Big Ten: Derrick Williams

Larry Johnson's recruiting clout in the state of Maryland has benefited Penn State greatly over the years. Aaron Maybin, Derrick Williams and Navorro Bowman are among the standouts Johnson, Penn State's defensive line coach, lured to State College from Maryland.

So it's no surprise that new University of Maryland coach Randy Edsall expressed interest in Johnson for his defensive coordinator vacancy. Former Miami coach Randy Shannon reportedly turned down the Terrapins' DC job.

The good news for Penn State: Johnson is staying put in Happy Valley.

From The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News:
Johnson told me today he is not a candidate for the job on Randy Edsall's new staff but wished not to discuss details. A knowledgeable source within the team said Johnson reluctantly turned down an overture from Edsall 10 days ago when Johnson was working a clinic in Baltimore. Johnson told Edsall he could not in good conscience entertain thoughts about the Maryland DC job after having assured several PSU recruits he had just signed that he would be coaching them next season, the source said.

Johnson turned down a chance to become Illinois' defensive coordinator following the 2008 season.

It's amazing that after all the buzz about Penn State losing assistants during this offseason, everyone has remained on Joe Paterno's staff. Johnson's presence will be key as Penn State tries to boost its defensive line play and, perhaps more important, land a talented 2012 recruiting class.

Big Ten lunch links

March, 23, 2010
3/23/10
12:00
PM ET
Spring (football) is in the air.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A wild first quarter just ended, and we already know one thing: Both starting quarterbacks are extremely resilient.

After Ricky Stanzi answered his interception by leading two scoring drives for Iowa, Michigan freshman Tate Forcier bounced back from his own pick with a masterful drive. The Wolverines have been able to run the ball against Iowa's defense with Brandon Minor, and Forcier converted a fourth-and-4 by recognizing an open area behind defensive end Adrian Clayborn.

Forcier led a 12-play, 72-yard march and made several tough throws. The true freshman continues to show no nerves and loads of confidence, as Michigan got Iowa on its heels with a no-huddle offense.

Minor capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run, marking the first rushing touchdown against Iowa in 34 quarters. Penn State's Derrick Williams was the last player to record a rushing touchdowns against Iowa, in the third quarter of a Nov. 8, 2008, game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


A seed of doubt crept into Adrian Clayborn's mind as Arizona lined up for first-and-goal at the Iowa 1-yard line in a Sept. 19 game. The odds favored an offensive touchdown. Most likely a rushing touchdown.

What came next? A Nic Grigsby run for a loss of two yards followed by two incomplete passes. Field goal. Thanks for playing.

Surely the streak would end two weeks later at Penn State, as the Nittany Lions entered Iowa territory five times. Penn State never got closer than the 11-yard line and wound up with only one Collin Wagner field goal.

"They had us back down in the red zone and we came up big with stops," said Clayborn, Iowa's star junior defensive end.

At least Penn State running back Evan Royster knows what it feels like to notch a rushing touchdown against the Hawkeyes. He had a 2-yard scoring run in the second quarter of last year's game in Iowa City. One quarter later, his teammate Derrick Williams ran one in from nine yards out.

Since then? Nothing.

Iowa has painted its own goal line in black and gold. If an opponent wishes to cross it, they had better not try on the ground.

The Hawkeyes haven't allowed a rushing touchdown for 33 consecutive quarters, the final 13 last season and the first 20 of 2009. The amazing streak epitomizes a defense that ranks 10th nationally in points allowed (13.4 ppg) and is the biggest reason for Iowa's first 5-0 start since 1995.

Iowa puts its streak on the line Saturday night when its hosts Michigan at Kinnick Stadium (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).

"It’s astounding," Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Normally, you maybe get a quarterback sneak or something in the goal line where you get in there. To have 33 straight quarters, an eight- or nine-game span, is really quite remarkable."

Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz added, "I’m not a good one on streaks and records, but I know this: it’s a good thing."

(Read full post)


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- I wrote all week that this game would be decided at the line of scrimmage, and so far Penn State is winning the battle definitively.

The big question for the Nittany Lions entering Saturday night's game was whether their offensive line could handle Iowa's sturdy defensive front. Penn State just answered with a 20-play, 68-yard drive that drained 10:17 off the clock.

Possessions like Penn State's are priceless in a game like this, where weather will be a factor and keeping the defense fresh is paramount. Though the Nittany Lions didn't get in the end zone, they converted three third down and a fourth down, and created push in every major short-yardage situation. Quarterback Daryll Clark looks like he can get a yard or two if his team needs it, and Chaz Powell might be filling the Derrick Williams role in this year's offense.

Iowa's Broderick Binns did a nice job of pressuring Clark at the end of the drive, but the Hawkeyes defense might be wiped after spending so much time on the field.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Penn State wide receivers Derek Moye and Chaz Powell were relaxing in their room Tuesday night when the subject came up again.

The feeling of disrespect tends to fester, and despite three victories this season, both Moye and Powell still sense it.

"Last year, the year before, we were just sitting on the sideline watching these games," Moye said. "Now we're going to be in the spotlight. All eyes are going to be on us and we're happy to be in this position. We're going to go out and show everybody what we can do."
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Penn State wide receiver Derek Moye intends to prove the doubters wrong.

Penn State had turnover at several positions following its Rose Bowl run in 2008, and no spot lost more production than wide receiver. Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood all started for most of their careers and combined for 132 receptions, 1,932 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns last year.

Throw in Williams' production as a rusher and a return man, and it was obvious that Penn State had a major void to fill. Receivers like Moye, Powell, Graham Zug and Brett Brackett had appeared in plenty of games, but their numbers paled in comparison to the big three.

So how have the Rodney Dangerfields of Happy Valley fared so far? Pretty well. Penn State has been forced to throw the ball a lot in its first three games, and Moye, Powell and Zug all have reached double-digits in receptions. They have combined for 37 catches, 474 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

But doubts still linger. Penn State hasn't played anyone so far, and the wideouts are still unproven on the big stage, which arrives Saturday night against Iowa (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).

"There's always people who say the competition wasn't there," Moye said. "But this week and in weeks to come, we'll prove what we did the first few weeks wasn't a fluke."

(Read full post)


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


The games have finally started in the Big Ten, but recruiting season never ends. Like every league, the Big Ten boasts its share of ace recruiters, but only a select few are adept at getting top prospects to say yes.

Here's a look at the Big Ten's top closers in recruiting:

1. Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson -- Johnson is the biggest reason why Penn State always reloads on defense and has elevated its overall recruiting since 2008. He can get pretty much whomever he wants from Maryland, and his commitments include current linebacker Navorro Bowman, former wide receiver Derrick Williams and former defensive end Aaron Maybin, the first pick from the Big Ten in the 2009 NFL draft.

2. Illinois head coach Ron Zook -- He might not always get the best out of his players (read: Saturday's game against Missouri), but Zook always brings in top talent. Illinois' inconsistent history hasn't stopped Zook from landing loads of elite prospects, especially from Chicago and Washington D.C. Losing top assistant Mike Locksley certainly stings, but Zook will continue to get after it on the recruiting trail.

3. Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell -- A head coach in the near future, Fickell has helped Ohio State consistently bring in top 5 recruiting classes. He lured top defensive prospects Corey Brown and Dorian Bell in the 2009 class and has landed several current defensive starters, including safety Kurt Coleman and defensive end Thaddeus Gibson. Fickell's youth and energy helps him stand out on a staff of good recruiters.

4. Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez -- Despite a 3-9 season in 2008, Rodriguez still brought in a top 15 recruiting class in February and got off to a quick start for 2010, landing commitments from standout quarterback Devin Gardner and others. Rodriguez's style might not be for everyone, including some of Lloyd Carr's recruits, but he connects with a certain type of player and should have Michigan back near the top of the Big Ten soon.

5. Michigan State running backs coach Dan Enos -- Enos has reestablished Michigan State as a recruiting force in Detroit and the surrounding suburbs, plucking prospects like Edwin Baker and Fred Smith from the Motown area. Mark Dantonio wants to build his program primarily with local and regional talent, and Enos is leading the charge in Michigan's largest city.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Sixteen years after Penn State entered Big Ten play tabbed as the league's third powerhouse, the program has the chance to truly earn the title this fall.

The Nittany Lions can win consecutive Big Ten titles for the first time and call themselves league champs for the third time since 2005. They can be the first team in some time to put a scare in Ohio State, which has dominated the Big Ten this decade.

But to stack up with the Buckeyes, Penn State must mirror what has been done in Columbus throughout head coach Jim Tressel's tenure -- reload.

No two Big Ten teams said goodbye to more key contributors from 2008 than Penn State and Ohio State, which return just 10 and 12 starters, respectively. The Lions lose a bit more than the Buckeyes, but they also bring back the Big Ten's top quarterback (Daryll Clark), top running back (Evan Royster) and one of the top linebackers (Navorro Bowman) from last season. Plus, star linebacker Sean Lee also returns from a knee injury, and Penn State has a more favorable schedule than Ohio State and hosts the Buckeyes at Beaver Stadium, the last place where Ohio State lost a Big Ten road game (2005).

So why do most prognosticators, including yours truly, give Ohio State a slight edge heading into the fall? A history of filling big gaps. Whether it's running back, quarterback, linebacker, defensive end or cornerback, the Buckeyes have lost national award winners and been just fine the next year.

Penn State has the chance to prove it can do the same thing this fall.

"People have been saying that we're not going to be able to do it, but proving people wrong is obviously a real good motivation," senior wide receiver Brett Brackett said. "That's definitely one of our goals, to show people we can do that.

"We have as much talent, if not more, than last year."

Brackett is one of several receivers pegged to take on a greater role after Penn State lost multiyear starters Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. The Lions also lose three starting offensive linemen and their entire starting secondary from a team that was seconds away from a possible trip to the BCS title game.

Many players stepping into key roles this season come from the less-heralded recruiting classes of 2007 and 2008. Penn State took some heat for its recruiting, particularly in 2008, and some questioned head coach Joe Paterno's involvement in the recruiting process.

Those questions have been put to rest, as Penn State signed an excellent class in February and might have the league's best class in 2010. But many of the older players on the 2009 team still fight the stigma from back on signing day.

"It's definitely a chance for us to show that we do get recruits in every year," Royster said. "We've got a lot of guys on the offensive line and at receiver that look like they're ready to play."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Thought the position rankings were over? Think again.

We don't forget the specialists on the Big Ten blog, so after a lengthy lull -- blame training camp -- it's time to examine the kicking game around the league. The rankings are based on kickers and punters, return men and coverage units.

Let's begin.

1. Michigan State -- The Spartans return two second-team All-Big Ten picks in kicker Brett Swenson and punter Aaron Bates, who averaged 42 yards on 71 punts. The return game looks a little suspect but a healthy Mark Dell should help.

2. Michigan -- It helps to have the best punter in the league in senior Zoltan Mesko, a leading candidate for the Ray Guy Award. Michigan should be more dynamic on returns with Martavious Odoms and others. The big question here is at kicker.

3. Penn State -- Punter Jeremy Boone didn't get many chances last fall but executed well when called upon. There are questions at kicker after the loss of first-team All-Big Ten performer Kevin Kelly, and Derrick Williams will be missed on returns. Penn State is always good on coverage teams.

4. Ohio State -- A few more question marks here than normal, but Ohio State's special teams track record under Jim Tressel can't be denied. Aaron Pettrey should be fine at kicker and has a strong leg. Ohio State brings back the league's top punt return man in Ray Small. The Buckeyes need to upgrade their kick return unit after finishing 108th nationally in 2008.

5. Iowa -- Punter Ryan Donahue is a stud and likely will set school records by the time he's done. Daniel Murray showed he could make a clutch kick against Penn State, though he remains in competition with Trent Mossbrucker. Andy Brodell is a big loss at punt returner, and Jewel Hampton might not be available to return kicks.

6. Wisconsin -- I really like Wisconsin's young specialists, kicker Phillip Welch and punter Brad Nortman. But you can't rank last nationally in kickoff returns and expect to be high on this list. Wisconsin needs to jump start its returns with David Gilreath.

7. Indiana -- Chris Hagerup is a terrific young punter after nailing 13 punts for more than 50 yards last fall. Demetrius McCray looks solid on kickoff returns. Indiana must replace former All-Big Ten kicker Austin Starr, but Starr really struggled last fall (10-for-17). Heralded freshman kicker Mitch Ewald joins the mix.

8. Purdue -- Carson Wiggs did a nice job at kicker after taking over for Chris Summers, who will handle the punting duties this fall. Purdue needs to improve its punting after finishing last in the league in 2008, but the return game looks solid with Aaron Valentin and Royce Adams.

9. Minnesota -- The Gophers are starting over after losing both of their top specialists. They'll be relying on junior Eric Ellestad and freshman Dan Orseske to step up. It helps to have the league's most dynamic return man in Troy Stoudermire.

10. Northwestern -- All too often, the kicking game has cost Northwestern, most notably in the Alamo Bowl against Missouri. Stefan Demos is finally healthy and could handle both the kicking and punting duties this fall. The Wildcats could use a boost in the return game from Stephen Simmons or Andrew Brewer.

11. Illinois -- I really like sophomore kicker Matt Eller, who beat Iowa with a field goal last November. But it's no secret the Illini need significant upgrades on their punt teams after finishing 10th in punting and last in returns. Florida transfer Jarred Fayson should boost the return game. The Illini must improve their kickoff and punt coverage.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State running back Evan Royster wants more carries this fall, but he can't control how often his number gets called.

 
  Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
  Evan Royster wants more touches on offense, so he's working on his pass-catching skills.

So he's taking matters into his own hands -- literally.

Royster spent the summer trying to broaden his game and worked with several of Penn State's wide receivers on his pass-catching skills. The junior is hoping he can play a bit of slot receiver this fall in addition to his backfield duties.

"We'll see if the coaches let me do that," Royster told me Thursday. "We've talked about it, I worked on it in 7-on-7s. I think we'll get into it pretty soon in camp."

Royster ranked fourth on the team in receiving last year -- behind veteran wideouts Deon Butler, Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood -- and hauled in 17 receptions for 155 yards. Penn State loses Butler, Williams and Norwood to graduation, so Royster and the other running backs should play a greater role in the passing game.

Nittany Lions wide receivers Chaz Powell and Derek Moye helped Royster with his receiving skills, and Royster and quarterback Daryll Clark worked on sharpening their timing on routes. Wideout Brett Brackett said Royster, an All-American lacrosse player in high school, didn't need much coaching.

"Evan's actually a really good receiver," Brackett said. "His ability to play lacrosse well has transitioned over really well. It's kind of the same thing, catching a pass in lacrosse in the net, it's hand-eye coordination. He worked with us all summer, but to be honest with you, there wasn't much he needed to work on. He was really good at it already."

When told that Royster might take his job at receiver, Brackett laughed and said, "I think he's got the tailback job under control."

Royster has legit NFL aspirations and wants to pattern his game after that of Matt Forte, the Chicago Bears running back who sizzled as a rookie last fall. Forte rushed for 1,238 yards, but he also led all NFL running backs with 63 receptions.

"He's a great back and he's one of the more underrated backs in the league," Royster said of Forte. "It'd definitely be good to be in his shoes."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The fresh faces series wraps up with three newcomers to watch for Penn State this fall. 

OFFENSE -- Justin Brown, WR, Fr.

Penn State has tabbed several older players to step in for Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood, but the fact remains that the team loses three multiyear starters at the same position. There's a need for playmakers, and Brown should get a chance to contribute immediately as the one of the highest-rated recruits in Penn State's 2009 class. He's a big target at 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, and his physical style should translate well to the college level. 

DEFENSE -- Gerald Hodges, S, Fr. 

Along with classmate Darrell Givens, Hodges should see the field immediately this fall as Penn State loses all four starters in the secondary. Hodges will benefit from enrolling early and participating in practice this spring. He's a physical presence at safety who has the versatility to be effective in the Cover 3 and Cover 2 schemes. 

SPECIAL TEAMS -- Anthony Fera, K, Fr. 

Fera is the team's long-term solution at kicker, and he could step into the starting role this fall. Penn State loses first-team All-Big Ten selection Kevin Kelly, and Fera arrives with a good deal of hype, having been ranked as the nation's No. 2 kicker by ESPN's Scouts Inc. Junior Collin Wagner appeared to end spring ball as the projected starter, but Fera's strong leg should get him on the field soon.  

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

With the real games more than two months away, Big Ten fans turned their lonely eyes to Hershey, Pa., on Saturday night to get a glimpse of several incoming recruits in the annual Big 33 Football Classic. The Ohio All-Stars ended up beating their counterparts from Pennsylvania 38-31, snapping a three-game slide, but the event featured strong performances from both sides. 

Big Ten prospects played instrumental roles in the game's outcome: 

  • Penn State recruit Curtis Drake earned MVP honors for the Pennsylvania side after rushing for 104 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. Drake tied the game at 31-31 on a 1-yard quarterback sneak and completed 8 of 16 pass attempts for 166 yards. He's expected to play slot receiver at Penn State but could fill the Derrick Williams-type slash role in the backfield.
  • Iowa recruit Micah Hyde accounted for the game's biggest play, a 99-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter after Drake fumbled on the Ohio 1-yard line and Ohio State recruit Adam Bellamy recovered. It marked the longest touchdown in game history, and Hyde finished with five receptions for 138 yards.
  • Indiana recruit Adam Replogle scored the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard dive with 20 seconds remaining. Replogle, projected to be a defensive lineman with the Hoosiers, was surprised the coaches called his number.  
  • The Ohio squad featured seven Ohio State recruits, including offensive lineman Marcus Hall and defensive ends Jonathan Newsome and Melvin Fellows. Newsome's play drew good reviews, while Hall had a bit of a slow start in the game. Some Buckeyes fans are  wondering what might have been after watching quarterback Austin Boucher win MVP honors for the Ohio team. Ohio State made a late push for Boucher in recruiting after losing Tajh Boyd to Clemson, but Boucher stuck with his commitment to Miami (Ohio). Boucher completed 18 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns in the Big 33 game.
  • Michigan recruit Fitzgerald Toussaint had a 54-yard touchdown reception and a 6-yard touchdown run for the Ohio squad. 
  • Drake hooked up with tight end and future Penn State teammate Garry Gilliam for a 31-yard gain that set up the tying touchdown.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ranking the Big Ten's top 30 players ...

No. 2

Daryll Clark, QB, Penn State, Sr., 6-2, 233

 Clark

Why he's here -- If this was a list of the Big Ten's most valuable players, Clark would be at the top. Although Penn State is well represented in the rundown, no player means more to the team's success in 2009 than Clark. Quarterback play is hardly a strong point in the Big Ten, but Clark can hang his hat on a very strong junior season.

After edging Pat Devlin for the starting job in 2008, Clark led Penn State to an 11-2 record, a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl appearance. He was the only Big Ten quarterback to rank among the top 25 nationally in pass efficiency. Clark threw for 2,592 yards with 19 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He added 10 rushing touchdowns and finished as the team's third-leading rusher.

The statistics only tell part of the story. Clark's leadership skills instilled confidence in his teammates, particularly wide receivers Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. He'll bring the same presence this fall to an offense that loses all three wideouts and three top offensive linemen. Put simply, if Clark stays healthy, Penn State could repeat as Big Ten champs. If he goes down, it could be a long season in Happy Valley.

The Rundown

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The 2009 NFL draft was a fairly forgettable one for the Big Ten, which didn't have a top-10 pick for the first time since 2002 and had fewer first-round picks (4) than the SEC, ACC and Big 12. Michigan didn't have a player drafted until the fourth round (defensive tackle Terrance Taylor), while hoops powerhouse Connecticut already had four players drafted by that point.

The Big Ten had 28 players drafted overall and 15 in the first three rounds, the second-highest total for a league.

Here's the team-by-team breakdown of draft picks, which looks pretty good if you're an Ohio State fan.

OHIO STATE

Picks: 7

PENN STATE

Picks: 5

  • Defensive end Aaron Maybin, Bills (1st round, No. 11)
  • Wide receiver Derrick Williams, Lions (3rd round, No. 82)
  • Wide receiver Deon Butler, Seahawks (3rd round, No. 91)
  • Guard Rich Ohrnberger, Patriots (4th round, No. 123)
  • Center A.Q. Shipley, Steelers (7th round, No. 226)

IOWA

Picks: 4

WISCONSIN

Picks: 4

  • Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, Raiders (3rd round, No. 71)
  • Linebacker DeAndre Levy, Rams (3rd round, No. 76)
  • Guard Kraig Urbik, Steelers (3rd round, No. 79)
  • Tight end Travis Beckum, Giants (3rd round, No. 100)

ILLINOIS

Picks: 3

PURDUE

Picks: 2

MICHIGAN

Picks: 2

  • Defensive tackle Terrance Taylor, Colts (4th round, No. 136)
  • Cornerback Morgan Trent, Bengals (6th round, No. 179)

MICHIGAN STATE

Picks: 1

Northwestern, Minnesota and Indiana did not have any players drafted this year.

Notable Big Ten players not drafted included: Iowa defensive tackle Mitch King, Ohio State offensive tackle Alex Boone, Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer, Penn State defensive end Maurice Evans, Purdue running back Kory Sheets, Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton, Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill and Michigan State safety Otis Wiley.

A few final thoughts from the draft.

  • Wells entered the 2008 season as a sure-fire top-10 pick, but his injury history dropped his stock a bit. He still ended up in a pretty good spot and should have an excellent pro career if he stays healthy.
  • The draft reiterated how bad the Big Ten is at the quarterback spot, with only one signal-caller selected (Painter).
  • The Giants will get a steal in Beckum if the former All-American stays healthy. I also liked Seattle's move to land Penn State's Butler, a reliable and quick target. The Bears could get a steal at linebacker with Freeman, who would have been the top defender on most college teams.
  • It will be fascinating to see how Greene and Ringer perform in the pros after carrying their respective college teams last fall.
  • I was shocked not to see Iowa's King get drafted. He might not fit the NFL "measurables," but he creates havoc in the middle of the defensive line and might have been the Big Ten's defensive MVP last fall.
  • As I wrote in November, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio deserved Big Ten Coach of the Year honors more than Joe Paterno. Fitzgerald guided Northwestern to a 9-4 mark without a single NFL draftee on his roster, while Dantonio posted the same record with only one draftee (Ringer).

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- When searching Penn State's roster for an authority on the program's rich history, center Stefen Wisniewski is a pretty good place to start.

 
  Rich Kane/US PRESSWIRE
  Stefen Wisniewski leads an offensive line that loses three of its five starters from last season.

His dad, Leo, starred on Penn State's defensive line from 1979 to 1981 and helped the Lions to two Fiesta Bowl victories. His uncle Steve was a two-time first-team All-American on Penn State's offensive line and played for the national championship squad in 1986 before becoming an eight-time Pro Bowler for the Raiders.

The next man to carry the proud Wisniewski name at Penn State has a good handle on the program's past, present and future. After starting at guard on a Lions team that shared the Big Ten title last fall, Stefen recognizes the significance of a repeat league championship.

"It would mean that we're not just a once-in-a-while good team," he said.

And that's exactly what Penn State has been since joining the Big Ten in 1993.

The Lions have been Big Ten champions three times in 16 years. They won the outright title in 1994, en route to a 12-0 season and a Rose Bowl victory, and shared the crown both in 2005 and last season.

Penn State is tied with both Wisconsin and Northwestern for Big Ten championships during the span, and trails only Ohio State (8) and Michigan (5). But the Lions have yet to secure back-to-back league titles and haven't posted consecutive 10-win seasons since their first two years in the league (1993-94).

Pegged to be the Big Ten's third powerhouse program when it joined the league, Penn State is still trying to reserve a spot at the head table alongside Ohio State and Michigan.

The wait could be over this fall.

Despite losing a good chunk of last year's team, these Lions are still hungry, and several factors point to another Big Ten feast in 2009.

"It's always hard to repeat anything," junior linebacker Navorro Bowman said. "Our goal is to be the best, and our ultimate goal is to win a national championship, but our focus is the Big Ten. Once the Big Ten starts and we get it going, there's no telling what's going to happen.

"We still have guys here who understand what it takes to win, and we plan on doing it."

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