OFFENSIVE MVP BRENNAN ANSWERS: I don't see there being any discussion or debate with this one, even from you. Tony Hunt rushed for 1,228 yards and averaged 5.0 yards per carry despite playing behind one of the worst Lion offensive lines in recent memory. Is it me, or did it seem like most of those yards came after first contact? He also blocked well (better than some of the linemen), caught 26 passes for a team-high three touchdowns and didn't lose his cool in those games where all was crumbling around him. Given his supporting cast, I will always remember Hunt's senior season as one of the greatest by a PSU running back. One has to wonder what one of State's many All-American backs would have done with that offensive line.
HARRINGTON REPLIES: It's hard to disagree with you and the fans of Penn State who named Hunt an unprecedented six-time FightOnState.com Player of the Game winner this season. I wonder what Hunt could have done behind one of the premier offensive lines the Nittany Lions have boasted over the years. Hunt's quiet, lead-by-example approach to the game is something that will be missed. He's leaving some big shoes to fill.
DEFENSIVE MVP HARRINGTON ANSWERS: Well, it's no secret I have been a Paul Posluszny fan since I interviewed him back during his Big 33 appearance. Posluszny is a throwback player who represents every facet of the success with honor theme of Penn State football. He was sidelined with a knee injury that would have de-railed most players' careers, but tackled his rehab head-on and returned with a vengeance. He shifted inside to middle linebacker, a move that most players would have whined about, considering his outside spot earned him the Butkus, Bednarik and All-America honors as a junior, but he never said a word and maintained his poise and intensity on and off the field. Most of all though, he is a consummate leader, not just showing but teaching younger players how to excel and help their team. He deserves to be listed among the all-time college football greats not only for what he did but also for who he is.
BRENNAN REPLIES: This is much more difficult than the pick on offense. No doubt Posluszny had a fine senior campaign. But when I think of the athlete who made game-changing plays, I think of junior Dan Connor. His interception at Ohio State gave the Lions a chance to seize momentum, even if the bumbling offense could not take advantage. Another pick against Purdue turned things in State's favor in that game. His safety against Illinois was the proverbial dagger for Juice Williams and the feisty Illini. All in all, a great year, the best by a PSU defender. But is he ready for the NFL? Nope. One more year in the system to add a bit of bulk is in order.
SPECIAL TEAMS MVP BRENNAN ANSWERS: How come I get all the no-brainers first? Jeremy Kapinos had one of the best years by a Nittany Lion punter. The key was not only kicking the ball far, but also kicking it high and kicking it accurately. He averaged 42.2 yards per kick, which is not exactly eye-popping. But he had 19 punts downed inside the 20. Better still, opponents averaged less than two yards of returns against PSU punts on the season (factoring in touchbacks and fair catches). State's net punting average was 40.2 yards, easily the best in the conference. Kapinos handled all but one of the team's 58 punts. I don't think the senior will be drafted but I fully expect him to land a job in the NFL.
HARRINGTON REPLIES: Well, if A.J. Wallace kept up the mad-dash pace on kickoff returns that he started the year with I would have thought he could have won this. But Kapinos, as a Ray Guy Award finalist, is tough to beat. There have not been many PSU punters who had the ball placement or power that Kapinos consistently displayed. He was a major weapon that will be sorely missed in coming years.
UNSUNG HERO HARRINGTON ANSWERS: There are a few guys who come to mind like Nolan McCready and Anthony Scirrotto. But I have to go with Andrew Quarless, who reintroduced the tight end as a receiver to Penn State fans. Although his numbers may not be mind-blowing (20 catches for 286 yards and one touchdown), as a true freshman Quarless was a consistent target for an inconsistent passing game and showed marked improvement. In fact, his best game of the year was the season finale with four catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. He will be a weapon for the Lions in years to come.
BRENNAN REPLIES: After a couple of poor tackle attempts early in the season, first-year starting cornerback Justin King went on to have a very quiet year. He had one spectacular interception (beating Ted Ginn to a ball and laying out for the catch at Ohio State), but after that we didn't hear much from him. Why? Because opponents respected him so much they rarely threw anything in his direction, choosing instead to go after opposite corner Tony Davis and the safeties. And to me, King's hustling tackle of Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall - on which he made up a good seven yards - exemplified the play of the defense overall; that is to say, even when they were beat, the Lion defenders typically hustled to limit the damage. I think it was a crime King did not win first-team All-Big Ten honors.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT BRENNAN ANSWERS: We knew Penn State's offensive line would be in a state of transition this season, what with four starters having to be replaced. But at a program of PSU's stature, there is no way a line should ever take the giant step backward it did in 2006. The Lions were especially ineffective when the spotlight was brightest, failing to do anything against Notre Dame until the game was out of hand, struggling in clutch situations at Ohio State, and stinking out the place against Michigan (minus-14 yards rushing?), Illinois (40 yards rushing) and Wisconsin (36 yards rushing). In 12 regular season games, Lion backs were thrown for an unbelievable 364 yards in losses
HARRINGTON REPLIES: I echo your sentiments on the offensive line, but I am going with quarterback Anthony Morelli. I warned fans early in the season to temper their expectations with Morelli, allowing him time to learn and improve. Unfortunately, although he would show flashes of improvement, the progress seemed short-lived, as he consistently threw into double and triple coverage with pass telegraphing that would make Western Union jealous. Worst of all, though, he did not consistently protect the ball, particularly on those pocket breakdown pursuits. He certainly hasn't solidified the position in my mind for 2007 and will have to show some impressive improvement to even approach the expectations set by most PSU fans.
BIGGEST SURPRISE HARRINGTON ANSWERS: I'll go with the secondary. A young unit (four new starters) that looked to be a clear weak point of the defense, the defensive backs pulled in 12 interceptions and only allowed 10 passing touchdowns. This is quite a feat considering that the unit saw many pass happy offenses. The future looks bright for the Penn State secondary.
BRENNAN REPLIES: I was stunned the receivers combined for one touchdown catch in Big Ten play, and that came in the regular-season finale against Michigan State. If somebody would have told me that before the season, I never would have believed them. Also, I expected Quarless to make an impact as a rookie. But I did not expect him to emerge as the focal point he became late in the year.
MVC (Most Valuable Coach) BRENNAN ANSWERS: This is the second time in three years defensive coordinator Tom Bradley has fielded an outstanding unit despite being counterbalanced by a struggling offense. Look at it this way: for much of the season, Michigan had what many considered the top defense in the nation. It gave up 175 points in 12 games. Penn State gave up 177 points in 12 games even though it finished in the red in terms of time of possession. If Joe Paterno isn't going to do it, someone at the university should go ahead and promote Bradley to assistant head coach with the idea that he will be the successor to the throne.
HARRINGTON REPLIES: Bradley deserves a lot of credit and in my mind gets a ton. So I am going with a guy who is not mentioned as regularly, Ron Vanderlinden. He has brought Penn State back to its Linebacker U. roots; just look at the unit: Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor, Tim Shaw, Sean Lee, Tyrell Sales, Jerome Hayes. There are also a couple of blue-chippers coming in with the Class of 2007.
MOMENTS TO REMEMBER AND FORGET HARRINGTON ANSWERS: I will always remember the amazing career Paul Posluszny had at Penn State, represented by setting the career tackles mark against Wisconsin - a mark that was set by Greg Buttle and fittingly stood for 31 years. Posluszny went on to become a finalist for a who's who of national awards, including the Butkus, Bednarik, Lott and Lombardi. As for a moment to forget, it has to be the injury to Paterno, which coincidentally occurred in that same Wisconsin game. Seeing Paterno go down sent the hearts of countless college football fans into their throats. We're still wishing the legendary coach a fast and full recovery.
BRENNAN REPLIES: I'll always remember the end of the Purdue game, where the Boilermakers refused to go meekly by completing a pass then lateraled like crazy in a desperate attempt to score. It was fun stuff made all the more entertaining by radio play-by-play man Steve Jones' incredible call. As for the moment to forget, you already touched on Paterno's injury in the Wisconsin game. Something else from that contest stood out to me, too. On a fourth-and-one play early in the fourth quarter, Penn State pitched to Hunt on the right side. He was dumped for a four-yard loss. That pretty much summed up a season of offensive frustration.