NCF Nation: Dennis Landolt

Let's take a look at three issues facing each Big Ten team heading into spring practice:

ILLINOIS

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • The quarterback competition. Four-year starter Juice Williams departs, and a host of young players (and one older one) are in the mix to replace him. New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wants to shape his system around the starting signal-caller, so he'll be looking for some separation this spring. Jacob Charest got valuable playing time behind Williams in 2009, and Eddie McGee, a part-time wide receiver, has extensive playing experience at quarterback. They'll compete with redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase and true freshman Chandler Whitmer, an early enrollee.
  • Fixing the defense. New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning brings an impressive résumé to Champaign, but he'll be challenged to fix a unit that hasn't been right since J Leman and Co. left following the Rose Bowl run in 2007. Koenning wants to identify leaders on defense this spring and will look to players like end Clay Nurse and linebackers Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson. Illinois' most pressing needs likely come in the secondary after the team finished 100th nationally against the pass in 2009.
  • Line dance. Illinois needs to get tougher and better on both lines to turn things around in 2010. The Illini tied for eighth in the Big Ten in sacks allowed last fall, and while the run game got going late, top lineman Jon Asamoah departs. Perhaps a bigger priority is finding a pass rush on defense after finishing last in the league in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009.
INDIANA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • Rebuilding the back seven on D. Indiana loses three starters in the secondary and two linebackers, including blog favorite Matt Mayberry. The Hoosiers brought in three junior college defenders, two of whom, linebacker Jeff Thomas and cornerback Lenyatta Kiles, will participate in spring practice. Needless to say, jobs are open everywhere, and coordinators Brian George and Joe Palcic will be looking for playmakers to step up. Several players are moving from offense to defense, including wideout Mitchell Evans to safety.
  • End game. Indiana loses a lot of pass-rushing production as multiyear starters Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton depart. Both starting jobs at defensive end are open this spring, and IU will look to Darius Johnson, Terrance Thomas and others to step up and make plays.
  • Willis watch. Indiana hopes 2010 is the year when running back Darius Willis becomes a superstar. Getting him through spring practice healthy will be a key first step. Willis has been impressive on the field, but he has struggled with injuries for much of his career. IU's passing attack should be very strong in 2010, and if Willis can elevate the run game, the Hoosiers should put up a ton of points.
IOWA

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • The offensive line. Rebuilding the offensive line is far and away Iowa's top priority heading into the 2010 season. The Hawkeyes are stacked at running back and boast a strong passing attack, but they'll struggle if things aren't solidified up front. Tackle/guard Riley Reiff blossomed last season and guard Julian Vandervelde also returns, but Iowa will look to fill three starting spots this spring.
  • Refilling at linebacker and cornerback. Iowa's defense has been one of the nation's most opportunistic units the last two seasons, and players like Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Amari Spievey were three big reasons why. All three depart, so Iowa needs to reload at linebacker and find a shut-down corner (Shaun Prater?). The spotlight will be on guys like Prater, Tyler Nielsen and Jeff Tarpinian this spring.
  • Sorting out the running back spot. Iowa is absolutely loaded at running back, but there's only one ball to be carried on a given play. The Hawkeyes likely will use a rotation in 2010, but who will be the featured back? Jewel Hampton will try to reclaim the top spot, which he lost because of a knee injury last summer. Adam Robinson filled in extremely well for Hampton in the lead role, and Brandon Wegher was one of the heroes of the Orange Bowl win.
MICHIGAN

Spring practice starts: March 14

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • Defense, defense, defense. Head coach Rich Rodriguez always will be known for his spread offense, but he won't be around much longer at Michigan if the defense doesn't significantly improve. A unit that ranked 82nd nationally last season loses its two best players (Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren) and must find contributors at linebacker, safety and cornerback. Help is on the way from the 2010 recruiting class, but Michigan can't afford a bad spring on defense.
  • Devin Gardner. The heralded quarterback recruit enrolled early and will enter the mix this spring. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are the front-runners at quarterback, but Gardner might be the ultimate answer for the Wolverines. His ability to pick up the system and push Forcier and Robinson this spring will determine whether he sees the field in the fall or takes a redshirt.
  • Running back. Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor depart, but Michigan once again should be good at the running back spot. Vincent Smith will miss spring ball as he recovers from knee surgery, but several others, including Michael Shaw and Fitzgerald Toussaint, will be competing throughout the 15 workouts. Shaw, who scored two touchdowns on 42 carries in 2009, could create a bit of separation with a good spring.
MICHIGAN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Team morale. The residence hall incident and the subsequent fallout really rocked the Michigan State program. Head coach Mark Dantonio has yet to address the status of several suspended players, and the final outcome could impact the depth chart, particularly at wide receiver. It's important for Michigan State's team leaders -- Greg Jones, Kirk Cousins and others -- to unite the locker room in the spring and do all they can to prevent further problems.
  • Line dance. Michigan State needs to improve on both the offensive and defensive lines in 2010, and it all starts this spring. The Spartans must replace left tackle Rocco Cironi and center Joel Nitchman, and they also lose top pass-rusher Trevor Anderson at defensive end. As strong as the Spartans should be at the skill positions, they need to start building around linemen like Joel Foreman and Jerel Worthy.
  • Keith Nichol. The versatile junior could be moved to wide receiver, but he'll get a chance to push Cousins at quarterback this spring. Nichol's skills are too valuable to waste on the sideline, particularly if Michigan State has a pressing need at receiver, but he still could be a factor at quarterback if his improves his accuracy. The speedy Nichol could run the Wildcat in addition to serving as a wide receiver, if MSU chooses to go that route.
MINNESOTA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • The coordinator and the quarterbacks. Minnesota will welcome its third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, though Jeff Horton doesn't plan to overhaul the system like Jedd Fisch did a year ago. Horton's primary task will be developing quarterbacks Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray, who both struggled last fall in the pro-style system. Weber has the edge in experience, but he needs to regain the form his showed in his first two seasons as the starter. Gray brings tremendous athleticism to the table but must prove he can succeed in a pro-style offense.
  • The offensive line. Head coach Tim Brewster has insisted that when Minnesota gets the offensive line on track, things really will get rolling. The Gophers need better players and arguably tougher players up front, and the line should benefit in Year 2 under assistant Tim Davis. The group should be motivated by finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing in each of the past two seasons.
  • Young defenders. Minnesota loses most of its starting defense from 2009, but fans are more excited about the young talent returning on that side of the ball. Spring ball could be huge for players like Michael Carter, D.L. Wilhite and Keanon Cooper as they transition into leading roles. The Gophers' biggest losses come at linebacker, as all three starters depart.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Identify a running back. The Wildcats produced an impressive string of standout running backs under former coach Randy Walker and at the beginning of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure, but they struggled in the backfield in 2009. Northwestern returns the Big Ten’s most experienced offensive line, so identifying a primary ball carrier or two this spring is vital. Arby Fields and Scott Concannon showed a few flashes last year but must get more consistent, while Mike Trumpy will be an interesting addition to the mix.
  • Polishing Persa. Dan Persa steps in at quarterback for second-team All-Big Ten selection Mike Kafka, and he’ll try to walk a similar career path. Kafka transformed himself in the offseason a year ago to become an extremely consistent passer, and Persa will need to do the same. Persa could be the best running quarterback Northwestern has had since Zak Kustok, but his size and the nature of the offense suggests he’ll need to make strides with his arm. NU also needs to see progress from backup Evan Watkins, as it lacks overall depth at quarterback.
  • Reload in the secondary. Northwestern loses three starters in the secondary, including all-conference selections Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. Fitzgerald will lean heavily on cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters to lead the group, but he needs a few more players to emerge this spring. Defensive backs like Justan Vaughn have experience and must transition into featured roles.
OHIO STATE

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Running back competition resumes. Brandon Saine and Dan Herron finished strong in 2009, but they can’t get too comfortable. Several young running backs, including Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry, Jermil Martin and Carlos Hyde, will be competing for carries this spring. Saine likely has the best chance to lock down a featured role at running back, but if the hype about Berry pans out, it’ll be a dogfight.
  • Pryor’s evolution. After Ohio State’s victory in the Rose Bowl, both Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel talked about the game being a key juncture in Pryor’s development. The junior quarterback must build on his performance this spring, especially from a passing standpoint. Ohio State can be a more balanced and more effective offense in 2010, but Pryor needs to keep making strides.
  • Safety squeeze. The Buckeyes didn’t lose much from the 2009 team, but the safety spot took a hit as first-team All-Big Ten selection Kurt Coleman as well as key contributor Anderson Russell depart. Jermale Hines looks like the answer at one spot, and he’ll enter the spring with high expectations. Ohio State needs to build around Hines and identify playmakers for an increasingly opportunistic unit.
PENN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 26

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. No surprise here, as Penn State’s quarterback competition will be one of the Big Ten’s top storylines until September. Two-year starter Daryll Clark departs, leaving a major void under center. Sophomore Kevin Newsome played a bit last fall and has been in the system for a full season. He’ll enter the spring with a slight edge, but Matt McGloin and early enrollee Paul Jones also will be in the mix before Robert Bolden arrives this summer.
  • Getting better up front. All-America candidate Stefen Wisniewski leads an offensive line that will have more experience and needs to make strides this spring. The line struggled against elite defensive fronts last year (Iowa, Ohio State) but should have more cohesion after another offseason together. The tackle spots will be interesting to watch, as Dennis Landolt departs. Penn State’s defensive line needs to shore up the middle after losing Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick.
  • Linebacker U. put to the test. Penn State has a proven track record of reloading in the defensive front seven, but it loses a lot of production, especially at linebacker. All three starting spots are open this spring, and the spotlight will turn to players like Nate Stupar, Bani Gbadyu, Chris Colasanti and others to fill the production and leadership gaps left by Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull.
PURDUE

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • Marve watch begins. The starting quarterback job is open, and all eyes will be on Miami transfer Robert Marve. One of the nation's most decorated recruits in 2007, Marve started for the Hurricanes in 2008 but ran into problems and transferred. Slowed by an ACL injury last summer and fall, Marve will have every chance to establish himself this spring as he competes with Caleb TerBush.
  • Wide-open secondary. All four starters depart in the secondary, creating plenty of competition back there this spring. Players like safety Albert Evans and cornerback Charlton Williams will be in the spotlight as they try to nail down jobs. Purdue should be better in the front seven in 2010, but you can bet opposing quarterbacks will attack an unproven secondary.
  • The run defense. It's a huge priority for Purdue to improve against the run after finishing last in the Big Ten in rush defense in each of the past two seasons. Linebacker Jason Werner's return for a sixth year is huge, and Purdue boasts one of the Big Ten's top D-linemen in Ryan Kerrigan. Those two must provide leadership and foster more cohesion from the younger players around them. New D-line coach Gary Emanuel will be instrumental in the process this spring.
WISCONSIN

Spring practice starts: March 13 (break from March 29-April 2)

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • The secondary. Wisconsin looks pretty solid on the defensive line and at linebacker, so getting the secondary up to par will be key this spring. Safety Jay Valai is a vicious hitter, but can he become an All-Big Ten-caliber safety? Aaron Henry joins Valai at safety after struggling at cornerback in 2009. Wisconsin also will look for continued progress from corners Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley.
  • Replacing Schofield. Bret Bielema told me earlier this week that the competition at defensive line is once again heating up this offseason. Wisconsin must replace first-team All-Big Ten end O'Brien Schofield, who ranked second nationally in tackles for loss (24.5) in 2009. J.J. Watt has superstar written all over him, but Wisconsin will look for more pass-rush ability from David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu.
  • The wide receivers/tight ends. Wisconsin showed at times last fall that its passing attack could be dynamic, and it will look for big things from several players this spring. Wideout Nick Toon certainly has what it takes to be a star in the Big Ten, and Lance Kendricks showed in the Champs Sports Bowl that he's a capable successor for Garrett Graham at tight end. The Badgers will look to David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Kyle Jefferson to fill the No. 2 wideout spot.
Tags:

Big Ten, Jewel Hampton, Jermil Martin, Jerel Worthy, Mitchell Evans, Ryan Kerrigan, Justan Vaughn, Louis Nzegwu, Lance Kendricks, Stefen Wisniewski, Robert Marve, Brian Peters, Brandon Wegher, Devin Smith, Jason Werner, Michael Carter, Michael Shaw, Chandler Whitmer, Jermale Hines, Kyle Jefferson, Zak Kustok, Kirk Cousins, Jacob Charest, Dan Herron, Jammie Kirlew, Jim Tressel, Keanon Cooper, Juice Williams, Daryll Clark, Sherrick McManis, Isaac Anderson, D.L. Wilhite, Bani Gbadyu, Brad Phillips, Kevin Newsome, Mark Dantonio, Adam Weber, Jaamal Berry, Eddie McGee, Brandon Saine, Donovan Warren, David Gilreath, Carlos Brown, Julian Vandervelde, Keith Nichol, Terrelle Pryor, Anderson Russell, Randy Walker, Navorro Bowman, Paul Jones, Jon Asamoah, Joel Nitchman, Chris Colasanti, Garrett Graham, Martez Wilson, Tim Brewster, Evan Watkins, Rich Rodriguez, Pat Fitzgerald, Robert Bolden, Matt Mayberry, Jordan Mabin, Dennis Landolt, Carlos Hyde, Caleb TerBush, Denard Robinson, Bret Bielema, Rocco Cironi, Pat Angerer, Brandon Graham, Niles Brinkley, Jared Odrick, Devin Gardner, Nathan Scheelhaase, Matt McGloin, Brandon Minor, Aaron Henry, Darius Willis, Tate Forcier, Kurt Coleman, Amari Spievey, Brian George, Mike Kafka, Greg Jones, Joel Foreman, Greg Middleton, Trevor Anderson, O'Brien Schofield, Adam Robinson, Arby Fields, Ian Thomas, Nate Stupar, Riley Reiff, Shaun Prater, Clay Nurse, Paul Petrino, Jeff Horton, Jeff Thomas, Lenyatta Kiles, 2010 spring what to watch, Albert Evans, Darius Johnson, David Gilbert, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Gary Emanuel, Jeff Tarpinian, Joe Palcic, Jordan Hall, Josh McKinley, Mike Trumpy, Scott Concannon, Terrance Thomas, Tyler Nielsen

Big Ten all-bowl team

January, 12, 2010
1/12/10
11:00
AM ET
A strong Big Ten bowl season leaves me with some tough choices for the All-Bowl team. We can certainly debate some of these, but here are my selections.

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Harry How/Getty ImagesTerrelle Pryor acccounted for more Rose Bowl yards than Oregon's team did.
QB Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State
He came of age in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi, delivering a complete performance as both a passer and a runner. Pryor accounted for 338 total yards; Oregon had 260.

RB John Clay, Wisconsin
Clay gave Miami a taste of Big Ten football by bulldozing the Hurricanes for 121 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in the Champs Sports Bowl.

RB Brandon Wegher, Iowa
It seemed like no running back could stay healthy for Iowa this year, but Wegher came up huge in the FedEx Orange Bowl. The true freshman had 113 rush yards on 16 carries, including the clinching 32-yard touchdown run with 1:16 left.

WR DeVier Posey, Ohio State
I saw a future NFL receiver when I watched Posey in the Rose Bowl. He had eight receptions for 101 yards, including a leaping 17-yard touchdown that all but sealed Ohio State's victory.

WR Andrew Brewer, Northwestern
Brewer saved his best game for last, hauling in eight receptions for 133 yards and scoring on receptions of 35 and 39 yards in the Outback Bowl.

TE Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern and Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
Dunsmore had nine receptions for 120 yards, including an electrifying 66-yard touchdown dash through the Auburn defense. Garrett Graham might be the first-team All-Big Ten selection, but Kendricks stole the show in the Champs Sports Bowl with seven receptions for 128 yards.

C John Moffitt, Wisconsin
Moffitt moved back to center because of a teammate's injury and helped the Badgers overpower Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl. Wisconsin racked up 430 total yards and held the ball for 39:15.

G Justin Boren, Ohio State
Boren led a big and nasty Buckeyes line that generated push for the run game and helped Pryor attempt a career high 37 passes in the win against Oregon.

G Joel Foreman, Michigan State
The Spartans' offensive line stepped up nicely in the Valero Alamo Bowl, helping to generate 148 rush yards and allowing only one sack against a Texas Tech team that rushes the passer extremely well. Foreman, an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, deserves some props.

OT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
Bulaga showed why he's jumping to the NFL draft with a terrific performance against Georgia Tech star defensive end Derrick Morgan in the FedEx Orange Bowl.

OT Dennis Landolt, Penn State
Landolt and his linemates did a good job against LSU's blitz and protected Daryll Clark on a muddy field in Orlando. Penn State allowed only one sack and rushed for 124 yards.

DEFENSE

DL Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
Clayborn was an absolute beast in the Orange Bowl, recording nine tackles (all solo) and two sacks as he disrupted Georgia Tech's triple option attack.

DL J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
Watt led an aggressive Badgers defensive front with a sack, two tackles for loss, two pass breakups, a quarterback hurry and a fumble recovery against Miami.

DL O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin
Schofield was disruptive all season and showed it in the bowl game, recording two sacks and forcing a fumble that led to a crucial field goal in the fourth quarter.

DL Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State
The Buckeyes defensive front made life miserable for Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, and Gibson stepped up with two tackles for loss in what proved to be his final collegiate game.

LB Navorro Bowman, Penn State
Bowman had a game-high nine tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and forced LSU into a critical penalty in the final minute as the Lions preserved a Capital One Bowl win.

LB Ross Homan, Ohio State
Homan ended the season as one of the Big Ten's top linebackers and turned in a terrific performance in Pasadena with 12 tackles and an interception that set up a field goal just before halftime.

LB Pat Angerer, Iowa
The triple option will test a middle linebacker, but Angerer stepped up for Iowa with a game-high 10 tackles, including one for loss, against Georgia Tech.

DB Kyle Theret, Minnesota
Theret was the Gophers' MVP in the Insight Bowl, recording seven tackles (all solo), two interceptions, a tackle for loss and a 40-yard reception on a fake punt that set up the team's first touchdown.

DB Ross Weaver, Michigan State
The Spartans' secondary struggled against Texas Tech, but Weaver recorded a team-high seven solo tackles and had a forced fumble and an interception that led to 10 Michigan State points in the second half.

DB Kim Royston, Minnesota
Royston recorded a career-high 15 tackles, tying the Insight Bowl record, including 14 solo stops against Iowa State. He also forced a fumble that turned into a Minnesota field goal.

DB Sherrick McManis, Northwestern
McManis made plays throughout his career and finished it in typical fashion with an interception and a fumble recovery, both occurring in Northwestern's end of the field.

SPECIALISTS

K Collin Wagner, Penn State
The horrible field conditions didn't bother Wagner, who went 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts and drilled the game winner with 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

P Blake Haudan, Minnesota
Haudan averaged 49.6 yards on five punts and completed a 40-yard pass to Theret on a well-timed fake in the third quarter.

Returner Keshawn Martin, Michigan State
Martin blossomed as the Big Ten's most dangerous kick return man this fall and averaged 24.8 yards per runback with a long of 36 against Texas Tech.

Honorable mention -- WISCONSIN: QB Scott Tolzien, RB Montee Ball, P Brad Nortman, LB Chris Borland, TE Garrett Graham, starting offensive line. MINNESOTA: WR Da'Jon McKnight, LB Lee Campbell. NORTHWESTERN: QB Mike Kafka, WR Zeke Markshausen, WR Sidney Stewart, CB Jordan Mabin, LB Quentin Davie. PENN STATE: QB Daryll Clark, RB Stephfon Green, TE Andrew Quarless, LB Sean Lee, DT Jared Odrick, CB A.J. Wallace, starting offensive line. OHIO STATE: DE Cameron Heyward, DT Doug Worthington, RB Brandon Saine, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, K Devin Barclay, K Aaron Pettrey, P Jon Thoma, starting offensive line. MICHIGAN STATE: RB Edwin Baker, WR Blair White, P Aaron Bates, LB Greg Jones, starting offensive line. IOWA: QB Ricky Stanzi, TE Tony Moeaki, P Ryan Donahue, DT Karl Klug, LB A.J. Edds, DE Broderick Binns, starting offensive line.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

When scanning the BCS standings, it's pretty easy to formulate a one-sentence summary for each team to this point in the season.

Examples:
  • No. 1 Florida -- Dominating defense has picked up slack for offense, lacking a bit at wide receiver, led by quarterback (Tim Tebow) with potential to be Superman.
  • No. 4 Iowa -- Extremely resilient team led by defense and special teams, Jekyll-and-Hyde quarterback in Ricky Stanzi, dominates fourth quarter, multitude of close wins preventing national respect.
  • No. 5 Cincinnati -- Genius head coach (Brian Kelly) directing masterpiece on offense, overcame loss of starting quarterback Tony Pike, great wide receivers and solid defense, hamstrung by Big East's reputation.
  • No. 8 Oregon -- Disastrous season debut against Boise State, overcame suspension of star running back LeGarrette Blount, crushed USC and Cal, frontrunner for Rose Bowl berth, incredible turnaround.

Then you get to No. 11 Penn State. What do we really know about this team?

Nine games into the season, the Nittany Lions have flown completely under the radar. And it's not entirely their fault. Sure, it would have been nice to see Penn State play a decent nonconference opponent instead of Akron, Syracuse, Temple and Eastern Illinois.

 
  Randy Litzinger/Icon SMI
 Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions need a signature win over Ohio State on Saturday.
But the Big Ten has really let down the Nittany Lions this season. They have faced only one ranked opponent, Iowa, and lost 21-10 back on Sept. 26.

Penn State has made strides since then and breezed through the month of October, but it beat no team close to the Top 25. Normally, the Nittany Lions' triumph at Michigan would carry a lot of weight nationally, but Michigan is a disaster right now. Wins against Northwestern and Illinois looked good before the season, but both of those teams have underachieved.

When will we get a true gauge on Penn State? The wait should be over on Saturday afternoon (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).

Ohio State is visiting Happy Valley, and while the 16th-ranked Buckeyes aren't a powerhouse this season, they remain the measuring-stick program in the Big Ten. They boast a dominant defense and an offense starting to find itself. And they don't lose in November.

For the Lions, Saturday's game likely represents their final chance for a signature win during the regular season, their final chance to show the progress made since the Iowa loss.

"When you play a team you know is good and everyone knows is good, you look at it like, 'Hey, if we beat these guys, we'll know we really are good,'" Penn State left tackle Dennis Landolt said.

The defense has been more than good, leading the nation in points allowed (9.33 ppg), ranking second in tackles for loss (8.8 per game) and ranking fifth both in total defense (254.8 ypg) and rushing defense (84.1 ypg). The offense certainly has something prove Saturday against Ohio State, which last year held Penn State to 13 points and knocked out quarterback Daryll Clark. The Buckeyes have posted three shutouts this season and rank sixth nationally in total defense.

Penn State needs some help to return to the Rose Bowl, but other goals are still out there. It could become the first Big Ten team to beat Ohio State in consecutive seasons since Wisconsin in 2003-04.

More importantly, a victory Saturday will show Penn State is more than a product of an easy schedule. It will show the Lions are a worthy BCS bowl contender.

"It's a chance to see how good we really are," Landolt said, "how far we've come."

It's game day at Beaver Stadium

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
6:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Good evening from the Whitehouse, also known as Beaver Stadium.

Despite the weather, Penn State fans will be out in force tonight to make things as difficult as possible for the Iowa Hawkeyes, who have won six of the last seven games in this series. Penn State spanked Iowa 27-7 in the Hawkeyes' last trip to Happy Valley. Great atmosphere around the stadium today, one of the best I've seen.

The forecast is, well, sloppy. There will be periods of rain all game long. The wind shouldn't be too bad. The field conditions could be tough.

We've already looked at keys to the game, Penn State's no-respect wide receivers and Ricky Stanzi's slow starts. This game will come down to the line of scrimmage, as most do, and here are two key matchups to watch tonight.

Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn vs. Penn State LT Dennis Landolt -- Clayborn had a big game last year against Penn State, recording a forced fumble, a sack, two tackles for loss and six total tackles. He also comes off a dominating performance last Saturday against Arizona. Landolt is Penn State's most experienced offensive lineman, but he moved from right tackle to left tackle for this season. He'll need to keep Clayborn off of Daryll Clark's back.

Penn State DE Jack Crawford vs. Iowa LT Riley Reiff -- Reiff starts his third game in place of standout Bryan Bulaga, who will sit out with an undisclosed illness. While Reiff has fared well so far, he faces a much tougher test with Penn State's defensive front, always one of the best in the country. Crawford generated a ton of preseason hype as Aaron Maybin's replacement and has recorded two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. He'll be gunning for Stanzi all night.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Listening to Joe Paterno, you'd think Penn State would be lucky to go .500 this season.

The defending Big Ten co-champs lose a sizable senior class, including the entire starting secondary and entire starting wide receiving corps. Penn State brings back national award candidates such as linebacker Navorro Bowman, defensive tackle Jared Odrick and running back Evan Royster, but all the turnover has taken a toll this spring.

"I don't think we've had a very great spring," Paterno said Wednesday. "We had a great winter program. The kids started out well. We've had a problem with the weather. ... And we've got some areas that we're not even adequate. That's the offensive line right now, the secondary has got a long way to go, and we've got to improve.

"Some of the good things are we've got kids that are working hard."

Paterno is feeling 100 percent physically following hip-replacement surgery in November, but his team's health hasn't been as promising. The Lions have had "more injuries this spring than I can remember in a long time," Paterno said, and they've been spread across the board.

The injured include linebacker/defensive end Jerome Hayes (knee), cornerback A.J. Wallace (hamstring), center Doug Klopacz (knee) and tackle Nerraw McCormack (knee).

There have been several bright spots, namely the play of Royster, quarterback Daryll Clark, a new-look wide receiving corps and the defensive line, led by Odrick. But for a team that still lists national titles and Big Ten championships as its goals, there's a ton to do in the final six spring workouts and the summer.

"Our running back situation's good, our tight end situation's good, our quarterback situation's good, we've got a chance to have a couple pretty good wideouts," Paterno said. "We're very, very shallow at the offensive line, not even close to being good enough. Same way with our secondary. The linebacker's are good, I think our kicking game will be good.

"That should cover everything."

Almost.

I didn't sit down with Paterno in person today -- some obligations kept him at home until practice, which was closed -- but we discussed several other topics over the phone.

Here are a few notes:

  • Clark has thrown the ball extremely well this spring, and a new-look group of receivers are making plays. Paterno likes the fact that Penn State has some bigger wideouts -- Brett Brackett (6-foot-6), Derek Moye (6-5), A.J. Price (6-4) and Graham Zug (6-2) are bigger targets -- who allow for some different things in the offensive scheme.
The only concern for Paterno is that the wideouts aren't facing the best competition this spring.
"People are going to bang 'em around, and they're going to need some experienced game time," Paterno said. "We're trying to give them as tough situations as we can, but the secondary is not as aggressive as I would like. So I'm not so sure just how good the receivers are. They've worked hard, they catch the ball well and they have ability, but they haven't really been challenged yet."
  • Night games at Beaver Stadium are a Penn State trademark, but the Lions will kick off only one contest under the lights this fall -- the Big Ten opener against Iowa. Last year, Penn State played three prime-time games. In 2007, Penn State had night games at home against Notre Dame and Ohio State.
"It doesn't make a difference, we've got to show up," Paterno said. "But the fans have a lot of fun at night. I don't know why we don't have one more. I guess it's all television."
  • Paterno is a bit worried about the depth on the defensive line, but for the most part, he shares the same opinion as most of his fans -- that assistant Larry Johnson will find a way to succeed with the front four. Odrick anchors the middle of the line, and Jack Crawford, Eric Latimore and Kevion Latham are emerging at defensive end.
"We've got some talent there," Paterno said. "They're all right."
  • Paterno also sees talent along the offensive line, though that group typically takes longer to develop. Stefen Wisniewski has shifted from right guard to center, and right tackle Dennis Landolt is the only other returning starter up front.
"We've just got to get a couple more kids to come forward," Paterno said. "There's some talent there. They're not comfortable, they're not confident, they're not aggressive, they're not sure of themselves. And obviously, that's why you practice. But I think they'll come along."
  • The 82-year-old coach joked that maybe Penn State was better off when his assistants ran most of the practice, but he's clearly feeling a lot better than he did last fall, when he coached the final eight games from the press box and could barely walk. When the Lions take the field Sept. 5 against Akron, Paterno expects to be running out of the tunnel.
"Right now, I'm concerned about this football team," he said. "We're not very good right now, we've got a lot of work ahead of us and we're running out of time. But I'm sure when it's a day or two before [the game], and I start thinking about going back out on the field, I'll be excited."

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