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Penn State preview

Overall it was a pretty successful 2009 season for the Penn State Nittany Lions as they finished second in the Big Ten with a 10-2 record. However, PSU fans will always wonder what could have been, as the Lions had both Ohio State and Iowa come to Happy Valley last year and PSU couldn’t beat either team with the offense struggling mightily in both. That left Penn State tied for second in the conference with the Hawkeyes, but Iowa and OSU got the BCS bowl berths and Penn State was sent to the Capital One Bowl, where it edged a solid LSU team to finish 11-2. Any time a Big Ten team beats an SEC team of late, that news.

There are 12 starters (seven offense, five defense) and a kicker returning this year for Joe Paterno, but the team definitely has some question marks. The biggest by far is at quarterback, where record-setting Daryll Clark has moved on. That means either sophomore Kevin Newsome, former walk-on Matt McGloin or true freshman Paul Jones will take over under center. While Jones looked the best in the spring game, it’s hard to imagine Paterno handing the ball to a true frosh, so Newsome is expected to start the season at No. 1. Newsome appeared in 10 games last season basically in mop-up duty, completing eight of 11 passes for 66 yards while running the ball 20 times for 95 yards and two touchdowns.

And expect Penn State to be a heavy running team in 2010 with running backs Evan Royster – who is 482 yards away from becoming the school’s all-time rushing leader – and Stephfon Green both back. But when Newsome or whoever throws, three of the team’s top four receivers from last year also return. The offensive line struggled at times last year and three players return from that unit, but the coaching staff did some moving around this offseason, most notably taking All-Big Ten center Stefan Wisniewski and moving him to guard.

On defense, the line should be solid despite losing Jared Odrick and the secondary one of the best in the Big Ten, but Penn State was gutted at linebacker as the excellent trio of Navarro Bowman, Sean Lee and Josh Hull all are gone. We should see this season if Penn State really is Linebacker U – the key could be the return of Michael Mauti, who has the potential to be a star but tore his ACL before last season and sat out. Will he be 100 percent come September?

Here is Penn State’s 2010 schedule:
Sept. 4 vs. Youngstown State
Sept. 11 at Alabama
Sept. 18 vs. Kent State
Sept. 25 vs. Temple
Oct. 2 at Iowa
Oct. 9 vs. Illinois
Oct. 23 at Minnesota
Oct. 30 vs. Michigan
Nov. 6 vs. Northwestern
Nov. 13 at Ohio State
Nov. 20 at Indiana (Landover, Md.)
Nov. 27 vs. Michigan State

JoePa needs six more wins to reach 400 career victories, and that’s a lock. Needless to say, the non-conference schedule should be a piece of cake other than that huge one on Sept. 11 at defending national champion Alabama (that’s a telling day in the Big Ten because Ohio State hosts Miami that day as well). Can Penn State really go into Tuscaloosa with an inexperienced quarterback and upset the loaded Tide? No way.

And really the only places you need look for potential losses this year are in road games – the home slate should be a clean sweep, although Michigan State has the potential to be better than people think and possibly pull the upset. You are probably looking at losses again this year to Iowa and Ohio State with the games coming in their house. PSU never fares well in Iowa City – remember that Nov. 8, 2008, game Lions fans? – and has won once in eight tries in Columbus since joining the Big Ten. It is odd that the home team has lost the last three in the PSU-OSU rivalry.

In recent years, Penn State in reality has beaten only who it should. Of the school’s 51 victories in the last five years, only 16 have come against BCS teams that finished with winning records, and five of those came in 2005. Just three of the wins came against BCS teams that finished with double-digit win totals in those years. And that sounds about right this year. PSU will win the nine games in which it will be favored and drop the three roadies in which it won’t. Look for oddsmakers to put the Lions’ win total right at nine.

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