5). Who are/will be the captains?
Leadership, or a lack thereof, was one of the key areas of concern for Penn State heading into the 2010 season. The Nittany Lions were faced with the task of replacing 2009 captains Sean Lee and Daryll Clark, and at Big Ten Media Days '10 were represented by offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski, running back Evan Royster (both seniors) and junior cornerback D'Anton Lynn. Oddly enough, when the team voted on captains a couple of weeks later, none of the above three made the cut, as wideout Brett Brackett and defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu were tabbed. Both were great guys and good reps for Penn State. But neither had the combination of dynamic personality and on-field play-making ability that made Lee and Clark (and so many of their predecessors) such strong captains in previous years.
As it turned out, the preseason concerns about leadership proved to be valid, as PSU finished a disappointing 7-6 and for most of the campaign appeared to be a rudderless ship. Part of the problem was that early departures (for the NFL or other reasons) left the Lions with a very small senior class, one comprised almost entirely of role players. And for whatever reason, the two apparent impact athletes -- Wisniewski and Royster -- were not selected as captains.
This year is different, as Penn State is loaded with seniors who are manning key positions. So who will emerge as the captains? That'll be an important question for Lion coach Joe Paterno.
For what it is worth, representing the offense at BTMD 2011 are wideout Derek Moye and fullback Joey Suhey -- both fifth-year seniors. Representing the defense is linebacker Mike Mauti -- an academic senior with junior eligibility.
4). Will Chicago be an Urban setting?
You may have heard that recently retired Florida coach Urban Meyer was at Penn State recently, ostensibly to interview Mauti for a piece on ESPN (where Meyer is now an analyst). You may also have heard that while on campus, Meyer spent time hanging out at the Nittany Lions' summer football camp.
What you haven't heard is that Meyer also spent time talking to PSU athletic director Tim Curley during the visit, as the duo met on at least two different occasions.
What did they talk about? How long were the conversations? We don't know the answers to those questions just yet.
However, ESPN/ABC college football talent show up at Big Ten Media Days every year. With the Penn State head coaching job likely opening sometime in the next few years and the Ohio State job opening as soon as next year, it'll be interesting to see if Meyer -- who has been projected as a possible next head coach at both programs -- adds to the intrigue by showing up in the Windy City.
One thing we know for sure: Curley will be on hand. So hopefully we can corner him for a question or three.
3). Are the Lions in (champion)ship shape?
Royster was clearly carrying too much weight at this time last year. After skipping the first summer semester, he struggled big time at the 2010 Lift for Life Challenge. And when he arrived in Chicago, he still had a puffy look to him.
We had a chance to see Moye, Suhey and Mauti at this year's LFL Challenge, and all appeared to be in good physical condition. So, of course, we won't be able to get any better gauge on that simply by seeing them going through interviews the next couple of days.
But a LOT of Nittany Lions skipped the first summer semester this year, too. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see what Paterno and the players have to say about the overall condition of the team as the start of preseason practice draws near.
2). What's going down at quarterback?
Now that Rob Bolden is back in the fold, the showdown with Matt McGloin for the starting QB job at Penn State is about to begin its final stages (at least its final pre-season stages).
All that remains to be seen is what sort of timeline Paterno has established for settling on a starter. The smart money is on the week before the season-opener. But even if that is the case, the coach ought to be asked what sort of criteria he has laid out for making the big decision.
And you never know when a veteran player might reveal a juicy tidbit on this sort of thing.
It may all be wishful thinking on our part -- we may get a bunch of politically correct BS -- but it won't hurt to get the question out there.
1). How does Paterno look?
On the first day of this event last year, the Nittany Lion coach looked and sounded lethargic. He and his handlers chalked it up to, uh, digestive issues. Nevertheless, the showing -- which was carried live by the Big Ten Network -- set off a firestorm of rumors suggesting the coach had been stricken with everything from a stroke to multiple forms of cancer. Those rumors persisted throughout the season and didn't begin to fizzle until Paterno looked refreshed and back up to speed prior to PSU's Outback Bowl matchup with Florida.
What difference does Paterno's appearance make on the program? Well, the 84-year-old is the face of Nittany Lion football, and having a strong leader is important in any number of areas, including recruiting, ticket sales, fund-raising and, of course, team leadership.
Paterno and the players fly in Thursday morning. Curley, SID Jeff Nelson and sports marketing guy Guido D'Elia are already in town. The event is being held at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place for the second straight year.