There is no team in the land with more preseason disparity than the Penn State Nittany Lions. Some have them 10th to 13th, some have them national title contenders, one magazine even comically has them as the 7th place team in the Big Team. Most, though, have Paterno’s troops hovering around the late teens and early twenties. Despite returning 9 on both sides of the ball, the Lions have gotten little respect from the talking heads of the preseason rankings world.
Offensively, the line returns intact, with senior Center AQ Shipley anchoring a massive, experienced, and very talented group, surely amongst the top caliber of the nation. Shipley himself is the subject of early Rimington hype. Although the line returns intact, sophomore Stefan Wisniewski, a Penn State legacy, has stolen the right Guard spot in the offseason. Another Penn State legacy, Mickey Shuler, is battling back and forth with the much maligned and highly touted Andrew Quarless for the Tight-End slot. Quarless’ troubles off the field have left the Penn State nation scratching their collective heads. Regardless of whether or not he decides he wants to get serious about this football thing, Lions supporters should have little loss of sleep. Shuler has taken advantage of a potentially otherwise opportunity, and proven himself a great addition to this football team. Both Tight-Ends will get professional consideration. The Running-Back spot in Happy Valley has everyone eagerly awaiting the new season. Sophomore Evan Royster returns in 2008 as the starter, with freshman Stefon Green, everyone’s favorite spring RB, challenging hard for the starting role. The Wide-Receiver corps at Penn State is quietly amongst the nation’s top groups. The lack of production from former no. 1 recruit Derrick Williams is seemingly a topic the critics love to bring up, despite the fact that Williams’ 2005 Northwestern TD changed this program in an instant. Williams, who has also done an admirable job recruiting, deserves immense credit for his large part in Penn State’s recent upswing. Williams has a final stint in 2008 to shut everyone else up. Alongside him at WR are fellow seniors Deon Butler, and local Jordan Norwood. Both have shown incredible playmaking ability, along with Williams. But it doesn’t matter how good your line is, or your RB’s, or your TE’s, or your WR’s if no one can get them the football. With the exception of 2005, Penn State’s recent quarterbacking woes are well documented. Battling for the starting QB spot are junior Daryl Clark and sophomore Pat Devlin. In a state that produced quarterbacks like Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, and Joe Montana, Pat Devlin broke about every quarterback record in the state. Clark is a more mobile QB who reminds of Michael Robinson, former Big Ten MVP. Fans like to point out Clark’s performance in the Alamo Bowl as a shining foresight of great things to come. However, even though Daryl Clark had a strong performance with his feet, he did not throw a pass in that game, and it was with good reason. Judging by the lack of progression with many recent Penn State QB’s, a problem that has cost them multiple games over those seasons, it is not out of the question that Clark’s development will not turn out to be any different.
Defensively, the Nittany Lions are simply stacked. Nine returners are back for Bradley, including an insane amount of quality depth up front, built by coach Larry Johnson, who is starting to generate his own coaching buzz. At Defensive End is everyone’s preseason All-American Mo Evans. The sophomore has already tallied 14 sacks. The Linebacker position at Penn State needs no introduction. The next great Penn State LB, Sean Lee, suffered a season-ending knee injury in spring drills and is being redshirted. Challenging for the open spot Lee has left in this deep and competitive corps are highly touted sophomore Chris Colasanti, and local unknown Josh Hull. A junior in 2008, Hull has his opportunity to step-up now laid right before his feet, in what is an otherwise potential situation to be lost in a very crowded shuffle. The Cornerback positions for this team are a potential problem. Lydell Sargent now assumes the role of veteran, after an up and down career for the blue and white. Sargent was part of the same recruiting class as the now St. Louis Ram Justin King. Both showed flashes of why they were so highly regarded. King saw the writing on the wall and bolted for the NFL before his stock got any lower, after what was a very surprising season of him being on the losing end of some battles. Still, though, he managed to somehow garner all-Big Ten honors. The other CB spot will be filled with former 5-star recruit AJ Wallace, who many have as a preseason all-Big Ten returner. Like Clark on offense, Wallace had a great Alamo Bowl performance and should continue that success as a full-time starter. Behind the Corners, however, are reasons to stay calm. Senior Strong-Safety Anthony Scirrotto returns for what seems like his 8th year of starting experience, and is in preseason all-Big Ten discussion. At Free-Safety is senior Mark Rubin, a quality player with much experience who was always stuck behind guys a little bit better than him. Behind the Safeties on the depth chart are two freshmen: Chaz Powell, a player the staff is very high on, and Drew Astorino, a guy Paterno called the best skill player in his incoming PSU freshman class, and likewise had a great spring game.
Although there are more to blame than just Morelli, the fact remains that Penn State had trouble moving the football under his watch as quarterback. The same went for Mills. The only positive in what is going on a decade of shoddy quarterbacking is the 2005 season where Michael Robinson won Big Ten MVP honors because of his feet and his strong arm. Clark has a real chance to duplicate that 2005 production, and with the cast he has around him, there is no excuse for anything less than a ten-win season. It will not be long until Clark experiences the same treatment Matt Seneca received when Zack Mills was waiting in the wings. Devlin’s prior accomplishments will make the kitchen even hotter for Clark, who had better hope he has gotten a lot better at throwing the football in this offseason. This Penn State offense is loaded to the gills with potential, and with this staff and this team’s depth and experience, a BCS game is a real possibility. The defense will be undoubtably at the top of the conference, per usual. But it all starts, and ends, with Penn State’s quarterbacking. Like in another respect, it is not going to matter how big it is if you can’t get it to work.