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Penn State Preview

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While many fans (and some in the football office) look at the schedule and fret about the combination of three tough road games and an unproven quarterback, Penn State might not be as “down” as they expect.

Trips to Alabama (Sept. 11), Iowa (Oct. 2) and Ohio State (Nov. 13) provide big hurdles, but opportunities exist for feel-good moments and victories.

Coach Joe Paterno needs six victories to hit 400—a milestone that only two other college coaches have reached—and that’s almost a certainty, no matter who takes snaps from center.

Even if the Nittany Lions lose at Alabama and Iowa (and beat the others they should), the team could play for that historic victory Oct. 30 in primetime vs. Michigan at Beaver Stadium.

Really, the lack of a proven quarterback has prompted unnecessary caution. While few people expect another double-digit victory total, Penn State has enough talent to remain close to that level.

Offensively, Penn State returns a running back (Evan Royster) who could finish as the program’s all-time leading rusher, an offensive line led by a consensus All-American (Stefan Wisniewski) and a receiving corps with five of its top six pass catchers from 2009.

On defense, Penn State should strong again. Last year the team allowed an average of 89.8 yards rushing and 12.2 points per game. Two solid starters (Jack Crawford, Devon Still) return along the line, as does the entire backfield. While it lost three linebackers to the NFL, Paterno has no worries about the future of “Linebacker U.”

“That's not one of my concerns,” he said. “I think we'll have four or five linebackers that we can play with and compete with.”

If the team can find one quarterback who prompts that level of comfort, it could turn a potentially average season into something special.

Kevin NewsomeThe Heat is On: QB

Whoever gets the job at quarterback (most likely Kevin Newsome) must manage games and be happy with simple and solid over spectacular, because mistakes at that spot will doom the team’s season.

Sleep Depriver: Jack Crawford, DE

Crawford has emerged as a disruptive force vs. the run and pass and will force opponents into double-team decisions or even game-plan adjustments. He’s fast, strong and has a wide wingspan.

New on the Scene: Silas Redd, RB

While freshmen and redshirt freshmen rarely see much playing time at PSU, the speedy Redd might find his way on the field at some point this season.

 

Big Man On Campus

Sometimes people look so hard for the different that they miss the obvious—and that’s part of what has made Evan Royster so elusive.

While he’s avoided contact well, rarely getting hit flush or hard, he’s also managed to climb Penn State’s all-time rushing list in relative obscurity. He enters this season eighth on the list with 2,918 yards.

He needs just 17 yards to surpass Lydell Mitchell and 481 to overtake Larry Johnson, D.J. Dozier, Curtis Enis, Blair Thomas, Tony Hunt and Curt Warner.

Royster enters the season averaging 6.1 yards per carry—the fourth-best total among the program’s best backs. Ki-Jana Carter’s 7.1 average tops that list, followed by Johnson (6.4) and Lenny Moore (6.2).

Still, more has been made of Royster’s status as a high school lacrosse standout (almost every story includes a mention) than of his football accomplishments.

That hardly bothers him, though. He knows what he’s accomplished, and what that spot atop the all-time list would mean.

“It would be awesome,” Royster said. “It’s something I’ll carry with me my whole life, something I can tell my kids, my grandkids about down the road. Just to be named in the same category as some of those guys, it’s a great honor.”

He’s ready to continue his fairly quiet, workmanlike approach to help the team and reach that goal. He focused during the offseason on getting bigger, bulking up from 209 to 225 pounds to handle more carries this season.

He averaged 15.8 carries in last season, up from 14.7 in 2008, and anticipates more this season with an unproven quarterback in the backfield. With a few more pounds, he hopes to deliver some blows himself and recover more quickly from the hits he does take—enabling him to play even better.

It he does, it will certainly be obvious.

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