks to pick apart the secondary.
The bottom line: Timmons said it best: "You have to be able to go out there [with the mentality] I'm going to compete against this guy, I'm not going to let this person embarrass me on national TV in front of everybody."
Starters: Jr. PK Collin Wagner; Sr. P Jeremy Boone; So. KR and PR Chaz Powell; Sr. KR A.J. Wallace
Backups: Fr. PK Anthony Fera; So. P Ryan Breen
2008 stats: Wagner was 1-for-1 on FGs and 3-for-3 on PATs; Boone averaged 43.0 yards on 39 punts; Powell returned nine kickoffs for an average of 28.8 yards with a long of 69; Wallace returned six kickoffs for an average of 19.8 yards and a long of 35; Powell did not return any punts.
Big shoe to fill: PK Kevin Kelly started for four years and left as one of the top scorers in NCAA history. He may never have emerged as the most clutch kicker around, but he improved each season and made 20-of-24 FGs last year.
First crack at it: Wagner is in his fourth season in the program and will be given a chance to win the PK job. "I know it's big shoes to fill," Wagner said in the spring. "So for now, I've got all summer to work with the snapper and holder, get that down real well, and then come season I'll be ready."
Up for grabs: Even Wagner acknowledged during the spring that "by no means is this job locked up yet." The Lions also have a highly touted freshman in Fera, who has great size (6-2, 205) and a big leg. Fera enrolled early and took part in spring drills.
Boone booms 'em: Boone, starting punter the past two seasons, has enjoyed a solid and remarkably consistent career so far. He averaged 43.0 yards per kick in 2007 and the exact same figure in 2008, as well.
Many happy returns: Powell figures to take over as the lead return man on kickoffs and punts. It's all part of him essentially doing everything Derrick Williams did in recent years. "I'm going to go out there and do what I have to do, get the ball in my hands and make plays," Powell said.
Coverage concerns: The Lions finished 65th in the nation last season in kickoff coverage, allowing 21.26 yards per return. That has been a consistent problem in recent years -- remember Steve Breaston's game-changing return for Michigan in 2005? -- and should be a point of emphasis during preseason camp.
Best-case scenario: Boone and Powell will be very good, and Wagner or Fera will find some level of consistency.
Worst-case scenario: Both Wagner and Fera battle inconsistency and cost the team a game or two.
The bottom line: Just like with the other questionable units, the special teams guys will get a chance to work out the kinks during the three easy games to open the season.
GAME BY GAME BREAKDOWN
Week 1 vs. Akron
Kickoff: Sept. 5, noon, Beaver Stadium
TV: Big Ten Network
Series: Penn State won the last meeting, 34-16, in the 2006 season opener and leads the all-time series, 3-0.
Who will win and why: Penn State. The Lions should be able to score a bunch of points against the Zips, though don't be surprised if Akron moves the ball through the air and challenges PSU's secondary.
About Akron: Head coach J.D. Brookhart has gone 27-31 in five seasons. ... The Zips were 5-7 and 3-5 in the MAC last season, losing their final three games against Buffalo (43-40), Ohio (49-42) and Temple (27-6). ... They allowed more TDs (46) than they scored (43). ... They gave up 210 yards passing and 187 yards rushing per game. ... Former St. Francis QB Anthony Doria is a graduate assistant.
Look out for: Former Pitt and Stanford head coach Walt Harris is the Zips' quarterbacks coach, and he has an experienced, effective signal caller to implement his game plan. Sr. Chris Jacquemain threw for 2,748 yards, 20 TDs, 14 INTs and completed 57.9 percent of his passes last season.
Penn State's record after this game: 1-0
Week 2 vs. Syracuse
Kickoff: Sept. 12, noon, Beaver Stadium
TV: Big Ten Network
Series: Penn State won the last meeting, 55-13, last year in the Carrier Dome and leads the all-time series, 41-23-5.
Who will win and why: Penn State. Syracuse's program is a joke. The Orange had a good run from the late '80s to the earlier part of this decade, but they fell apart after the school fired head coach Paul Pasqualoni following the 2004 season.
About Syracuse: Pasqualoni's replacement, Greg Robinson, ran the program into the ground with a 10-37 overall record and 3-25 mark in the Big East the past four years. He was fired late last season and is now defensive coordinator at Michigan. ... The new head coach is Doug Marrone, the New Orleans Saints' offensive coordinator the past three years. He has never been a head coach at any level. ... The Orange were 3-9 and 1-6 in the Big East last season.
Look out for: Robinson was a defense-oriented coach, and Syracuse's offense was awful under him. Marrone, a former O-lineman at SU, is an offense guy and had good success with the Saints.
Penn State's record after this game: 2-0
Week 3 vs. Temple
Kickoff: Sept. 19, noon, Beaver Stadium
TV: Big Ten Network
Series: Penn State won the last meeting, 45-3, at home last year and leads the all-time series, 34-3-1.
Who will win and why: Penn State. This is a goodwill series, plain and simple, as Joe Paterno likes playing the cupcake in-state rival and giving Owls coach Al Golden, his staff and players a marquee opponent every year. The teams are set to meet each season at least through 2012.
About Temple: Golden, a former PSU tight end and team captain, is in his fourth season with the Owls and has a 10-26 record. He's done a nice job getting the program back to a level of respectability, going 5-7 and 4-8 the past two years after a 1-11 mark his first season in 2006. ... The Owls were 4-4 in the MAC East last year and return eight starters on offense, though they are replacing three-year starting QB Adam DiMichele.
Look out for: Paterno always takes it easy on Temple rather than embarrass Golden and his staff with a huge blowout.
Penn State's record after this game: 3-0
Week 4 vs. Iowa
Kickoff: Sept. 26, 8:05 p.m., Beaver Stadium
TV: ABC or ESPN
Series: Penn State lost on a last-second field goal a year ago, 24-23, and leads the all-time series, 11-10.
Who will win and why: Penn State. At night, at home, revenge, whiteout, great atmosphere -- Lions have everything in their favor.
About Iowa: The image of Hawkeyes kicker Daniel Murray celebrating his 31-yard FG last year is haunting to the Lions as it cost them a shot at the national title game. ... It was another example of the Lions' troubles against Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who's 6-2 against PSU. Ferentz is 70-53 in 10 seasons at Iowa. ... The Hawkeyes were 9-4 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten last season, and they were the only team from the conference to win its bowl game. ... The Hawkeyes lost All-American RB Shonn Greene, who had 13 100-yard games.
Look out for: QB Ricky Stanzi is expected to be much improved this season. Also, the Hawkeyes always play tough, physical football, so PSU must be ready after its cupcake non-conference schedule.
Penn State's record after this game: 4-0
Week 5 at Illinois
Kickoff: Oct. 3, Memorial Stadium; time not yet announced
TV: Not yet announced
Series: Penn State won at home last season, 38-24, and leads the all-time series, 13-3
Who will win and why: Illinois. This is the one Big Ten team with a veteran QB who can exploit Penn State's secondary. Juice Williams may throw 40-45 passes.
About Illinois: The Illini had a disappointing 2008 season, going 5-7. ... Coach Ron Zook is 18-30 in four seasons but has brought the Illini back to respectability after 2-9 and 2-10 records his first two years. ... Williams threw for 3,173 yards last season. By comparison, the PSU single-season record set by Kerry Collins in 1994 is just 2,679 yards. ... Williams also completed 57.5 percent of his passes, had 22 TDs and 16 INTs, led the team in rushing with 719 yards and ran for five TDs. ... WR Arrelious Benn caught 67 passes for 1,055 yards and three TDs. ... RB Daniel Dufrene had 663 yards rushing and averaged 5.7 yards per carry.
Look out for: This could be a high-scoring shootout.
Penn State's record after this game: 4-1
Week 6 vs. Eastern Illinois
Kickoff: Oct. 10, Beaver Stadium; time not yet announced
TV: Not yet announced
Series: This will be the first meeting.
Who will win and why: Penn State. The Division I-AA Panthers, to be frank, are lousy.
About Eastern Illinois: The Panthers went 5-7 overall and 2-5 in the Ohio Valley Conference last season. ... Head coach Bob Spoo 132-109-1 in 21 seasons at EIU. ... The most interesting thing about the Panthers is that starting QB Jake Christensen is a transfer from Iowa. He started against Penn State at Beaver Stadium in 2007 and completed 16-of-29 passes for 146 yards and a TD in the Hawkeyes' 27-7 loss. ... Christensen lost the starting job at Iowa to Ricky Stanzi last season, but he did appear in seven games for the Hawkeyes. He passed for 396 yards, two TDs and one INT while completing 57.1 percent of his attempts. ... Christensen is eligible to play this season because he transferred down a level.
Look out for: Penn State will get a chance to rest some starters once the score gets out of hand.
Penn State's record after this game: 5-1
Week 7 vs. Minnesota
Kickoff: Oct. 17, Beaver Stadium, 3:30 p.m.
Series: Penn State won the last meeting, 28-27, with help of a controversial pass interference call on the Gophers in OT in 2006. Lions lead series, 6-4.
Who will win and why: Penn State. The Lions should be well rested after an easy win over D-II Eastern Illinois the week before.
About Minnesota: The Gophers went 7-6 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten last season. They started 7-1 and 3-1 before losing their final four regular-season games and the Insight Bowl vs. Kansas. ... Tim Brewster's team made a big turnaround in his second season after going 1-11 in 2007. The coach is 8-17 overall. ... Jr. QB Adam Weber had a solid season in 2008, passing for 2,761 yards, 15 TDs, 8 INTs and completing 62.2 percent. ... Sr. WR Eric Decker is on some preseason All-America lists, including ESPN.com, after catching 84 passes for 1,074 yards and 7 TDs last season.
Look out for: The Gophers can move the ball through the air, but PSU's secondary should be playing better by this point in the season.
Penn State's record after this game: 6-1
Week 8 at Michigan
Kickoff: Oct. 24, Michigan Stadium; time not yet announced
TV: Not yet announced
Series: Penn State won at home last year, 46-17, to snap a nine-game losing streak against the Wolverines. Michigan has dominated the series, 10-4.
Who will win and why: Penn State. The Wolverines will be much better in Rich Rodriguez's second season, and this is at The Big House, but the Lions are still the better team.
About Michigan: The Wolverines suffered their worst season ever last year, going 3-9 and setting a school record for losses. It was Michigan's first losing season since 1967. ... The Wolverines were just 2-6 in the Big Ten. ... Rodriguez endured a lot of criticism as he revamped the program and installed his new system. He'll be on the hot seat again this year unless things improve drastically. ... Jr. QB Nick Sheridan got some experience but didn't play well last season. He appeared in eight games, completing 63-of-137 passes (46 percent) for 613 yards, two TDs and five INTs. ... Brandon Minor rushed for 533 yards and nine TDs a year ago. He will split time with So. Michael Shaw, who spurned PSU for Michigan in the recruiting battle. Shaw rushed for 215 yards as a true freshman last year.
Look out for: This will be Rodriguez's 19th game as head coach at Michigan, and by this point his players will be better suited to run his offensive system.
Penn State's record after this game: 7-1
Week 9 at Northwestern
Kickoff: Oct. 31, Ryan Field, 4:30 p.m.
TV: ESPN or ESPN2
Series: Penn State won the last meeting, 33-7, in 2006 and leads the series, 9-3.
Who will win and why: Penn State. Northwestern should have a good record, but the Wildcats won't be able to stop the Lions' offense.
About Northwestern: The Wildcats went 9-4 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten last season before losing to Missouri in the Alamo Bowl. ... Pat Fitzgerald, the former standout LB at Northwestern, has done a nice job in three years as head coach. He took over under tough circumstances when Randy Walker died in 2006 and has gone 19-18 overall, 10-14 in the Big Ten. ... Wildcats are replacing starting QB C.J. Bacher and leading rusher Tyrell Sutton. ... Sr. QB Mike Kafka played sparingly last season, completing 32-of-46 passes for 330 yards, 2 TDs and 3 INTs. He's also the leading returning rusher with 321 yards.
Look out for: Northwestern could come in with a 7-1 record with this weak schedule: Towson, Eastern Michigan, at Syracuse, Minnesota, at Purdue, Miami (Ohio), at Michigan State and Indiana.
Penn State's record after this game: 8-1
Week 10 vs. Ohio State
Kickoff: Nov. 7, Beaver Stadium; time not yet announced
TV: Not yet announced
Series: Penn State won a defensive showcase last year in Columbus, 13-6, to even up the series, 12-12.
Who will win and why: Penn State. Gut feeling because it's at home.
About Ohio State: Will QB Terrelle Pryor be able to throw the ball effectively? That's the big question for this game and the entire season. He has superstar potential but must develop his quirky passing style. This is week 10, so he'll have a lot of experience by then. ... Pryor completed 60.6 percent of his passes last year for 1,311 yards, 12 TDs and 4 INTs and ran for 631 yards and 6 scores. ... Ohio State has to replace star RB Beanie Wells (1,197 yards) and its top two WRs (Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline). ... So. RB Daniel Herron gained 439 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry with 6 TDs a year ago. ... The Buckeyes also lost star LB James Laurinaitis.
Look out for: PSU will put eight defenders in the box to keep Pryor from running.
Penn State's record after this game: 9-1
Week 11 vs. Indiana
Kickoff: Nov. 14, Beaver Stadium; time not yet announced
TV: Not yet announced
Series: Penn State won last year, 34-7, and leads the series, 12-0.
Who will win and why: Penn State. The Hoosiers couldn't even beat PSU during the lean years this decade -- remember the great goal-line stand in 2004? -- so it's not happening here.
About Indiana: The Hoosiers have been picked to finish at or near the bottom of the Big Ten by most sources. They went 3-9 overall and 1-7 in the Big Ten last season. ... Head coach Bill Lynch is 10-15 in two years at Indiana. ... QB/WR Kellen Lewis was kicked off the squad in April for violating team rules. He set 16 school records at QB. ... Jr. Ben Chappell completed 52.3 percent of his passes for 1,001 yards, 4 TDs and 3 INTs in nine games last season. ... There is no experience at RB. Lewis was team's second-leading rusher, and Marcus Thigpen (631 yards) graduated.
Look out for: Indiana should be awful. Even if PSU beats Ohio State and has a letdown, it will crush the Hoosiers.
Penn State's record after this game: 10-1
Week 12 at Michigan State
Kickoff: Nov. 21, Spartan Stadium; time not yet announced
TV: Not yet announced
Series: Penn State won last year, 49-18, and leads the series, 13-12-1.
Who will win and why: Penn State. A lot of people have jumped on the Spartans' bandwagon, but look for them to disappoint this season.
About Michigan State: Why the above comment? The Spartans have to replace first-team All-America RB Javon Ringer (1,637 yards, 22 TDs) and starting QB Brian Hoyer (2,404 yards passing, 9 TDs, 9 INTs). ... Head coach Mark Dantonio is well respected and is doing a nice job, but the Spartans may have been a bit of a fluke last year (9-4 overall, 6-2 Big Ten). Dantonio is 16-10 in two seasons. ... No RB other than Ringer had more than 97 yards rushing. ... Heralded freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper are battling for tailback job. ... So. Kirk Cousins (310 yards, 74.4 percent completions) and So. Keith Nichol, a transfer from Oklahoma, are battling for the quarterback job.
Look out for: Penn State will win the Big Ten title with a victory here.
Penn State's record after this game: 11-1
Rose Bowl vs. USC
Crystal ball: Hey, nothing wrong with a little guesswork.
How PSU ends up here: The Lions will beat Ohio State in week 10 and win the Big Ten. Even if they go undefeated -- the prediction here is one loss -- the Lions will be bypassed in the BCS by either two other undefeated teams or one unbeaten club and another with one loss. Penn State fans would be in an uproar about getting slighted, but the soft schedule won't be viewed favorably.
Who will win and why: USC. The Trojans once again will have too much firepower and speed, making this game a repeat of last season's Rose Bowl.
Other bowl possibilities: If the Lions go 10-2 and don't win the Big Ten, they'll head to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on Jan. 1. The opponent will be the second-best team from the SEC, unless the conference gets two teams in BCS games, then it would be the third-best team. ... A 9-3 record likely lands PSU in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 1 against an SEC team.
Penn State's final record: 11-2