If the quarterback situation is settled, Penn State could make a run at the division title this year.
By: Steven Lassan | 6/6/11, 12:05 PM EDT
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#30 Penn State
Big Ten Leaders PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Joe Paterno, 401-135-3 (45 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Galen Hall | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tom Bradley
If the Nittany Lions can get their quarterback situation resolved, the passing game should be strong. Senior wideout Derek Moye has field-stretching speed — his average of 16.7 yards per catch was second in the Big Ten last season — and he’s got lots of company in a deep and experienced receiving corps.
The Lions also have a potential breakout star in tailback Silas Redd. Now a sophomore, Redd showed great moves and acceleration in averaging 5.7 yards per carry as Evan Royster’s backup last season. He could be the Lions’ next great runner, provided the team addresses its concerns in the middle of the offensive line, where two starters are gone, including All-America guard Stefen Wisniewski.
But about that quarterback situation … ugh. Sophomore Rob Bolden sought a transfer in January, only to be denied his release by Joe Paterno. Matt McGloin, after a hot start, was ineffective in three of Penn State’s last four games, including a five-interception afternoon in the Outback Bowl against Florida. Bolden completed 58 percent of his passes for 1,360 yards in his debut season and may be Penn State’s best long-term bet — if he decides to stay.
The Lions’ problem on defense is that their biggest strength and biggest weakness may cancel each other out. Their biggest strength is the secondary. Four regulars return, three of whom — safeties Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay and cornerback D’Anton Lynn — are seniors.
Their biggest weakness is the pass rush. Penn State totaled only 17 sacks last fall, and the health of its defensive ends continues to be a major concern. Its best pass rusher, senior end Jack Crawford, had foot surgery following the season and was wearing a boot in the spring. Worse, junior Pete Massaro suffered a torn ACL in spring practice and will miss the season. Eric Latimore is coming off a season-ending wrist injury last season, and even if he and Crawford both are healthy, there appear to be opportunities aplenty for the young defensive ends.
The situation is better at linebacker, where standout junior Michael Mauti is prepping for a move inside. Shoddy tackling was a big problem in 2010, but if Mauti and outside linebackers Gerald Hodges, Khairi Fortt and Nate Stupar can stay healthy — all four were hurt at times last year — the defense will likely be improved.
With Anthony Fera returning, the Lions should be fine on punts and kickoffs. Fera had 19 touchbacks on 49 kickoffs before an appendectomy in November all but ended his season. Everything else is unsettled. The frontrunner for the placekicking job is incoming freshman Sam Ficken, while the Lions may turn to speedy redshirt freshman Alex Kenney to charge up a lackluster return game.
Everybody’s focused on the quarterbacks, but the Lions’ other sore spots — the offensive and defensive lines — could prove even more vexing. On offense, they’ve got a Wisniewski-sized hole at guard and uncertainty at center. On defense, their ends are either coming off injuries, are out for the year or have yet to play a down in college. And they’ve got exactly one week to get their house in order once the season begins; Alabama is scheduled to visit on Sept. 10. Throw in a brutal November schedule — Nebraska, at Ohio State, at Wisconsin — and you can understand why Paterno isn’t talking retirement. This rebuilding project is far from finished.