As we inch closer to the start of spring practice in the Big Ten, I wanted to revive a series I started last year and enjoyed. During the coming days, I'll take a look at the strongest position and weakest position for each Big Ten team. It will be interesting to see whether teams can improve their weak spots during the course of spring practice.
First up, Penn State. The Nittany Lions lose six All-Big Ten performers from 2009, including co-Big Ten MVP Daryll Clark and co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick. There are more holes on the defensive side, but Penn State has shown an ability to reload there, so much of the focus this spring will be under center.
Strongest position: Running back
Key returnees: Senior Evan Royster (205 carries, 1,169 rush yards, 6 TDs in 2009); junior Stephfon Green (71 carries, 319 yards, 3 TDs); junior Brandon Beachum (24 carries, 113 rush yards, 1 TD); junior fullback Joe Suhey (22 carries, 68 yards); junior Brent Carter (13 carries, 1 TD).
Key departures: None
The skinny: It's a close call between offensive line, safety and running back for this distinction, but Royster's return provides a huge jolt to an offense that needs to rely on the run game. Royster and Green form arguably one of the nation's top rushing tandems, especially if Green can take the next step in his evolution. The backs should get more running room from the O-line in 2010, although opposing defenses will flood the box and dare an unproven quarterback to beat them through the air.
Weakest position: Quarterback
Key returnees: Sophomore Kevin Newsome (66 pass yards, 95 rush yards and 2 TDs in 2009); sophomore Matt McGloin (two pass attempts in 2009)
Key departures: Daryll Clark (232 completions for 3,003 pass yards and 24 touchdowns with 10 interceptions; 84 carries for 211 rush yards and seven touchdowns)
New arrivals: Paul Jones (already enrolled) and Robert Bolden (arrives this summer)
The skinny: Penn State lost more bodies at linebacker, but it usually refills well there. Replacing a record-setting quarterback and an even better leader in Clark likely will prove much more difficult for the Lions. They hoped to get Newsome more playing time in 2009, and they'll need him to take major steps forward at a young age. The two incoming freshmen will compete for playing time right away, along with McGloin. There's certainly talent in the quarterback room, and Penn State should have more athleticism under center, but none of these players has proved anything at the college level. The goal for the spring is to learn and then try to lead the offense.