It’s Question and Answer Thursday here at Orange::44. Devon from Nittany White Out and Mike from Zombie Nation, two excellent Penn State blogs, answered some questions for me on the upcoming match. Their answers are below. I answered questions for them as well. Here are my answers to Devon at Nittany White Out. Here are my answers to Mike's questions at Zombie Nation. Enjoy.
1. Orange::44: Penn State started the season ranked in the top ten. Where do you see Penn State finishing the season?
Nittany White Out: It's funny, by just about any objective measure Penn State probably shouldn't be as good this year as we were a year ago, when we won the Big Ten and got beat like we stole something by USC in the Rose Bowl. Coming into the season, we had some major question marks along both lines, at wide receiver, and in the secondary. But looking at it objectively, Penn State is still right there with Ohio State as the class of the Big Ten, and I would be surprised to see the Lions finish worse than 10-2 in the regular season, and my personal pick was for an 11-1 finish. The thing is, though, how will voters look at an 11-1 team from the weak Big Ten? I imagine Penn State will finish in the top ten, but not be in the conversation for the national title despite a similar record to the top ranked teams, just like last year, when an 11-1 Penn State team got no respect compared to Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida, who had similar, if not identical, records.
Zombie Nation: This seems about right for the rest of 2009. Will Penn State lose a game? I hope not, but won't be surprised if it happens. I really think that Penn State is the most talented team in the Big Ten, and should be favored in every game, including dates with Ohio State and at Michigan State. Figure 12-0 would get Penn State into the title game; 11-1 will keep them in the top seven; and 10-2 will be somewhere around the top 10. I can't really say much about the bowl game. USC is a different dog than say Cal in the Rose Bowl.
2. Orange::44: From an outsider's perspective, do you see Syracuse on the upswing, or are Syracuse fans simply too hopeful to see what happened on Saturday realistically?
NWO: It's tough for me to take an outsiders perspective on Syracuse because, well, I grew up rooting for the Orange. My parents both went to school at SU, and I was raised to root for 'Cuse right with them. But just as I was entering my peak fan years, Syracuse football went down the tube, and I had to look elsewhere. For someone who hasn't been following the program as intensively as I used to, though, I was very impressed with how Syracuse handled themselves last week. I don't think Minnesota is a great team, but Syracuse is a team that lost to Akron a year ago, and by a far worse margin than 3 points. You never want to overanalyze based off one week of play, but Doug Marrone certainly seems to have reinvigorated the program, and the Greg Paulus addition brought plenty of national media attention. With the Big East as weak as it is, the Orange definitely have the chance to win a few games, and with even a little improvement in the talent quality, could realistically compete for a Big East title. I was certainly impressed with some of the players at Syracuse, but the overall depth of talent is lacking. What I really want to see is improvement in the recruiting game. If Syracuse can become an attractive option to northeast talent, and beat out Rutgers, UConn, BC, and even Penn State for some recruits, then Doug Marrone will have done his job. I'll definitely be rooting for Syracuse to return to their pre-Greg Robinson status, but I'm not holding my breath.
ZN: I think this year could be better than most casual observers thought. The influx of experienced talent will give this team a real boost. Remember fans, you have back Mike Williams, Delone Carter and get a former Gatorade Player of the Year under center. Also, there's a beast named Arthur Jones on defense. I'm not very scared as a Penn Stater. But I would be if I were in Storrs, Tampa or Louisville.
I do hope Syracuse gets better. I'm a real eastern football homer. I grew up on the NJ side of NYC, so I feel a connection to the old eastern powers. I may upset a lot of people when I say this, but outside of when Penn State plays these teams, I'm rooting for the Pitts, Rutgers, Syracuses and Marylands. Maybe it's just because I hate the South so much.
3. Orange::44: Who are the players on offense and defense that every opposing fan should know on Penn State?
NWO: Well, there's senior Daryll Clark, the Heisman Candidate and all-Big Ten QB who's done a stellar job heading up the Spread HD offense. However, despite his athleticism, he's a pass-first quarterback, and likes to sit back in the pocket and throw downfield. Junior Evan Royster, at running back, is reminiscent of Curtis Martin in that he's not much of a bruiser, or blessed with great speed, but he manages to find the hole or cutback lane and always falls forward. Last year, he led the conference in YPC. With a big year, he'll become Penn State's all-time leading rusher. Lastly, sophomore Derek Moye had a breakout game a week ago, with 138 yards on 6 catches in his first career start. He's got great speed and even better size at 6'5. On defense, senior Jared Odrick will be, for the only time all season, just the second best defensive tackle on the field, but like Arthur Jones, he's a very disruptive force. Unlike Jones, though, he's very quick and has been used at defensive end in addition to DT. Also, Penn State features the best pair of linebackers in the country, in senior Sean Lee and junior Navorro Bowman. Lee missed all of the 2008 season with a torn ACL, but had 138 tackles in 2007 and looked up to his old form last week against Akron. Navorro Bowman is struggling with a groin injury, but he's a dynamic playmaker who loves to get in the backfield and disrupt plays. Both are legitimate All American candidates, and almost certainly all-conference selections.
ZN: You're going to hear these names A LOT this week: Sean Lee (LB), Jared Odrick (DT) and Evan Royster (RB). Penn State didn't get the run game going too well last week, but I assure you, Syracuse won't fall into the same trap Akron did, trying to stop the run while letting PSU go pass happy. You're going to see Royster enter the awards circuit this week. On defense, Odrick is probably the most talented defensive lineman you're not hearing about. I would be shocked if he's not a top-20 draft pick. And Lee, well, you'll see...
4. Orange::44: Are Penn State fans excited to see this rivalry start back up, or is it just another non-conference game?
NWO: The marketing crew is really trying to pump up interest for Syracuse, going as far as to annoint this week's game as "Classics Day" at Beaver Stadium, with a 60s theme to mimic the best years of this rivalry. Unfortunately, Syracuse isn't much of a marquee opponent these days, and no matter how much Penn State tries, the atmosphere for this one simply won't be the same as a Big Ten clash against an Ohio State or a Michigan. What hurts is that this game is expected to be an absolute blowout, so there's simply no tension. no reason to get excited for the average fan. Penn State has gotten a lot of crap, and deservedly so, for it's non-conference scheduling, but when this series was scheduled, Syracuse was coming off of a 10-win season. If the Orange had kept that momentum going after the Paul Pasqualoni era, and had enjoyed even some success, then this would be a big out of conference game. Instead, it's a guaranteed win, and at an early start time that really hurts the atmosphere.
ZN: It's a very weird thing right now. It's kind of like seeing that old girlfriend again that you were pretty serious with, but your current girlfriend never met. The newer Penn State fans, and every single student the past 10-12 years, most likely don't know anything about how evil this rivalry once was. But then you have the older fans. They know this is Penn State's second-biggest rivalry, in terms of overall program history.
I hope more fans get excited about this game. But then again, wouldn't it help a bit if Syracuse was a bigger challenge on the field?
5. Orange::44: What do you think will happen on Saturday? What do you think the final score will be?
NWO: I tend to be a pessimist. I figured Penn State would have some trouble against Akron, and we jumped out to a 31-0 lead by the half, allowing 8 yards up to that point. However, I do think Syracuse's offense plays well into Penn State's weakness. The Nittany Lions are notorious for their lack of press coverage, and a quick, west-coast style passing game could pay major dividends for Syracuse. The pass rush is Penn State's best weapon in defending the passing game, and if that can't develop, Syracuse can rack up the yards in the passing game. At the same time, I don't think Syracuse will be able to run the ball much, and a one-dimensional offense is tough to stop. On offense, I think the Spread HD will come in handy, as Penn State has so many playmakers that Syracuse won't be able to account for them all. Arthur Jones is a disruptive force, but he'll be going up against a great center in Stefen Wisniewski. My final score prediction will be 48-20, but I think it'll be closer early, let's say 28-17 at the half.
ZN: Syracuse is going to get crushed. I mean, not just a convincing Penn State win. I'm talking about total obliteration. Too much? Ok, maybe. I figure Penn State will play much better than last week, and Syracuse will take a step back after an initial adrenaline rush in the first quarter. Penn State pulls away after 10 minutes... 38-9.
So there you have it. Thanks to Devon and Mike for getting back to me. Check out their respective blogs for all the Penn State slanted info you can handle as both are great. Thanks again guys, and good luck with the rest of your season.