If Penn State repeats last season’s 12-0 performance, the Nit
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) _ If Penn State repeats last season’s 12-0 performance, the Nittany Lions’ MVP will have to be the schedule maker.
Penn State’s once-torturous schedule, including Miami, Notre Dame and Boston College, has been replaced by eight Big Ten games and one of the weakest non-conference schedules around.
The Nittany Lions’ non-conference slate was criticized last season, and many pollsters kept Penn State No. 2 behind Nebraska because of it. The schedule is even easier this year, with Temple, Rutgers and Texas Tech, which replaces Southern Cal.
Meanwhile, Michigan plays Boston College and Virginia, Ohio State takes on Notre Dame and Washington, and Illinois plays Oregon and Arizona. Some Big Ten coaches have criticized Penn State for playing cupcakes early.
``They don’t understand there are a couple of good teams there,″ Joe Paterno said. ``Texas Tech just came off the Cotton Bowl, and they have a young team.
``I think our out-of-conference schedule is appropriate,″ he said. ``We want to play some intersectional games and we want to be able to play six home games.″
Paterno also has nothing to do with having Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin traveling to Beaver Stadium this year, the Buckeyes for the second straight year.
``Next year we go out there for all three games,″ he said.
Penn State will be able to use its easy opponents early in the schedule to find replacements for top 10 NFL draft picks Ki-Jana Carter, Kerry Collins and Kyle Brady. Despite losing those offensive stars, the Nittany Lions should remain explosive.
Four members of the offensive line that allowed just five sacks return, including All-America selection Jeff Hartings. Bobby Engram and Freddie Scott are probably the best pair of receivers in the country.
Junior Wally Richardson, a lanky, strong-armed quarterback, will replace Collins. Richardson said he is ready to replace Collins, not only as a passer, but as a leader.
``This is my team now and I’m ready to take the reins,″ he said. ``I’ve been in the system for three years, so I know what’s going on.″
``I’m really not concerned with our quarterback situation,″ Paterno said. ``Wally is similar to Kerry in a lot of ways.″
Senior Mike Archie will get the bulk of the work at tailback, but he’s not the workhorse that Carter was. At 5-foot-8, 205 pounds, Archie prefers shoulder fakes and stuttersteps to running over people.
``I consider myself a shifty, elusive back,″ Archie said. ``I’m not as powerful as Ki-Jana.″
Penn State’s defense looked little like the Linebacker U. squads of the past last season, allowing 21 points a game and and average of 383 yards total offense.
Only three starters return, and former starting safety Cliff Dingle is off the team because of academic problems.
``I’m very concerned with our inexperience at linebacker and in the secondary,″ Paterno said. ``We only have one of those seven positions filled with anybody we can call a veteran.″
Cornerback Brian Miller is the veteran.
``I guess I have to assume that leadership role,″ said Miller, sporting a tattoo that says ``Top Dog.″
``This is probably one of the worst defenses around when you just look at statistics,″ Miller said. ``But we have a lot of team speed and we’re going to be one of the better defenses at the end of the year.″
The biggest holes are at linebacker, where only Terry Killens has much experience. Killens said the defense is tired of the offense grabbing all the headlines.
``We have a lot of things to prove, and we’ve worked hard,″ he said. ``We’re going to be more aggressive this year.″
Brett Conway, Penn State’s most accurate field goal kicker ever, will handle the placekicking, while the punting position is a trouble spot.
``We were able to get by last year with a punting game that was decent but erratic,″ Paterno said. ``We won’t be able to do that again.″
Penn State’s 17-game winning streak is the longest in the nation, and the Nittany Lions’s first ranked opponent will be No. 21 Wisconsin on Sept. 30. After that, No. 12 Ohio State and a November matchup with No. 14 Michigan are the main obstacles to another Rose Bowl berth.