Good morning. Five days until the season starts. Here's my story on safety Anthony Scirrotto, who looks for redemption this season, in this morning's paper. Here is also my whimsical look at the season ahead (also in the paper, but not online):
Coastal Carolina Saturday, noon.
Here's what to expect: Senior Daryll Clark will start at quarterback. Sophomore Pat Devlin will play as much as Clark. The quarterback competition will not become any clearer. Here's what not to expect: Another Appalachian State. A Football Subdivision team, Coastal Carolina has nowhere near the amount of talent Appalachian State had when it upset Michigan on the road in the 2007 opener.
Oregon State Sept. 6, 3:30 p.m.
The Beavers may not be a Pac-10 powerhouse, but they won seven of their last eight games last season and should present a good test. Clark and Devlin will become frustrated, and angry Lions fans call for third-string quarterback Paul Cianciolo. However, Penn State will rely on its running game behind its experienced line and win a squeaker
At Syracuse Sept. 13, 3:30 p.m.
It's been 18 years since the Lions and the Orange met. It should be another 18. Unfortunately, Syracuse is on the schedule for 2009. This will be Clark's breakout game and his euphoric supporters will spout comparisons to former Lions quarterback Michael Robinson. It's 2005 all over again, they claim. Meanwhile, back in reality, the Lions paste Syracuse - the new Temple.
Temple Sept. 20, noon.
Speaking of the Owls, Temple travels to State College for its latest Washington Generals-Harlem Globetrotters-like blowout by Penn State. Freshman running back Stephfon Green zooms for two long touchdowns and Devlin strikes back. After the game, coach Joe Paterno asks, "Why do I have to make a decision at quarterback?" Penn State is 4-0 and ranked No. 10 in the country, and State College is peachy on Paterno.
Illinois Sept. 27, 8 p.m.
It's a full-on "White Out" for the Illini's prime-time, nationally televised visit to Beaver Stadium. But Illinois' Arrelious Benn takes the opening kickoff back for a touchdown and the Lions' Big Ten opener sours in 11 seconds. Still, Penn State's front four, led by end Maurice Evans, corrals dual-threat quarterback Juice Williams and the Lions stay close. With minutes to play, Clark turns into Anthony Morelli and throws his third interception and the Lions lose. Paterno says Clark is still his starter, but Devlin is his "second-half starter."
At Purdue Oct. 4, TBA.
The last meeting between coaching comrades Joe Tiller and Paterno - before Tiller rides off to go fly-fishing - turns into a lovefest as each team refuses to play defense. The Lions win a shoot-out, though, as their trio of senior wide receivers, Deon Butler, Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood, account for 15 catches for 263 yards and three TDs.
At Wisconsin Oct. 11, 8 p.m.
The difficult three-game stretch that will likely decide the Lions' success or failure begins in Madison. Up until their home loss to Ohio State the week before, the Badgers hadn't lost a home game since 2005. They look to start another streak with an old-school, smash-mouth tilt that has Paterno abandoning the Lions' so-called "Spread HD" offense. Penn State, at one point, lines up two tight ends, two tailbacks, and a fullback for an entire drive. The Lions score their lone touchdown on the way to a 10-7 loss.
Michigan Oct. 18, 4:30 p.m.
Fans adopt a cheer in the lead-up to Michigan: "10-0 and Joe must go!" With nine straight wins in the series, the Wolverines enter Beaver Stadium looking to cure what ails new coach Rich Rodriguez. Michigan is 3-3, but still confident the Lions will find a way to lose. Clark, however, has other plans and guides Penn State to a relatively easy win, exorcising the curse. The stadium erupts; the students storm the field, pull down the posts and carry the remains to Paterno's front lawn on McKee Street.
At Ohio State Oct. 25, 8 p.m.
The Buckeyes are 7-1 but still in the national championship picture. The Lions, coming off the Michigan win, still feel they can climb into the BCS conversation with an upset. It's not to be, as freshman Terrelle Pryor tallies three rushing TDs and Ohio State rolls. Paterno is not impressed with Pryor. "He's only a freshman," he says.
At Iowa Nov. 8, TBA.
The fight to secure a New Year's Day bowl bid is on as the Lions head to corn country. After Clark's disappointing performance against Ohio State, Devlin earns his first career start. He delivers, as does cornerback A.J. Wallace, who takes a reverse on offense and scurries to a 72-yard TD as the Lions win. Rumors begin to float that Paterno will not return for next season. "Right now I feel like I could coach another two, five, 10, 20 years," he says.
Indiana Nov. 15, TBA.
With Paterno's future presumably on the line, the team begins to play inspired ball. During some drives, Clark and Devlin take turns on every other down. They man-hug each other each time they run on and off the field. The camaraderie carries into the huddle, and the Lions torch the Hoosiers.
Michigan State Nov. 22, TBA.
The regular-season finale has an ominous feel as fans pack Beaver Stadium for what could be Paterno's last home game. Many of the iconic coach's former players unexpectedly show up and the atmosphere is charged. The Lions and Spartans jockey back and forth, but an Evan Royster 25-yard TD run in the fourth quarter gives him 1,000 yards rushing for the season and Penn State one more regular-season win than the previous two seasons.
Capital One Bowl
Penn State takes on Tennessee and scores a narrow, but satisfying victory. The fans have their double-digit win season, and Paterno earns another year at the helm when university president Graham Spanier announces two weeks later that the coach will be back for another go. "We'll address his future after 2009," Spanier says. As for next year's starter at quarterback, Paterno says, "Why do I have to decide now?"