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#26 Penn St. Nittany Lions Preview
Spring practices are in the books and fall camps will be here before you know it, so that means an early jump on the 2006 NCAA football season. Knowing your teams now will save you time in August, and Met Fargo is here to help you find out what you can expect this year. We go from worst to first in this 2006 college football preview.
#26 – Penn St. Nittany Lions 11-1 SU; 8-4 ATS
Fargo’s last-second Take A touchdown was the difference for the Nittany Lions against Michigan and an undefeated 2005 season. In addition, Penn St. would have gone 12-0 and had a shot at the national championship, but that would have meant three undefeated teams and we all know the problems they could have caused so maybe it was for the best. The Nittany Lions will be hard pressed to match last season’s performance, but they have enough to contend for the Big Ten title. It will be tough to replace Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Michael Robinson at quarterback, but Anthony Morelli has the tools to be a special player. The defense must replace much of the front four and the entire secondary, but Penn St. has the best supporting corps not only in the conference, but in the entire country. A letdown from last season shouldn’t happen as the Nittany Lions look to be back for good.
Returning Rookie Offensive – 5 Morelli doesn’t have much experience, but his stock is high and his spring performance gives the team a lot of optimism to start the season. Unlike Robinson, he is a pure passer, so the rushing element from that position is gone, but the passing game should improve significantly. The biggest concern on offense is the need to replace four starters on the line, but some decent experience is coming. Tailback Tony Hunt is back after rushing for 1,047 yards last season and his output will be important early on. The top four receivers are back, including the top three wideouts, led by sophomore Derrick Williams who could be in for a breakout campaign. The Nittany Lions finished 13th in the nation in scoring offense at 34.4 points per game and reaching that average will be a challenge, but if Morelli is a quick learner, it’s possible.
Defensive Rookie Returns – 4 Penn St. had one of the best defenses in the country last season, finishing 12th in total defense and 10th in scoring defense. Many key players need to be replaced, but linebackers Paul Posluszny, 2005 Butkus winner Dan Connor and Tim Shaw return to make up the nation’s best middle linebacker. They will have to carry the unit until the rest of the defense is assembled. The defensive line has just one returning starter, but seniors Jim Shaw and Ed Johnson will make immediate snaps. Although the secondary has to replace everything, the cornerbacks have the potential to be great led by super-second year Justin King, the best defensive back last season. The security positions will be filled by two seniors. Pass creation will be vital to the entire unit and if they can get close to last year’s 41 sacks, big things can happen again.
Schedule The schedule doesn’t bode well for a good start as trips to Notre Dame and Ohio St., two of the top teams in the country by many, take place in two of the first four weeks. The other two games in that stretch are easy home contests against Akron and Youngstown St., while the fourth and final non-conference game is near the end of the season against Temple. The Nittany Lions host Northwestern and travel to Minnesota before returning home for a chance to repay Michigan. The rest of the Big Ten schedule isn’t too difficult with the two toughest games at Purdue and Wisconsin. Indiana and Iowa are missing from the schedule for the second straight season. Another challenge is the fact that Penn St. must play all 12 games without a bye week in the mix.
You can bet on… Penn St. fans. are hoping that another 2003 will not happen. After a highly successful 2002 campaign, the Nittany Lions fell hard, winning just three games the following season and prompting questions about whether it was time for head coach Joe Paterno to hang up the phone. He certainly stifled that conversation last year, but another fall could mean the end is near. The Nittany Lions went 3-0 as an underdog last season and are 16-10 ATS in that role since 2001. Two opportunities to capitalize on that will come early against Notre Dame and Ohio St. The latter could be a problem for Penn St. however, as the visiting team is 0-8 against the number in the last eight meetings between the two.
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