I’d like to borrow a phrase from the good ol’ University of Tennessee: “It’s football time in Tennessee!” Well it’s not really Tennessee we are concerned with, but Happy Valley. The students are back, Thursday nights in State College are now treated like holidays, and there are officially only 5 days until the Nittany Lion’s season opener against Youngstown State. While the Waffle Shop is preparing to cash in on the mile long lines, those who have been pining for the start of the college football season are making sure they have their tailgating grills assembled and ref-cursing voices at just the right pitch. Penn State fans are preparing themselves for what seems like will be an interesting season full of ups and downs. If you are like me you have been updating Twitter for hours on end waiting for an tidbit of information on the quarterback battle and the rest of the time thinking about the season to come (class is wedged in there as well). Today I am bring you my thoughts on the season as well as my predictions for each game.
More after the jump!
Biggest Storyline: Performance of the O-line
I could cop out right here and say the quarterback battle. While what happens with Kevin Newsome, Robert Bolden, and Matt McGloin, will undoubtedly take up a lot of press time this season, there is a much bigger storyline that will have a much larger impact than which inexperienced QB is taking the snaps. What I am referring to is the performance of the offensive line. The offensive line will, by far, have the most affect on the outcome of every game this season. The first depth chart of the season has the starters on the line being LT Quinn Barham, LG DeOn’tae Pannell, C Doug Klopacz, RG Stefen Wisniewski, and RT Lou Eliades. No matter who starts or continues to play on the line, their play will guide this season. First and foremost, the run game hinges on the line. If Evan Royster and the run game can be established early in the season as a threat, then pressure will be taken off whatever QB starts. An inexperienced QB takes more time to make game speed decisions and a safer, more secure pocket will only hasten the development of the QB position. The faster the QB develops, the faster this team can prove that they belong in the top 15 in this season and the next. The o-line playing well leads to the run game being a big part of the offense, which makes this year’s QB not have to be Michael Robinson or Zack Mills.
Who/What To Watch For: Evan Royster breaking the rushing record and Joe Paterno’s 400th win.
Evan Royster is only 481 yards away from breaking Curt Warner’s Penn State career rushing record. With a young QB and a few cake walk games at the beginning of the season, Royster will undoubtedly break the record. Royster embodies Penn State and has a quiet, unassuming nature. You can’t help but love and root for the guy. For a conservative prediction, I will say that he will break the record at Beaver Stadium in the Illinois game, although it could happen as soon as the Temple game.
Joe Paterno has 394 wins in his illustrious coaching career. He only needs 6 more to reach a level that has never been reached before and may never be reached again after Joepa. I will always remember watching the Nittany Lions win against Ohio State for Joepa’s 324 win and my mom crying for joy. Hopefully, I and the rest of Penn State will be able to witness Paterno’s 400th win in person in Happy Valley. I think, hope, and pray, that it will happen in Beaver Stadium against the hated Michigan Wolverines on October 30th.
Bold Prediction: Penn State will beat Iowa.
Don’t you love it when bold predictions don’t seem that bold? No one wants to be wrong or seem biased. I however will go out on a huge limb and say the Nittany Lions will go out and beat Iowa at the House of Horrors knows as Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on October 2nd. There won’t be too much statistical evidence to back this up, but I do have a gut feeling about this. I’m sure you have heard how Iowa is a tough way to open the Big Ten schedule. But isn’t Penn State, a team with a ton of talent but tempered expectations, sound like a team that could pull off an early year upset? Iowa hasn’t played particularly well early in the season and Penn State is a bad draw for the opening Big Ten game. Plus look who Iowa has played before that 5th game of the season: Eastern Illinois, Iowa State, Arizona, and Ball State. Mediocre teams who Iowa will undoubtedly beat, maybe not confidently beat, but beat nonetheless. Penn State has some true tests against proven teams, not just teams that could “give them trouble” in Temple and Alabama. Penn State will be battle tested and maybe a little bruised by the time they make it to Iowa City. The best that could happen is they roll in 3-1 and have oodles of confidence. Those first 4 games can be huge confidence builders for Penn State. Iowa’s first 4 games can only serve to degrade their preseason confidence and hurt them in a tricky conference opener against a team who has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
I won’t go into any details now (that will happen during the season). Just scores and a quick recap prediction.
Penn State 45- Youngstown State 7- 28 to 0 at halftime leads to a sloppy and boring 2nd half. Youngstown scores late 3rd.
Penn State 10- Alabama 21- Penn State is in the game the whole time and hangs around at scores like 7-3, 10-3, and 14-10. The game is close but Alabama stays in control and scores late making the score seem like the game was more lopsided than it was. I want an upset so bad, but I can’t pick it, but I will say that we shut down Mark Ingram and hold him under 70 yards rushing.
Penn State 38- Kent State 3- Penn State is alittle hung over from the intensity of Alabama game and comes our flat and leads 24-3 at halftime. Penn State’s defense picks it up in the second half as usual.
Penn State 24- Temple 10- Temple hangs around the entire game and Penn State scores a late touchdown to make it look more lopsided than it was. I am extremely worried about this game.
Penn State 17- Iowa 10- Iowa comes into this game down despite being 4-0 because of close games. Penn State comes in with battle hardened confidence after close, hard-fought games against a superior opponent in Bama and an almost equal in Temple. Penn State jumps out to a lead early and Iowa can’t overcome it.
Penn State 20- Illinois 17- Penn State comes in hung over from the Iowa game and almost gives one away at home. The home energy and a spark from freshman Robert Bolden spur the victory.
Penn State 14- Minnesota 21- This seems like one of those games that Penn State will lose in a heart breaking fashion, like Bolden or McGloin throwing as many crucial picks as this do completions. One of those games where you scratch your head and wonder how this team beat Iowa.
Penn State 35- Michigan 14- Penn State blows a struggling Michigan team away and we will look a lot better than we really are.
Penn State 24- Northwestern 21- Northwestern plays like they should be the winner but being at home in the bitter cold pushes PSU over the edge.
Penn State 17- Ohio State 35- Penn State scores 14 points in the 1st quarter then falls off the face of the earth. Ohio State dominates the rest of the game and Penn State shows why many doubt them this year.
Penn State 60- Indiana 24- Indiana scores some points in garbage time in front a pro-Penn State crowd. Will be a sloppy game in the beginning but Penn State will pull it out.
Penn State 17- Michigan State 14- Will seem like a very disorganized game. Students will just be returning from Thanksgiving break and it will be cold. Attendance will seem sparse and the energy will not be there. The weather will play a factor.
My predictions would put us at 9-3 at the end of the season with two losses in the Big 10. The season will feel like we somehow found a way to win 9 games much like the Anthony Morelli years. It will be a good building year and will lead to a much more polished 2011 campaign. We will most likely play in the Outback Bowl and win against an inferior SEC team that is supposed to kill us with their speed. It just seems like that kind of year to me.