Joe Paterno leads the Nittany Lions once again in 2009. The Nittany Lions won forty games over the course of the last four seasons. With senior quarterback Daryll Clark leading the offense, and senior linebacker Sean Lee leading the defense, Penn State will make noise once again this season.
Bigger questions center on coach Paterno’s retirement plans. When will he retire? Who will succeed coach Paterno?
Current Season – 4
An athletic and experienced front seven pace the Nittany Lions. Lee aside, Navorro Bowman, Jared Odrick, and Jack Crawford, among other linebackers and defensive linemen, will apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks and rushing attacks. A.J. Wallace will be one of the Big 10’s better cornerbacks as well.
The question comes at safety, where Southern California ripped the Nittany Lions last season (lack of pure speed), and the starting safeties departed.
A massive offensive line leads the way for Clark and several talented running backs. Watch out for Stephon Green to supply fireworks with reverses, sweeps, screens, and any other way the Penn State offense will be able to place the football in his hands. Evan Royster will be the bell cow tailback.
Wide receiver will be a concern, as three pass catchers left the program.
Penn State’s out of conference schedule is an utter joke: Akron, Syracuse, Temple, and Eastern Illinois. In conference, the Nittany Lions face Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, and Northwestern on the road, but the Buckeyes come to Happy Valley. So do the Hawkeyes, the team that spoiled Penn State’s national title game hopes with a thrilling 24-23 victory in Iowa City last season.
Recruiting – 3
Penn State missed several wide receivers during the past three recruiting campaigns, but did fairly well this past February. It will pay for those misses this season and possibly next. This current recruiting class does appear to be what the Penn State program needs at wide receiver. Watch out for Adrian Coxson to compete for minutes as a true freshman in 2010.
Defensively, not enough talent at safety (see last season’s Rose Bowl as an example) costs the Nittany Lions when playing high profile programs. In short, teams with big play wide receivers destroy the Nittany Lions down the seams.
Along the trenches, the Nittany Lions, as usual, did well the past several years – minus the below average DL and OL haul in 2009 – to allow for solid depth and competition.
Landing mobile quarterback Kevin Newsome from Virginia will bode well for future Penn State teams. He’s an accurate passer and adept at making plays with his feet when necessary.
Head Coach’s Ability – 4
Paterno does not micromanage the Penn State program; instead he places his assistants in charge of specific areas and they make things work as a unit (forty wins in four years). The key to success, like with coach Bowden, is keeping key assistant coaches for long periods of time.
Larry Johnson, Sr. deserves to be considered amongst the nation’s elite recruiters and defensive line coaches. Despite overtures from other programs, he remains at Penn State. The same can be said of defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. He’s one of college football’s best defensive coordinators.
Yes, coach Paterno struggled during the early portion of this decade, but he made changes nobody thought he would, such as implementing the spread offense. The changes worked. Kudos to him.
Head Coach’s stability – 2
This area is a head scratcher. There’s little doubt that coach Paterno desires for coach Bradley to take over when he calls it quits. Allegedly, and it depends upon whom one believes, the Penn State brass is not guaranteeing anything. The rumblings about coach Paterno and the Penn State administration being at odds over the issue became tired long ago.
At some point, could someone just finalize the transition, please?
Recruiting did well recently, but not elite. Part of the blame should go to the unknown factor. Recruits want to know, without question, whom the head coach will be. Who can blame them?
Administrative Support – 4
Build it bigger, build it stronger! Beaver Stadium seemingly increases capacity every handful of years. There’s no lack of funding for the Penn State football program, that’s for sure.
With the assistant coaching staff staying together, by in large, that’s another sign that the administration did its part to keep the assistant coaches’ contracts towards the upper echelon of peer institutions.
The one caveat, as noted above, who’s the next man in charge? No area makes or breaks a program like a head coaching change. Penn State could be great moving forward, or perhaps it will lay an egg. At some point, the Nittany Lions will replace Joe Paterno.
Now those are some big shoes to fill.
Overall – 64%
Penn State should be one of the better Big 10 programs for the next several years, barring something unforeseen. The ability to go above the level of the currently elite teams such as Oklahoma, Florida, Louisiana State, and Texas comes down to three items – recruiting better safeties, recruiting better wide receivers (starting to see that), and of course, making the proper head coaching decision upon coach Paterno’s retirement.
Look for Penn State to continue to compete for New Year’s Day bowl games.