It's increasingly rare for Penn State to go out of its way and schedule a non-conference opponent whose name doesn't include a "Coastal", "Eastern", "Beauty Academy", or..."-emple". So when the Nittany Lions found Oregon State to take a suddenly-open spot on a 2008 non-conference slate otherwise occupied with Coastal Carolina, Syracuse, and Temple, Penn State fans rejoiced at the prospect of a potentially competitive early season game. After all, the Beavers piled up 19 wins over the past two seasons (with victories over two top-three teams, USC and California).
Trouble is, they lost their entire defensive front seven and their quarterback play is questionable at best. This seems like an obvious winning combination for Penn State, who would be more than content to run the ball 40+ times and unleash its usual hellish pass rush against shaky OSU quarterback Lyle Moevao.
However, Oregon State has one guy who can win the game by himself:
Sammie Stroughter had a supremely awful 2007. A kidney injury ended his senior season, and it wasn't even close to the emotional pain he went through months earlier:
Without anyone saying outright for the record, Stroughter is suffering from depression. Two uncles who helped raise him passed away recently. The Oregon State assistant who helped recruit him, Jim Gilstrap, also died earlier this year.
Combine that with Stroughter not having a father in the picture.
Stroughter fought through the depression, suddenly showing up at practices and playing in three games before the kidney injury ended his season. He received a medical redshirt and set his sights on 2008:
"I like to think of it as a mulligan," Oregon State's star receiver and kick returner said, flashing the wide smile that has been his trademark during five years in Corvallis. "I am ecstatic. Words can't describe how ready and excited I am for this season."
Penn State fans love to lament the performance of their kick coverage teams. It's one of those things that fans will complain about no matter what (including the incessant calls of "HIRE A SPECIAL TEAMS COACH" when very, very few college programs actually have one). In fact, the Lions' punt coverage was infinitely better (10th, nationally) than the kickoff coverage last season, which actually was deplorable (106th).
Still, Stroughter is the kind of player who can shred any punt coverage or secondary. If he shakes loose for a long touchdown or two, what should be a relatively breezy non-conference victory could quickly become perilous.
Stroughter: A man among boys. And girls.