This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
When I was a kid I can remember going into every season thinking Penn State was going to go undefeated and play for the National Championship. I almost felt like it was Joe Paterno's God-given right. Growing up in the early '80s, when Penn State played in three national championship games in five years, I don't know where I got this idea.
But as I got older I realized that winning National Championships is actually pretty hard and they don't come around very often. And after seeing Penn State get robbed in 1994 I came to the realization that sometimes you can do everything right and still come up short. Welcome to the cruel world, kid.
Winning championships is hard, but that's not to say Penn State hasn't had their chances in the past two decades. They were ranked #1 to open the 1997 season, and they were ranked in the top two for most of the 1999 season. They came within two seconds of going undefeated in 2005, though I suspect God did us a favor on that one as they likely would have been shut out behind Texas and USC in the polls. The 2008 team was one bad quarter away from the championship game.
The young boy that once thought Penn State was going undefeated every year has matured into an man that recognizes this is a game dominated by young men in their early 20's. They are not professionals. They are students that worry about grades, and tests, girlfriends, and where they are going to party this weekend on top of all of their football duties. They are not perfect, and to expect perfection is never fair to them. And sometimes, when they do manage to be perfect, it still isn't good enough. That's why you will probably never see me predict a perfect season ever again.
That being said, I think 2010 can be a very good season for the Nittany Lions. Despite what people are saying about the quarterback situation, I think the offense will be just fine. Evan Royster and Kevin Newsome should make for a pretty good running combination behind an offensive line that has a few holes to fill, but generally returns a pretty good nucleus. When Newsome does have to throw, he will have an experienced crop of wide receivers that helped Daryll Clark capture the single season school passing record.
Some pundits are concerned about the defense. I'm not. The beauty of Penn State's base defense is that it's so simple and the players practice it so often that they can just plug in players and rarely miss a beat. This is why they are so good year in and year out. Devon Still should fill in just fine for Jared Odrick, and while losing Josh Hull, Sean Lee, and Navorro Bowman would normally be a huge red flag, Joe Paterno said in the spring he's not at all worried about the linebackers. When was the last time you remember Paterno saying he wasn't worried about anything in the spring? The secondary returns just about everyone, and a lot of the talent they recruited the past two years will bolster the depth at every position.
As far as special teams go, well, they can't get much worse can they? I'm expecting a big improvement there as the younger athletes in the past two recruiting classes will get a shot to contribute right away.
I think the National Championship is out of the question this year. Trips to Alabama, Ohio State, and Iowa are going to be pretty tough to get through unscathed. But I don't see any reason why Penn State can't go 9-3 with a trip to the Outback Bowl. With a little luck they might be able to go 10-2 or 11-1. If they can get a nice win in the bowl game it would serve as a nice springboard into 2011 when everyone is going to be expecting big things. Just don't get carried away and say they're going undefeated.
What are your expectations for 2010?