For the first time in a decade, Penn State appeared in the top three of the Big Ten preseason media poll, which was released Monday at the start of Big Ten media days in Chicago.
Reporters at the event voted Ohio State No. 1, followed by the Nittany Lions and Michigan State. Only the top three spots are selected.
Penn State hadn’t been picked to finish that high since being named preseason No. 1 in the league back in 1999. The Lions had losing records in four out of five seasons to start the decade but also were left out in 2006 after winning the conference the year before.
Ohio State sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor was tabbed as the preseason Offensive Player of the Year, while Michigan State junior linebacker Greg Jones took home preseason Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Penn State’s less-than-appealing non-conference schedule remained a hot topic.
A slate of Akron, Syracuse, Temple and FCS Eastern Illinois, could potentially damage them in the BCS standings, hurting their strength of schedule in the computer polls and their overall perception in the two voter polls.
This is the final season where the Big Ten will mandate that all conference games be finished by the week of Thanksgiving. For Penn State, that means 12 games in 12 straight weeks, followed by an extended break before a bowl game in late December or early January.
Paterno has been a staunch opponent of that layoff, especially after the Lions were manhandled by USC in the Rose Bowl last season.
Seeking to combat that, Illinois and Wisconsin have both scheduled non-conference games after the Big Ten season for 2009. Illinois will play at Cincinnati (Nov. 27) and host Fresno State (Dec. 5), while Wisconsin will travel to Hawaii (Dec. 5).
“I think Illinois and Wisconsin are doing a smart thing, because I think we’re at a disadvantage,” Paterno said. “I felt that way when we played Southern Cal this year. They had two games after we played, and it’s a home game for them. So I think it’s a tough deal for a Big Ten team to go out and play a team that’s had two good, tough games after we’ve finished and we’re sitting around.
“You can go out there and do some things, but there’s not that intensity, there’s not that kind of edge that you’re going to need.”
New Jersey tight end Kevin Haplea gave a verbal commitment to Penn State on Monday, announcing for the Lions at his high school.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder chose Penn State over scholarship offers from Miami, Florida State, Tennessee, Pitt, West Virginia, Clemson and North Carolina, among others. Big Ten rivals Wisconsin, Michigan State and Purdue had also offered him.
“I think everything just kind of fell in place for me,” Haplea said in an interview with Nationalunderclassmen.com. “Being close to home – my coaches, a lot of them live in Pa. They can come watch me. My friends and family can come watch me. It’s big-time football, obviously, and the school itself fit for me, too. I don’t think anything’s going to be perfect, but this is as close as it comes.”
Entering his senior year at North Hunterdon High School in Annandale, N.J., Haplea becomes the 14th member of the Lions’ class of 2010.
Scout.com rates Haplea as a four-star recruit and the No. 8 tight end in the country. Rivals.com lists him at three stars and the No. 24 tight end.