It's Friday, so we're back with another edition of Inside:Outside. This week we discuss all of the Penn State preseason hype. Is it justified? Then we look ahead to next week's Big Ten Media Days with the questions we would ask if we were there.
Inside: Okay, let's be honest. Penn State is replacing three offensive line starters, moving another guy from guard to center, and replacing three starting wide receivers. The secondary is all new, and the depth at defensive end is practically non-existent. Why are so many people automatically assuming that the Nittany Lions will be a top-ten team in 2009?
RUTS Says...There are really two possibilities here -- either it's assumed that the players we're plugging into these spots are comparable or better than last year's, or the Lions are somehow being rewarded for the combination of their confectionery schedule, the conference's awful reputation, and the dearth of acknowledged, legitimate Big Ten championship contenders.
The former possibility is counterintuitive at best (if they were better players, where were they last year?). I don't think anybody legitimately expects the wide receivers to be better than the trio of Norwood, Williams, and Butler. That's just stupid. A.Q. Shipley was the best center in the nation, Rich Ohrnberger was drafted in the fourth round by New England, and Gerald Cadogan was an excellent left tackle who is hoping to catch on with the Carolina Panthers. Do you really think the offensive line will be better this season?
Even the secondary, tenderized beyond recognition during and after the Rose Bowl, doesn't look to be a candidate for addition by subtraction. A.J. Wallace has been an enigma throughout his Penn State career, and especially since his switch to defense. He was decisively beaten out by Lydell Sargeant last year. Now he's supposed to be our #1 cornerback?
So it's gotta be the schedule, right? Anyone care to talk me down on this? I keep reading predictions for 12-0, 11-1, or 10-2, and I'm just not seeing it from this group of players. Not yet, at least.
Mike Says...A big part of it is the laziness of the Media. "Hey, Penn State went to the Rose Bowl last year. Daryll Clark is coming back. They'll be a top ten team!"
But Penn State does have a lot going for them. Besides returning Clark, they also return Royster, Wisniewski, Odrick, and Bowman who all earned All-Big Ten honors last year. Plus Sean Lee is coming back, and he earned All-Big Ten honors in 2007. No other team can claim that much proven star power at this point. And really, when you step back and look at the Big Ten, what other team besides Ohio State looks like they have potential to dominate the league?
Kevin Says...Basically you need to look at (1) who is going to be taking over for the departed, and (2) what teams on the schedule will be able to take advantage of weaknesses.
The o-line loses a lot of players but Steele still has three of the current guys on his list of the Big Ten’s best. Clark, Royster and Green all return, obviously, so the offensive attack should be less intimidating but still capable.
The defensive line was incredibly deep last year and I think that helps in 2009. One or two injuries could devastate the unit, but with perhaps the best set of LBs in the nation backing them up I don’t worry about being run all over, which is how you die in the Big Ten (anecdotal evidence but still: the bottom five teams in the conference finished 10th, 6th, 11th, 9th and 8th in rushing defense, going last to seventh).
I don’t anticipate having any debilitating voids to fill other than receiver and secondary, but with the running game I don’t worry so much about being killed on offense and no one in the conference has proven yet that they are capable of torching even a mediocre set of corners and safeties.
People will argue that I’m overlooking the losses on the o-line, which is fair, but you can never tell how good an o-line is going to be anyway. Ohio State’s completely let them down last year despite returning what I think was the entire unit, and Penn State ended up with the best center in the nation last year even though the kid was playing (or, not playing) d-line the first two years of his career at Penn State.
It’s obviously the million-dollar question, but having three extremely capable players and two highly recruited ones isn’t a bad place to start when your first three games are glorified practices.
Outside: At SEC Media Days, Tim Tebow said he was a virgin and saving himself for marriage (a hilarious question asked by Tennessee blogger and author Clay Travis). What probing, personal question would you ask at Big Ten Media Day?
RUTS Says... I'd ask Mark Dantonio if he's recovered from the hypothermia that obviously set in toward the end of last year's Michigan State v. Penn State game. It's the only possible explanation for him calling two consecutive timeouts with nine seconds remaining in a 49-18 blowout, other than being an enormously stubborn and grumpy dicktard.
Mike Says...The SEC media days are a circus. I was expecting a big push on their part for a college football playoff system or some big announcement on an all new SEC Network or something. Instead the big question of the week is "Who didn't vote for The Chosen One?" Thank God we got that sorted out though.
Seeing all of these bloggers getting press passes to the Big Ten Media Day kind of makes me kick myself for not thinking about flying to Chicago next week. I'd love to run into JoePa kicking back a bourbon in the hotel bar and strike up a conversation. But if I had access here are some questions I would ask.
To Jim Tressel: You have struggled in big games against southern teams the last few years. This year you're lagging behind Penn State and Michigan in recruiting. More and more Big Ten teams are putting together SEC-like offenses that have given you fits. Do you feel like your grip on the Big Ten might be slipping a little bit?
To Brett Bielema: Don't you kind of regret that intentional offsides kickoff stunt you pulled on JoePa a few years ago? I mean, he's completely kicked your ass 86-14 in the two games since then.
To Rich Rodriguez: Penn State will be pretty tough for your young squad this year. Then they rotate off the schedule in 2010 and 2011. Do you think you'll be around to get another shot at beating Paterno in 2012?
Kevin Says...I would try to get Tim Brewster to spill the beans on any type of punctuation clinic he might have been checked into during his younger days. Dude has serious exclamation issues and was my pick for the John L. Smith Award this year.