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Thursday, October 16, 2008
Midseason report: Penn State Nittany Lions

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

PENN STATE (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten)

After an offseason dominated by off-field problems and questions about coach Joe Paterno's future, Penn State has turned the spotlight back to where it belongs -- the field. The Nittany Lions have been the most dominant team in college football, winning all seven of their games by 14 points or more and four by 40 points or more. A new offense better tailored to Penn State's big-play personnel has surged behind first-year starting quarterback Daryll Clark, and a defense that lost its best player (Sean Lee) in the spring and several others during the summer leads the Big Ten in fewest yards allowed (259.3 ypg). A hip injury has forced Paterno to coach games from the press box, where he has watched Penn State become a national title contender.

Offensive MVP -- Few first-year starting quarterbacks have had as positive an impact as Daryll Clark has in Penn State's first seven games. He has answered questions about his passing ability (10 TDs, 64.4 percent completion ratio), limited major mistakes (2 INTs) and provided another rushing threat in the backfield (6 rush TDs). But Clark's intangibles have been his biggest strength. The junior brought a swagger to the offense and immediately gained the trust of his teammates. Other notables include Evan Royster and Derrick Williams.

Defensive MVP -- If everything had gone according to plan, Aaron Maybin would have played a backstage role this season. Penn State was stacked along the defensive line, and the sophomore end didn't appear to be a major factor. But dismissals, suspensions and injuries created a void up front, and Maybin has filled it in a big way. He leads the Big Ten and ties for sixth nationally in sacks (8) and ties for seventh nationally in tackles for loss (1.79 per game). Linebacker Navorro Bowman and defensive end Josh Gaines also deserve recognition.

What's next -- The game looks easy on paper, but Penn State can't afford a letdown against Michigan, a team that owns a nine-game win streak against the Lions. Up next is a trip to Columbus, where Penn State has never won as a member of the Big Ten. Penn State also must travel to Iowa and hosts streaking Michigan State in the regular-season finale. The Lions are a complete team, and the only lingering concern is how they'll respond in a close game, which they're bound to face down the stretch.