QUICK LOOK BACK: The Nittany Lions’ surge toward a potential BCS berth crashed in Iowa City on Nov. 8. It might’ve been the pass interference. But we all know it ended in this. Yes, the Lions fell short, but QB Darryl Clark established himself as one of the Big Ten’s top QBs. RB Evan Royster emerged and could be the league’s top back this season. Let’s not discount coach Joe Paterno’s 2008. The man went through hip surgery and pain, coached from the press box and still had his team near the top of the conference. He seems energized going into this season, putting Big Ten expansion out there. It ended in Kinnick for PSU in 2008. The rematch is Sept. 26, it’s a night game and, surely, one of those cool white-out deals at PSU.
FOURTH DOWN — CONCERNS: The offensive line is undergoing a makeover. Tackle Dennis Landolt is the only starter returning to the same position. Junior Stefan Wisniewski switches to center. Three spots are in play this summer. This might take some time. The Lions lost all four starters in the secondary. A strong D-line might cushion the blow there, but obviously, there’s work to be done. Penn State lost QB Joe Devlin to transfer, so the Lions have Clark and . . . Kevin Newsome, a true freshman who threw a TD pass in PSU’s spring game.
THIRD DOWN — STRENGTHS: Clark is a strength. His numbers in his first season as PSU’s starter — 143.4 pass efficiency, 19 TDs to six INTs, 59.8 completion percentage — were enough to carry the Lions to the brink of the conference title. It got weird for him at the end last year. The Rose Bowl was a thud. The Iowa game was a distinct thud. But he has been a leader and coaches love QBs who are willing to put themselves out there as leaders. Royster rushed for 1,236 yards and 12 TDs. He’s the conference’s top returning rusher. Iowa fans, you remember DT Jared Odrick. He’s a legit all-America candidate and will be the core of a D-line that saw two DEs go to the NFL.
SECOND DOWN — THE TALK: “It’s a very difficult situation these days with kids. You hope that they can overcome some of the environmental problems and things that they have. You know, he’s lost his father [Hillard, in 2008] and some other things. I’m just going to let it all settle down and I’ll decide sometime next week.” — PSU coach Joe Paterno on LB Navorro Bowman, whose probation was revoked and reinstituted last month after admitting to smoking marijuana in the last four months. Bowman won’t face anymore sanctions Paterno told ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg on May 19.
”Slide or get out of bounds; I can’t afford another concussion. We’re working to make sure I don’t take as many unnecessary hits this season. I want to play each play, each game. I feel I’m important to this team.” — PSU QB Daryll Clark, who suffered a concussion against Ohio State and wasn’t quite right against Iowa.
FIRST DOWN — THE PLAY: Wideout is an interesting position to watch. The Lions oozed talent at WR last season with Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. Graham Zug and Brett Brackett showed up in the spring game. Derek Moye and Chaz Powell will fight for roles. Clark’s rise was tied to the three seniors who made things happen in the passing game. There’s no go-to WR going into ’09. If last season was a rebirth, or something like that, can PSU sustain it? That question will be answered up front. The O-line is undergoing a makeover. Although it has promise, the D-line is also relatively new. The Lions have nine returning starters to climb a mountain of heightened expectation.