Welcome to The Ciskie Blog's 2008 College Football Preview. As usual, you can expect a rundown of every Division I-A (or "Football Bowl Subdivision", if you prefer) conference, as well as a brief look at the independents. Some of the information used to compile these previews came from various football preview publications that I took the time to review this summer. I give a full endorsement to Phil Steele's College Football Preview (the national edition, as well as his various regional magazines). I also have looked at Sporting News, Athlon Sports, and Blue Ribbon (via ESPN Insider). Information was also gathered from local newspapers and school websites. Please use the comments section or e-mail for feedback, questions, and any corrections you feel need to be noted.
PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
Last year: 9-4 overall, 4-4 Big Ten (T-5th)
Postseason: Beat Texas A&M, 24-17, in Alamo Bowl
In good shape
Wide receiver. Sounds weird to associate strength at that particular position with Penn State, but it's true. The Nittany Lions field three strong seniors on the perimeter of their offense. Deon Butler (right) is more of a playmaker, averaging over 13.5 yards per catch last year. Derrick Williams is the possession receiver, having led the team with 55 catches a year ago. Menawhile, Jordan Norwood is a smaller receiver in the mold of Butler. He led the team last year with five receiving touchdowns. This offense is helped appreciably by the departure of eminently overrated QB Anthony Morelli, who managed to hit just 58 percent of his throws to this superb group a year ago. Expect the battle between Darryl Clark and Pat Devlin to play out for the rest of fall camp before Joe Paterno and his staff decide on a starter.
Offensive backfield. First off, you have the aforementioned battle between Clark and Devlin. The job of throwing to Butler, Williams, and Norwood is an important one, especially when you consider that leading rusher Rodney Kinlaw is gone. Sophomore Evan Royster should have the first crack at that job. Royster averaged an impressive six yards per carry in limited work a year ago. I crack at Morelli, but the bottom line is that the inexperience at quarterback will make the running game much more important. Royster has a potentially great line to run behind, but he has to prove he can handle the rigors of being the alpha dog in the backfield.
Penn State lost conference games to Michigan, Illinois, Ohio State, and Michigan State last year. Have they improved enough defensively (lost leading tacklers Dan Connor and Sean Lee) to close the gap with new starters at the two most important positions on offense? I'm not sure.
Also worth noting is the potential distraction surrounding Paterno. Whether you're talking about his future or his perceived inability (or, worse, unwillingness) to control his players, it's an issue. If any players get in trouble during the season, or if the Nittany Lions struggle, the microscope will be on the venerable coach.
In the end, road trips to Wisconsin, Ohio State, Purdue, and Iowa in Big Ten play will be too much to come out of unscathed. I see a big season for Penn State, as nine or ten wins look likely. But that won't be enough to get close to the top of the Big Ten. There are too many potential landmines on that league slate (they play everyone but Northwestern and Minnesota).