2008 CFN Penn State Preview
Penn State WR Derrick Williams
Penn State WR Derrick Williams
Posted May 9, 2008

Don't blame Penn State if you think the Big Ten is lousy. The Nittany Lions have won three straight bowl games including one over an SEC team (Tennessee) and a BCS game (Florida State). Derrick Williams and Penn State should be able to keep on rolling with another great team. Check out the CFN PSU Preview.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Preview 2008

Pete Fiutak

- 2008 CFN Penn State Preview |
2008 Penn State Offense
- 2008 Penn State Defense | 2008 Penn State Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Penn State Preview | 2006 CFN Penn State Preview 

The Big Ten has been a punching bag over the last few years after Ohio State dropped a dookie in two straight national title games, and Michigan lost to Appalachian State and Oregon, but overall, the conference hasn't been that bad. Wisconsin has more than represented the league well, Michigan made up for the early problems last year by beating Florida in the Capital One Bowl, and Penn State has won three bowl games in three years including a BCS game. The Nittany Lions even beat (gasp) a real live SEC team, Tennessee, in the 2007 Outback Bowl.

No, don't blame Penn State for the league getting bashed; it has more than held up its end of the bargain overall. And while most of the national attention has focused on when Joe Paterno is going to retire, and how (at least when Nittany Lion players aren't in the police blotter), the real story should be how the great program has avoided slipping into the abyss.

Head coach: Joe Paterno
43rd year: 372-125-3
Returning Lettermen
Off: 16, Def: 20, Spec. 2
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best PSU Players
1. DE Maurice Evans, Jr.
2. FS Anthony Scirrotto, Sr.
3. OG Stefen Wisniewski, Soph.
4. C A.Q. Shipley, Sr.
5. OG Rich Ohrnberger, Sr.
6. WR/PR Derrick Williams, Sr.
7. WR Deon Butler, Sr.
8. P Jeremy Boone, Jr. 
9. QB Daryll Clark, Sr.
10. WR Jordan Norwood, Sr.

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record: 0-0

Aug. 30 Coastal Carolina
Sept. 6 Oregon State
Sept. 13 at Syracuse
Sept. 20 Temple
Sept. 27 Illinois
Oct. 4 at Purdue
Oct. 11 at Wisconsin
Oct. 18 Michigan
Oct. 25 at Ohio State
Nov. 8 at Iowa
Nov. 15 Indiana
Nov. 22 Michigan State

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Record: 9-4

Sept. 1 FIU W 59-0
Sept. 8 Notre Dame W 31-10
Sept. 15 Buffalo W 45-24
Sept. 22 at Michigan L 14-9
Sept. 29
at Illinois L 27-20
Oct. 6 Iowa W 27-7
Oct. 13 Wisconsin W 38-7
Oct. 20
at Indiana W 36-31
Oct. 27 Ohio State L 37-17
Nov. 3 Purdue W 26-19
Nov. 10 at Temple W 31-0
Nov. 17 at Michigan St L 35-31
Alamo Bowl
Dec. 29 Texas A&M W 24-17

After going 7-16 in 2003 and 2004, the run appeared to be over. Paterno had lost it, the program and the ideals had become antiquated and outdated, and it was time for a new head coach to come in and bring things up to 21st century speed. Penn State appeared to be headed down the same path of mediocrity that superpowers like Nebraska, Florida State, and Miami are currently on, and while FSU is trying to transition to the future, the Huskers and Canes are trying to revisit the past to bring back their glory. Penn State is trying to do a little of both.

Oh sure, like always, Penn State has players who have been groomed for a few years and appear ready to finally break through as upperclassmen, like QB Daryll Clark and LB Josh Hull, but Paterno and the program had started to play young players earlier over the past few years than it did in the past, and the move has not only paid off in recruiting, but on the field, too, as there's a ton of experience on both sides of the ball and plenty of talent to go around.

In the past, with an offensive line that might be the best in the Big Ten, and with backs like Evan Royster, Stephfon Green and Brent Carter to hand off to, Penn State would be focused on the ground game first and foremost, but this year the offense is going to spread it out a bit and use the veteran receivers even more. In other words, Paterno is able to change on some things, and it has kept the program fresher than it appears.

So while past dinosaur programs like Florida State, Miami, Nebraska, and now Michigan, are spending this year trying to find themselves and their identity, Penn State, the biggest stick-in-the-mud program of all, has a legitimate shot at a Big Ten title, and maybe more. The Nittany Lions might not be as strong as they were back in the 70s and 80s, but they're at a consistent top 20 level.

And for that, the Big Ten is eternally grateful.

What to watch for on offense: Shorter, quicker passes. It's not like Anthony Morelli was a mad bomber, and it's not like the receiving corps is full of plowhorses, but the passing game is going change things up a little bit and go to more quick throws to get it out of the hands of the quarterback and into the arms of one of the veteran receivers where he can do something with it. Now the question is who the quarterback will be. Daryll Clark has the mobility, but Pat Devlin has the NFL potential. Both have live arms, and both can do whatever the offense needs when it comes to short-range accuracy.

What to watch for on defense: The defensive line is going to once again be dominant without the beef inside. The loss of star tackles Chris Baker and Phil Taylor, who were suspended, will really sting, and it was a shock considering Baker has been able to work out with the team and each is expected back at some point, if not for the start of the season. Even though they're out, it's no big deal with Abe Koroma and Ollie Odrick more than good enough to clog things up in the middle, while Maurice Evans could be the best defensive end in America.

The team will be far better if … the kickoff coverage team isn't awful. While the linebacking corps could be better and the quarterback situation needs to be settled and there will be big problems if injuries hit the O line, for the most part, everything is in place to make a possible run for the Big Ten title. Even the special teams are terrific, and they could be the best in the Big Ten, as long as someone can cover a kick. The difference between a championship and a trip to central Florida in January could be something as simple as a blown play on a kickoff, and Penn State, 116th in the nation last year in kickoff coverage, allowing 26.36 yards per try and two touchdowns, has to be far better.

The Schedule: There's no reason not to be 4-0 facing Coastal Carolina, Oregon State, at Syracuse and Temple. And then comes the roughest five-game stretch anyone in the Big Ten has to face dealing with Illinois in the Big Ten home opener before going on the road three times in four weeks against Purdue, Wisconsin and Ohio State. The home "oasis" in the midst of the road trips? Michigan. At least there's a week off before finishing up at Iowa, for the fourth Big Ten road trip in five games, and at home against Indiana and Michigan State. If the slate didn't seem cruel enough, who does Penn State miss in conference play? Minnesota and Northwestern.

Best Offensive Player: Sophomore OG Stefen Wisniewski. If you're looking for the likely star of the offense, it's probably WR Derrick Williams, as underwhelming as he has been, because of his speed and his ability as a runner as well as the leading receiver last year. RB Evan Royster and QB Daryll Clark could get the nod, and C A.Q. Shipley is the leader and the sure-thing all-star, but to project a little bit, Wisniewkski is the big-time talent who takes an already great line and makes it special. All five starters were returning off last year's line, but Wisnieswski knocked off Mike Lucian from the right guard spot. He's big-time.

Best Defensive Player: Junior DE Maurice Evans. The 6-2, 264-pound junior is an elite pass rusher who spark an interesting debate among the NFL scouts over the next year. Is he best as an outside linebacker in a 3-4, or is he an undersized speed-rusher in a 4-3? Whatever it is, he's a superstar playmaker in the backfield who also holds up well against the run. 

Key player to a successful season: Junior LB Josh Hull. The offense will be fine with either Clark or Devlin under center, but the real issue could be, strangely enough for Penn State, the linebacking corps. After boasting one of the great trios in recent history with Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor and Sean Lee, and then last year with the dynamic duo of Connor and Lee, it's rebuilding time. Lee will be back from his knee injury next year, so in the meantime, Hull, or rising star Chris Colasanti, must turn into a star in the middle, where Lee was going to take over for Connor. The line will take care of most of the work, but for Penn State to be great, it might need Hull, a former walk-on, to be a star.

The season will be a success if ... Penn State wins 11 games for the second time in four years and gets to a BCS game. The road trips to Wisconsin and Ohio State might be too much to keep the Nittany Lions from an outright Big Ten title, but they should be far better than the other ten teams on the schedule. Even if they split with the Badgers and Buckeyes, and drop one they shouldn't against someone like Iowa or Purdue, there's no reason not to be in the BCS at 10-2 going into the bowl. 

Key game: Sept. 27 vs. Illinois. The Illini first showed it was for real last year with a 27-20 win over the Nittany Lions. Now Penn State has to prove it can stop Juice Williams in the spread in the Big Ten opener to establish itself in the race. A loss to Illinois, with road trips to Purdue, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa still to deal with, will make a title a big-time uphill climb.

2007 Fun Stats: 
- Second quarter scoring: Penn State 121 – Opponents 21
- Yards per carry: Penn State 4.8 – Opponents 2.7
- Fourth down conversions: Penn State 11 of 14 (78.6%) – Opponents 7 of 17 (41.2%)