I posed some questions to two excellent Penn State bloggers. Here are their responses:
Mike Hubbell of BlackShoeDiaries.com
How will Penn State's defense rebound for losing eight players to the NFL? The answer to your question will determine how far Penn State goes this year. In all Penn State has to replace 13 starters and their place kicker. No other Big Ten team suffered that much attrition. But at the same time, Penn State returns five players that won All-Big Ten honors last year, and Sean Lee returns from his ACL injury after winning All-Big Ten honors in 2007. No other Big Ten team can claim that much returning star power. So Penn State has a nice nucleus of players to build around, but how will they fill in the gaps around them will determine their success.
Have any receivers stood out in replacing the trio that PSU lost? Penn State has plenty of bodies. The key players are going to be Graham Zug, Brett Brackett, Derek Moye, and Chaz Powell. These guys don't have explosive play making ability like Deon Butler and Derrick Williams had, but they're solid players and Penn State should be successful if they spread the ball around well. There are also some incoming freshmen with unbelievable speed and athleticism. Devon Smith, Curtis Drake, Justin Brown, and Shawney Kersey could very well see a lot of action this year. But none of these guys have a lot of experience. I think there are some stars in the making, but it's going to take some time for them to develop.
What is the most underrated part of Penn State's team? Without a doubt it's running back Evan Royster. He's led all returning Big Ten running backs in rushing yards last year. Normally this would warrant considerable preseason Heisman consideration, but not in this case. Last year he was overshadowed by the other big name running backs like Beanie Wells, P.J.Hill, Javon Ringer, and Shonn Greene. This year the only Big Ten offensive player you hear about is Terrelle Pryor.
What is the most overrated part of the team? That's hard for me to answer. Nobody is giving the wide receivers, offensive line, or secondary any respect. I think Daryll Clark is as good as any quarterback in the country, and the same goes for Royster. The linebackers have two All American players in Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee. So I guess the defensive line? Everyone assumes Penn State will just have a great defensive line as always. But they do have to replace their top three defensive ends, and one of their better defensive tackles left the team a few weeks ago. So there are some questions there.
What is your prediction for this game and why? I think this game will be closer than a lot of people think. Penn State has some kinks to work out on the offensive line and at wide receiver. They're also starting a new kicker, so there may be some missed field goals due to nerves. This will probably keep Penn State from really lighting up the scoreboard. Akron's experience at quarterback and in the receivers will be a good test for Penn State's new secondary. I'm expecting one or two breakdowns in the defensive backfield that will set up the Zips for some easy scores. I think Penn State should control the game, but they'll come out of it feeling like they could have done better. And Akron will probably be pretty pleased with the way they hang in there. I'll say Penn State wins 33-17.
Mike Pettigano of ZombieNationPSU.com
Is Penn State's defense going to reload, or is this a concern for 09? Penn State has brought in really great recruiting classes the last five years, so I fully expect the talent to be there. It might take some time for the unit to build cohesion, but that's never been a problem, with such a good defensive staff. A lot of people are worried about the secondary, rightfully so. However, I'm more concerned with the defensive line, particularly it's depth. The attrition the last three seasons has been really hard on this unit. And although the recruiting has been fantastic, the graduations, early NFL entries and dismissals have taken their toll. Plus, without the defensive line pressure, even a great secondary will suffer.
How are Penn State's new receivers looking? This is a real hot spot for me. Most people don't remember that two of the three four-year starters (Derrick Williams, Deon Butler & Jordan Norwood) were barely recruited by anyone, with Butler being a walk-on defensive back. They were also very small (PSU fans dubbed them "the smurfs"), averaging about six feet. But this season, all of Penn State's wide receivers were highly touted, if not very highly touted, coming out of high school. Also, the size has been given a real shot in the arm. The three projected starters this season are 6'6", 6'5", and 6'2", and they can all run.
Do you expect any sort of a scare against Akron -- even a second quarter deficit? I think the stat sheet will read a closer game than the score board. But I don't see the points staying close after the half. Penn State usually starts out slow early in the season, so it wouldn't surprise me to see Penn State up by a field goal or one score going into the second quarter. But unless the Nittany Lions get ridiculously sloppy and lose fumbles, throw interceptions, Penn State's starters will be out by the third quarter.
What worries you, if anything, about Akron? Chris Jacquemain is getting all the hype from the Penn State side, but it's his surrounding cast that worries me the most. Returning four offensive line starters, all three wide receivers, and the starting tight end; that's what worries me the most. A very good quarterback can be made into a really great quarterback by having pass protection and experienced receivers. Plus, the running backs are all former BCS-school commitments, so if anyone is sleeping on the running game, they're missing a big part of Akron's firepower.
Where do you see Penn State dominating Akron? Penn State should have no problem taking care of Akron in space. I really don't think the run game will have success with the traditional smash-mouth attack right away. It will take some screens, draws and spread formations to keep the Zips defense guessing. I'm afraid that Penn State will try to keep it too close to the vest this week. That's where Akron can keep it close, and Penn State won't be able to play the backups until late in the game. But I still think that if Penn State can spread out the Zips defense, and get QB Daryll Clark into a moving pocket, things will be fine for the Lions.