TUSCALOOSA AL - SEPTEMBER 11: Quarterback Robert Bolden #1 of the Penn State Nittany Lions stiff arms Jerrell Harris #5 of the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 11 2010 in Tuscaloosa Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
2010 record: 7-6 (4-4), lost to Florida in Outback Bowl
Coach: Joe Paterno (46th season,401-135-3 )
Series: Penn State leads 14-0.
Indiana begins the 2011 Big Ten season with a home game against Penn State. In a novel move, this home game will be played at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana. Apparently all sterile NFL venues located hundreds of miles from IU's campus were booked for the first weekend of October. The record above tells the ugly story of the IU-Penn State series. While the Hoosiers have managed a number of close calls, they have never broken through against Penn State. Nevertheless, one of the reasons I was so frustrated with last year's decision to move IU's "home" game to the Redskins' stadium in Landover, Maryland, is that IU generally has been competitive with Penn State in games played in Indiana. IU and Penn State have played in Indiana six times in Indiana (5 times in Bloomington and once at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis). Of those six games, four were decided by six or fewer points. Yes, Penn State fans will point out that IU added a couple of garbage time touchdowns to make the 35-39 outcome in 1994 look closer than it was, but the games in 2000 (27-24 in Indy), 2004 (22-18--run up the middle again, Gerry), and 2007 (36-31) were legitimately in doubt in the final minutes. That's not much for IU fans to brag about, but it's better than the situation in Happy Valley, where IU's 38-31 loss in 1993, in the schools' first meeting, was the only truly competitive game.
Another of the reasons I was so disappointed that IU moved last year's game was because it appeared that Penn State would be going through a transitional season last year, and that's exactly what happened. After a really rough stretch from 2000-2004, when the Nittany Lions had four losing seasons in five years, they have bounced back nicely, winning at least 9 games from 2005-2009 and sharing the Big Ten title twice, but last year's 7-6 was Penn State's worst record since 2004. Robert Bolden and Matthew McGloin shared time at quarterback, but neither excelled. Both had sub-60 completion percentages and neither was a successful runner. McGloin was more productive on average, with 221 yards per game and 14 TD to 9 interceptions, while Bolden averaged 136 yards per game and threw 5 TDs to 7 INTs. McGloin, of course, was great against IU, completing 71 percent of his passes for 315 yards and 2 TDs. Bolden has been flirting with transferring, but appears to be committed to Penn State. He was a true freshman in 2010 and therefore it would not be a surprise if he improves significantly.
In the backfield, Penn State will have to replace Evan Royster, whose seemingly endless career is finally over. Penn State's leading returning rushers are Silas Redd, who gained 413 yards and 5.2 per carry as a freshman, and Stephon Green, who ran for 186 yards but gained 268 yards as a receiver. In the receiving corps, the excellent Derek Moye returns after posting 885 yards and 8 touchdowns last season. Justin Brown gained 452 yards last season, and Devon Smith gained 363. Whichever quarterback emerges as the starter will have some experienced targets.
The relative strength of last year's Penn State team was defense. Penn State returns most of its defensive starters, including Devon Still, who led Penn State in tackles for loss and sacks.
As I said above, I think that IU's 2010 game, had it been played in Bloomington, would have been a better upset opportunity than this season's game. Penn State had some growing pains last season on offense, but with nearly every key contributor in the passing game returning and with most of the defense back, I would guess that Penn State will return to contention this season. Certainly, the running game is a question mark, but Penn State usually finds a way to run the ball. It's not yet clear whether IU will be starting Dusty Kiel or Edward Wright-Baker at quarterback, but it is clear that the Penn State game will be the new QB's first major defensive challenge (barring a major turnaround by Virginia's defense). Still, at least we didn't have to wait long to get another home opportunity against Penn State after last season's ill-advised sale of the home game.