UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State will kick off its 125th season of football on Sept. 3 inside Beaver Stadium. The 2011 season will feature several changes in the Big Ten, including the addition of Nebraska, divisional play and a conference championship game.
During the next several days, GoPSUsports.com will introduce the Nittany Lion fans to all 12 teams on the 2011 schedule. We will kick things off with the first two opponents on the schedule - Indiana State and Alabama.
Indiana State - Sept. 3, Noon (BTN) at Beaver Stadium
The Sycamores will make their first ever trip from Terre Haute, Ind., for the 2011 season-opener. Led by fourth-year head coach Trent Miles, Indiana State returns 54 letterwinners from its 2010 roster. The Sycamores posted their first winning season (6-5, 4-4 Missouri Valley) since 1996 last fall.
With 19 starters (seven offense, 10 defense and two special teams), returning this season, Indiana State was picked to finish sixth in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll. Senior quarterback Ronnie Fouch is among the returnees to the offense. Fouch passed for 2,252 yards, which was second on the school's season passing list, and 20 touchdowns (new school season record). Despite the graduation of running back Darrius Gates, sophomore Shakir Bell is the top returning back. Bell rushed for 669 yards, averaging 6.8 yards per carry in 2010.
On the defensive side of the ball, lineman Ben Obaseki (70 tackles and nine sacks in 2010) was named to the 2011 Buck Buchanan Watch List, given to the FCS' outstanding defensive player. The former winners of the award include Dexter Coakley and Jared Allen. The Sycamores had three players named to Phil Steele's Preseason FCS All-American Team. Obaseki earned first team honors, while senior defensive back Alex Sewall (70 tackles and two interceptions in 2010) and senior fullback Brock Lough were fourth team selections.
Indiana State uses the West Coast offense and a 3-4 scheme on defense.
No. 2 Alabama - Sept. 10, 3:30 p.m. (ABC) at Beaver Stadium
Expectations are high in Tuscaloosa after the Tide's third consecutive 10-win season under head coach Nick Saban. Ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll, Alabama will field a squad with 51 returning letterwinners and 17 starters back from the 10-3 team from last season that won the Capital One Bowl in January.
Penn State fans have circled the week two matchup with the Tide for many seasons. Alabama will be making its first trip to Beaver Stadium since 1989. The Tide returns seven starters to the offense, but the biggest hole to fill on the offensive depth chart is under center. Veteran Greg McElroy has graduated, and sophomore A.J. McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims are battling for the starting spot. McCarron played in 13 games last season, throwing for 389 yards and three touchdowns while completing 63 percent of his passes.
Behind the future quarterback will be one of the most talented backs in college football. Trent Richardson is a dynamic running back with superb power and speed. He has rushed for 700 or more yards in each of the past two seasons. Richardson will have the luxury of running behind an offensive line with a lot of talent back from 2010. The key returnees up front include 2010 Freshman All-American D.J. Fluker (right tackle), Outland Trophy candidate Barrett Jones (right guard) and Rimington Award candidate William Vlachos (center).
The Tide will return 10 starters to a defense that allowed just six rushing touchdowns during all of 2010. Senior safety Mark Barron was the team's top returning tackler last fall (75 hits and two sacks). Linebacker Don't'a Hightower finished 2010 with 69 stops. Defensive back Robert Lester led the SEC with eight interceptions in 2010.
The Tide had seven players named to the 2011 SEC Coaches Pre-Season All-SEC First Teams - Jones, Vlachos, Richardson, defensive lineman Josh Chapman, Hightower, Barron and Lester. Additionally, Jones, Richardson and Barron earned Preseason First Team All-American honors by Phil Steele's College Football preview.
Alabama leads the all-time series with Penn State, 9-5.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the opponent preview story featuring Temple and Eastern Michigan
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