Overview: Penn State must find a way to replace the 1,386 rushing yards that Tony Hunt provided as a senior last season. The Nittany Lions also lose first-round draft pick Levi Brown from an offensive line that returns three starters. The success of the offense likely depends on big seasons from quarterback Anthony Morelli and running back Austin Scott, a pair of highly recruited seniors who haven't lived up to their advance billing thus far. Morelli has the benefit of throwing to a deep and talented receiving corps that features Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood and Derrick Williams.
PENN STATE TOP 10
Dan Connor leads one of the best linebacking corps in the nation.
Best player: C A.Q. Shipley: Quarterback Anthony Morelli undoubtedly is Penn State's most important player on offense. Penn State's chances of winning the Big Ten title may depend on Morelli maturing into the Nittany Lions' top offensive player by the end of the season. But at this point in the year, the safe bet is to give this honor to Shipley. He is a former defensive tackle who played very well last fall in his first full season on offense.
Most overrated: WR Derrick Williams: Rated the No. 1 prospect in the nation by Rivals.com in 2004, Williams has caught just one touchdown pass in each of his first two seasons. Williams appeared on his way to a sensational freshman season before breaking his left arm midway through the year, but he didn't make nearly as many big plays last fall. Williams' speed and versatility – he also returns punts and can line up in the backfield – makes him potentially one of the game's most electrifying playmakers. Now he needs to translate that potential into production.
Most underrated: WR Deon Butler: This former walk-on defensive back has made himself one of Penn State's most reliable players. Butler caught 48 passes for 637 yards last year to lead the Nittany Lions in both categories. He has 85 receptions and 11 touchdown catches over the last two seasons.
Must step up: RB Austin Scott: This former four-star prospect has struggled with injuries and inconsistency throughout his career, but Penn State is counting on him to lead the rushing attack now that Hunt has moved on to the NFL. Two years ago, Scott filled in for an injured Hunt and rushed for 110 yards and a pair of touchdowns in an Orange Bowl victory over Florida State. Penn State fans can only hope he does an equally effective job replacing Hunt this fall.
Shoes to fill: OT Gerald Cadogan: After starting five games at left guard last season, Cadogan moves to left tackle this fall and replaces one of the greatest offensive linemen in the program's recent history. Cadogan must step in for Levi Brown, a two-time All-American who made 45 career starts at Penn State before being selected by the Arizona Cardinals with the fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft.
Impact newcomer: OG Lou Eliades: Penn State's lack of depth at guard could allow this redshirt freshman to win a spot in the starting lineup.
Position battle: Guard:John Shaw has moved over from right tackle to win the first-team role at right guard, but the starting job at left guard remains up for grabs. Eliades and senior Rich Ohrnberger are the main contenders.
New in 2007: Penn State hasn't made any moves on its staff, so the biggest changes are the losses of Brown on the offensive line and Hunt in the backfield.
Grade the units: QB: B-minus. Morelli threw only 11 touchdown passes and ranked 85th in the nation in passing efficiency last year, but he displayed much more confidence this spring after directing Penn State to an Outback Bowl victory over Tennessee.
RB: B-minus Penn State needs Scott to fill the void created by the departure of Hunt, one of the nation's most underrated running backs last season.
WR/TE: A. Butler, Williams and Jordan Norwood give Penn State a talented trio of receivers. Throw tight end Andrew Quarless into the mix, and you have one of the deepest receiving units in the country.
OL: B. The loss of Brown hurts, but Penn State's line should be better overall. Shipley and Shaw give the Nittany Lions experience that was missing at this spot last year.
Breaking down the defense
Overview: Bednarik Award winner Paul Posluszny is gone, but the Nittany Lions still return plenty of talent from a team that finished seventh in the nation in run defense and 14th in pass efficiency defense last year. Penn State is hoping its star power in the linebacking corps and secondary will make up for its inexperience in the front four.
Best player: LB Dan Connor: The latest in the long line of great Penn State linebackers collected a team-high 70 solo tackles last season. He ranked second to Posluszny with 113 overall tackles. Connor was a finalist for the Bednarik Award, which goes to the nation's top defensive player.
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Most overrated: S Anthony Scirrotto: We definitely believe Scirrotto is a good player. A look at our list of the top 10 Penn State players reflects that. We just think it might have been a little premature for Scirrotto to receive first-team all-Big Ten honors. We're guessing the media may have picked Scirrotto for the team based on his high interception total (he led the Big Ten with six picks). It's worth noting that Big Ten coaches only gave Scirrotto honorable mention on their conference team. Scirrotto also might not have done his teammates any favors this spring. His status for this season remains uncertain as he faces charges for his alleged role in an off-campus fight.
Most underrated: S Tony Davis: Although cornerback Justin King and Scirrotto are the best-known players in Penn State's secondary, Davis also has played a major role in the unit's success. Davis will play free safety this year after starting all 13 games at cornerback last season. Davis displayed his nose for the ball last year by scoring on a pair of fumble recoveries, including an 88-yard return that put Penn State ahead for good in the Outback Bowl.
Must step up: DE Maurice Evans: Penn State needs playmakers to step forward on a defensive line that lists end Josh Gaines as its only returning starter. Evans, a sophomore and former four-star prospect, probably has the most star potential of any Penn State defensive lineman.
Shoes to fill: Most of the defensive line: The departures of defensive tackles Jay Alford and Ed Johnson and defensive end Tim Shaw leave Penn State with plenty of holes to fill on its front four.
Impact newcomer: LB Navorro Bowman: This redshirt freshman started ahead of junior Tyrell Sales and sophomore Jerome Hayes in the Blue-White Game. Although the experience of Sales and Hayes might allow them to move ahead of Bowman on the depth chart before the season opener, Bowman's impressive spring should earn him plenty of playing time this fall.
Position battle: Defensive tackle: The Nittany Lions are relying on plenty of underclassmen to replace the production of Alford and Johnson, who combined for 10 tackles for loss last year. Candidates to fill those spots include Phillip Taylor, Jared Odrick, Chris Baker, Abe Koroma and Tom McEowen.
Grade the units: DL: B-minus. Penn State has plenty of talent here, but the Nittany Lions don't have enough experience to warrant a higher grade.
LB: A. Connor and Sean Lee give Penn State two potential All-America candidates, though the identity of the third starting linebacker remains relatively uncertain.
DB: A. Justin King closed the 2006 season by doing a masterful job on first-round draft pick Robert Meachem. King, A.J. Wallace, Davis and Scirrotto make this a secondary without an obvious hole.
Breaking down the special teams
Season outlook with bowl forecast
Penn State's back seven on defense ranks among the best in the country, but the Nittany Lions may have too many concerns on offense and on the defensive line to challenge for a national title. The Nittany Lions' hopes of winning the Big Ten likely depend on the performance of two seniors – quarterback Anthony Morelli and running back Austin Scott. If those two players have breakthrough seasons, Penn State could earn a BCS bid. We're guessing Penn State instead settles for a 10-3 record with an appearance in the Capital One Bowl or a return to the Outback Bowl.
Overview:Kevin Kelly returns for a third year as Penn State's regular kicker, but the Nittany Lions must find a punter to replace the departed Jeremy Kapinos. The Nittany Lions' return units are in good hands with Derrick Williams and A.J. Wallace.
Grade the units: K: B-minus. Kelly is on the verge of breaking most Penn State career kicking records, but he has gone just 7-for-17 on field-goal attempts from at least 40 yards.
P: C. Sophomore Jeremy Boone or true freshman Ryan Breen will get the first crack at replacing Kapinos.
KR: B-plus. Wallace averaged 24.2 yards per return to lead a unit that finished fourth in the Big Ten last year.
PR: B-plus. Williams averaged 12 yards per return with one touchdown to help Penn State finish fourth in the Big Ten in punt return average last year.
Breaking down the coaching
Overview: Penn State's coaching staff continues to feature remarkable stability. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley and offensive line coach Dick Anderson have a combined 57 years of experience on Joe Paterno's staff. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson, tight ends coach Bill Kenney and quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno have 42 years of experience on Paterno's staff between them.
Grade the coaches: Head coach: B-plus. Give Paterno an A-plus for his career and a B-minus for his performance in recent years, and it averages out to about a B-plus.
Offense: B-minus. Penn State ranked eighth in the Big Ten in total offense and ninth in the league in scoring offense last year. Penn State's inability to produce touchdowns is evident from Kelly's NCAA-leading 34 field-goal attempts last year.
Defense: A. Penn State has finished among the nation's top 10 teams in scoring defense each of the last three years.
Special teams: Incomplete. Instead of having one coach work exclusively on special teams, Penn State divides those responsibilities among the staff.