Saturday, August 30th, 12:00 p.m. (et)
From The Sports Network
By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: In what figures to be a complete mismatch, the 22nd-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions host the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers in the season- opener for both programs at Beaver Stadium this weekend.
Joe Paterno enters his 43rd season as coach at Penn State, the longest tenure at one institution in Football Bowl Subdivision history, but will this be his last? Paterno's contract is set to expire at the end of the season, leaving some to think this will be his last go around as Lions head coach. It has been quite a run, but with several off-field incidents by players that led to suspensions and a sub par recruiting class, Paterno has been feeling the heat to perhaps step aside. With that said, Paterno doesn't appear ready to hang it up just yet and he even commented on his retirement at the Big Ten media day.
"I obviously get tired of answering the same question, when are you going to retire when I don't know and I don't know what to say so many times. I'd like to retire when I feel as if I cannot make a contribution to Penn State. I'm very obligated to the university. "
If this happens to be Paterno's last run, it could be a good one, as Penn State is talented and experienced on both sides of the ball. The Lions return several skilled players from last year's team that finished 9-4 and that is why many experts consider this club as a dark horse for the national title.
As for CCU, it participates at the Football Championship Subdivision level, where the program has had good success. The Chanticleers however, were in a rebuilding year in 2007 and that explains why the team finished just 5-6, marking their first losing campaign under head coach David Bennett. With 15 starters back though, Bennett should have CCU primed for a big turnaround in 2008.
Saturday's game will mark the first-ever meeting between CCU and Penn State on the gridiron.
The Chanticleers enter the season with some uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position, as they have three options in William Richardson, Jamie Childers and Zach MacDowall. Richardson started all of last season, throwing for 1,596 yards and 13 scores, so he is the most experienced of the three. Childers is a redshirt freshman that impressed during the spring much like MacDowall, who is a transfer from Wake Forest with a good arm.
Whomever lines up under center will have to find a new go-to-target, as leading wideout Jerome Simpson departed for the NFL. There is some depth at the wideout spot, but the team is still waiting for someone to step up as a big time playmaker.
In the backfield, CCU will turn to Eric O'Neal and Arthur Sitton to carry the load after leading rusher Mike Tolbert departed for the NFL. O'Neal rushed for 325 yards as a freshman last season and he should easily improve on those numbers with more carries in 2008. An offensive line that returns all five starters should also help this unit move the ball on the ground.
Defensively, the Chanticleers were abused for 218.9 ypg on the ground last season and an improvement in this area may not be likely with the loss of several key starters on the line. Defensive end Ronnie Mason recorded 34 stops and 6.5 TFLs a year ago and he will be counted on to produce at an even higher level this season.
At linebacker, CCU should be strong with a good mix of youth and experience. D.J. Rice (60 stops) and Phillip Oboh (8.5 TFLs, four sacks) highlight the group and they will be joined by Derrick Frasier, who could be primed for a breakout year after recording 34 stops as a freshman.
In the secondary, the Chanticleers are deep at the safety position, but short of talent and experience at the corners. Safeties Marrio Norman (53 tackles, five picks), Brandon Autry (60 stops) and Dominique Davenport (61 tackles) are all talented and they will be counted on to pick up the slack for the inexperience at the corners.
Much like their opponent this weekend, the Lions are unsettled at the quarterback position with the top candidates being either junior Daryll Clark or sophomore Pat Devlin. Clark, who is the better runner of the two, backed up Anthony Morelli last season and appeared to have a better grasp of the offense entering camp. He was announced as the starter earlier in the week, but Devlin, Pennsylvania's high school career passing leader, is an intriguing option and could see some action this weekend.
Whoever is under center each week will be running behind a veteran offensive line that returns five starters, spearheaded by senior center A.Q. Shipley. He will also help open running lanes for sophomore Evan Royster (6-1, 212), who ran for 513 yards and five touchdowns (6.3 ypc) in backup duty last year. Royster isn't the type of back to rip off a 50-yard run, so expect to see Stephfon Green in the backfield on occasion. The redshirt freshman has blazing speed and big play capability and that is something Penn State can certainly use.
At wideout, the Lions are loaded with talent thanks to the return of Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood and Derrick Williams. The trio combined for more than 1,600 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns last season and they are among the top receiving corps around.
With some injuries and dismissals to key players this offseason, the PSU defense will not be as deep and talented as it could have been. Up front, defensive tackles Chris Baker and Phil Taylor were kicked off the team in late-July for fighting, but there is still talent leftover. Junior defensive end Maurice Evans highlights what should still be a solid defensive line and he is coming off a tremendous 2007 campaign in which he recorded 12.5 sacks and 21.5 TFLs.
At linebacker, the Lions endured their biggest loss, as All-American candidate Sean Lee suffered a torn ACL during spring practice and will redshirt this season. Replacing Lee and his 138 tackles from last season won't be easy, but Penn State does have some promising options in junior Josh Hull (6-3, 231) and sophomore Chris Colasanti (6-2, 232).
As for the secondary, it should be the strong point of this defense with a wealth of experience welcomed back. Highlighting the group is safety Anthony Scirrotto, who recorded 70 tackles last season and has 10 career interceptions to his credit.
The Lions have some question marks on each side of the ball, but some of those answers could come this weekend. It won't be much of a game though, as Penn State is clearly the dominant team here. A lopsided score and another win for Paterno is more than likely in Happy Valley this weekend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Penn State 38, Coastal Carolina 6
08/27 10:56:09 ET