Twelve days and counting. Usually, by this time, The Nittany Turkey has issued his season predictions for the forthcoming Penn State football year. Not so this year. This year is special. This Turkey has been far too lazy far too long. So, without further ado, let me rectumfy this sorry situation.
As usual, I’m going to be a bag of wind, so those with short attention spans can just conclude that I’m full of horse squeeze and stop reading right here. You won’t be far from wrong. In fact, I’m going to break this up into two installments, just so even those with adult attention spans don’t get completely repelled by my frequent digressions.
I look at the season ahead with mixed feelings. Everybody and his brother are predicting an undefeated, walkover year. Given the easy schedule, that could well happen. This possibility is reflected in pre-season polls, in many of which the Nittany Lions are regarded as a top ten team. Meanwhile, many sportswriters and blogwonks have microanalyzed the team and the schedule to submission, backing into whatever conclusions they could have pulled out of their ass and written in a sentence or two in the first place. But you read this crap so you can agree or disagree with it, use it for fodder for bar conversations, wipe your butt with it, or whatever, so they (and I) are compelled to write some pseudo-erudite pontifications or at least some sort of inflammatory prose. That is our raison d’être.
Some weenies feel that the Lions should play for the Still Somewhat Mythical National Championship (SSMNC) every year. They continue to lament trivia like the two seconds Lloyd Carr was awarded in 2005. Yeah, right, like they would have been competitive in the SSMNC that year. Even after being taken apart by USC in this year’s Rose Bowl, they continue to rue the Iowa game – as if they would have had a chance in the SSMNC. These same weenies remain in denial that the Big Ten is in a down cycle, as if the bowl record was an accident. Not this Turkey. So, my first prediction for this season is that there will be no SSMNC, even if the Lions make it to the mythical matchup, which is highly unlikely. (Fans of perhaps 15 or 20 programs are predicting that their boys will make it there, and only two actually make it.)
How can people overlook the massively re-tooled offensive line and the untried defensive secondary? Do they think that wide receivers with few game reps will just come in and replace the legendary trio of Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood, and Derrick Williams? Is it going to be easy to replace three topnotch defensive ends and a pretty good defensive tackle? Kevin Kelly might not have been the best kicker Penn State ever put on the field, but who is going to replace him? Let’s temper the rosy forecasts with a typical dose of sourpuss Turkeyesque realism.
It looks like the starting offensive line will be (from left to right) Dennis Landolt, Matt Stankiewich, Stefen Wisniewski, Lou Eliades, and DeOn’tae Pannell. (With all that capitalization and the obligatory apostrophe, Pannell joins the All-Star Moniker team. I counted only two apostrophes, two hyphens, and two gratuitous capitalizations among the names on the 2009 roster. Penn State is sadly lagging behind the curve in the area of name embellishments. But I digress.) Some familiar names, yes, but Wisniewski and Landolt are playing unfamiliar positions. Offensive lines need a lot of practice reps and, furthermore, a lot of game reps to congeal. Look for some raggedness and missed assignments early in the season.
The secondary loses A. J. Wallace for at least a game to the Paterno doghouse. Looks like it will be Knowledge Timmons and D’Anton Lynn at the corners, and Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino at safety. Not exactly an All-Star group, is it? On the bright side, however, Derrick Thomas and Stephon Morris are rookies with some great promise.
Things are still not settled at wide receiver. Brett Bracket and Derek Moye are guaranteed to get lots of playing time until someone else emerges. This remains a big question mark in this Turkey’s mind, but I like what I’ve seen from Justin Brown. And at tight end, this is the year for Quarless to put up or shut up. This underachieving screw-up has vowed to turn over a new leaf for this season. If he doesn’t, we’re going to see a lot of Shuler and Szczerba.
Daryll Clark looks solid, as expected, at quarterback, as does the running game, led by Evan Royster, who was the only Big Ten back to rush for over 1000 yards and gain more than 5.5 yards per carry last year. However, Clark will have to get some protection from the aforementioned retooled offensive line in order to have sufficient time to get the ball out there to his receivers, such as they are.
My other big question is how we’re going to get some playing time for all the excellent quarterback recruits Penn State scored during the off-season. You all know that this has been a problem in the past, with Joe Paterno’s stubbornness being the key deterrent. However, he has at least admitted that he made a mistake insisting that Morelli play while Clark sat on the bench. We’ll have to see how this plays out, but it is a good sign that Kevin Newsome is being practiced very hard. Nevertheless, he is not ready as a backup. Not yet. So, this untried offensive line must, first and foremost, protect Clark.
At Linebacker U., the outside positions are solidly played by Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman, assuming that Lee’s rehab is complete and Bowman doesn’t violate probation again. However, the middle is somewhat questionable due to the season ending torn ACL injury to Mike Mauti. We’ll probably see lots of the much maligned Josh Hull playing MLB again this year.
In the next installment, we’ll comment on the defensive line, the special teams, and the cushy schedule before laying out the season ahead, and finally, getting right down with the Completely Official Infallible Nittany Turkey’s Reliable Early AUgury (COINTREAU).