It seemed pretty clear Penn State faced a rebuilding job in 2010, despite the perennially high hopes of Nittany Lions fans and the absurdly high ranking by the coaches in their preseason poll.
The season played out more or less as many had expected, including coach Joe Paterno.
Sure, Penn State might have won another game or two, but the Lions performed like a young team figuring out its identity as the season went along. With a few exceptions, Penn State beat equal and inferior competition and lost to better teams Ohio State, Michigan State and Alabama.
The first six games were hard to watch. True freshman Rob Bolden endured some growing pains after surprisingly winning the starting quarterback spot, but he didn't get much help from an inconsistent offensive line or All-Big Ten running back Evan Royster. A wave of injuries on defense didn't help matters, and Penn State hit rock bottom following a 33-13 home loss to Illinois on Oct. 9.
But the Lions turned things around after a much-needed open week and won four of their final six games. Former walk-on Matt McGloin stepped in at quarterback and provided a spark, and Royster produced big performances against both Michigan and Northwestern. Penn State got Paterno his 400th coaching win, and while the team still has flaws, it also has potential to get a lot better.
Offensive MVP: Derek Moye. Moye was Penn State's most consistent offensive performer and one of the Big Ten's most consistent receivers. He led Penn State with 48 catches, ranked fifth in the Big Ten with 806 receiving yards and tied for fourth in the league in touchdown receptions with seven. McGloin and Royster also deserve mentions for stepping up in the second half of the season.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Michael Mauti. It's a tough call, but Mauti provided a major spark for the defense in Big Ten play, and his absence was felt when he missed time because of injury. The sophomore recorded 63 tackles, including five for loss and two sacks. Cornerback D'Anton Lynn, linebacker Nathan Stupar and defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu also merit mentions.
Turning point: The bye week. Penn State went in at 3-3, had endured a wave of injuries on defense and lacked an identity on offense. The Lions came out of the open week and won four of their final six games to secure a winning season and an Outback Bowl berth. The offense came alive behind McGloin, Royster and dynamic freshman running back Silas Redd.
What's next: Paterno will return in 2011 for a 46th season, saying that the chance to help a young team get better lured him back to the sideline. The questions about Paterno's future will persist, and Penn State needs to take a step forward next fall to avoid losing the momentum it generated between 2005-09. It will be interesting to see what happens at quarterback with McGloin and Bolden, but the more critical areas are on defense, especially a defensive line that didn't meet the typical standard this season.