Penn State Football 2011: Bold(en) Predictions
With the 2011 football season a little over two weeks away, there is plenty to be excited about in Happy Valley. That being said, the safe prediction for this season seems to point towards seven or eight wins and a mediocre bowl game.
Sorry, I’m not buying it. There’s too much talent and leadership on this team for a repeat of last season. Fret all you want about the question marks on the offensive line and at quarterback, the injuries at defensive end, or the lingering issues from 2010, but I won’t. Instead, here’s a look at what I think will really happen this season.
Rob Bolden will thrive as the starting quarterback this season.
As I detailed a few weeks back, I think Bolden has to be under center for this team to reach its full potential. He has the talent to take them to a BCS bowl, and from all accounts he is maturing into the type of leader that a Big Ten title contender needs in a quarterback. Bolden will take the next step forward this season and throw for at least 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns.
The defense will get its swagger back.
Last season’s defense was marred by injuries and inconsistency, save for D’Anton Lynn at cornerback. The 2011 defense should return to the level Penn State fans have come to expect, which is bad news for the rest of the Big Ten.
The linebackers go two-deep across the board and are led by Michael Mauti, who will finish the season with All-America honors. The secondary will be the most experienced position group on the field for Penn State, led by Lynn and fellow three-year starters Drew Astorino and Stephon Morris and aided by the return of Nick Sukay at safety. There are still question marks surrounding the front four, but I expect highly-touted upperclassmen like Devon Still, Jack Crawford, and Sean Stanley to finally live up to their billing and become consistent difference-makers.
Penn State will show up against Alabama.
Some might argue that this isn’t exactly a bold prediction, but I beg to differ. The last time we saw a Penn State team play four good quarters against a top ten opponent, I was still living in East Halls.
The Alabama game presents an opportunity for Penn State to make a national statement, and I think this team will rise to the challenge the way the 2002 Nittany Lions did when they throttled defending national runner-up Nebraska. That Nebraska team entered Beaver Stadium with a top ten ranking and a new QB making his first road start against a hungry bunch of Nittany Lions who had underachieved the season before. Sound familiar?
Penn State will win (at least) two of their final three regular season games.
Make no mistake, Nebraska will be good, especially on the defensive side of the ball. However, by mid-November, dynamic Husker QB Taylor “T-Magic” Martinez should be banged up after learning the hard way that he can’t just run at will against Big Ten defenses (just ask Denard “First Half Heisman” Robinson). Look for a defensive struggle with Penn State squeaking by the Huskers in front of a Student White Out on Senior Day at Beaver Stadium.
As for Ohio State, they certainly have the talent to still compete in the Leaders Division, but I wouldn’t be shocked if freshman phenom Braxton Miller is the starting QB at this point as OSU prepares for the future. Penn State will smell blood in the water as they head into Columbus with only one loss and a division crown in sight.
I expect that the Wisconsin game could go the way of the 2008 version, which many had anticipated would be Penn State’s toughest game of the season heading into ’08. Wisconsin will be good, but history suggests that they will take a step back given how much they’ll have to replace up front. It will be tough to contain Russell Wilson and the stable of talented Badger running backs, but Penn State’s defense should be playing its best football by this time of the year. Still, I think this is the toughest game of the final three, and I’ll label it the most likely game for the Lions to drop.
Penn State will win the Leaders Division and play in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game.
Don’t forget to bring your cans when Penn State takes over Indianapolis the first weekend of December. The likely opponent will be Nebraska, but Michigan State will be strong in the Legends Division as well. Regardless, JoePa has a good shot at bringing home his own trophy for the first time ever if Penn State can pull out a victory.
Penn State will finish 12-2.
Losses will be to Alabama (20-10) and Wisconsin (27-17), but Penn State defeats Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game and goes on to defeat Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
Joe Paterno will retire after the season.
One of these days, this prediction will be correct.
What are your predictions for the 2011 Nittany Lions?