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1. PENN STATE
Ivan Maisel
August 25, 1997
A lot about this Penn State team will look familiar to the eyes behind those thick, black-rimmed spectacles. There are fast, aggressive linebackers. There's a powerful tailback behind a big, athletic line. But there's one component not even Joe Paterno has seen in his 47 seasons as a head coach or assistant with the Nittany Lions. No quarterback from State College Area High, located just over a mile from Beaver Stadium, has started for the Nittany Lions. That should change on Sept. 6, when fifth-year senior Mike McQueary is expected to lead Penn State in its opener against Pittsburgh.
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August 25, 1997

1. Penn State

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Returning Leaders

Passing

Mike McQueary Sr.

21 comp., 44 att., 388 yds., 3 TDs

Rushing

Curtis Enis Jr.

1,210 yds., 13 TDs

Receiving

Joe Jurevicius Sr.

41 catches, 869 yds., 4 TDs

Tackles

LB Jim Nelson Sr,

82

Interceptions

SS Shawn Lee Jr.

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A lot about this Penn State team will look familiar to the eyes behind those thick, black-rimmed spectacles. There are fast, aggressive linebackers. There's a powerful tailback behind a big, athletic line. But there's one component not even Joe Paterno has seen in his 47 seasons as a head coach or assistant with the Nittany Lions. No quarterback from State College Area High, located just over a mile from Beaver Stadium, has started for the Nittany Lions. That should change on Sept. 6, when fifth-year senior Mike McQueary is expected to lead Penn State in its opener against Pittsburgh.

By the time McQueary moved to State College in 1981 as a six-year-old, he had already fallen in love with college football's legendary unadorned helmets—those of Notre Dame, that is. To this day he wears number 9 in honor of the Irish's national championship winning quarterback from 1988, Tony Rice. It's a good thing the 6'4", 222-pound McQueary has always been big for his age. Life can be tough for a Notre Dame fan in Happy Valley.

When the Irish stopped recruiting him—"That guy down in Berwick, Pa., got their attention," he says, referring to his friend Ron Powlus, the Notre Dame quarterback—McQueary, who had taken his high school team to the state semifinals, rejected offers from Wake Forest and a couple of other schools to stay home. Because no local boy had ever been the quarterback at Penn State under Paterno, McQueary's decision came as a surprise. "No one ever thought Mike would play here," says his high school center, Matt Rhule, a Penn State linebacker.

For three seasons McQueary waited patiently behind Kerry Collins and Wally Richardson, accepting his role as backup while hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the team. Whenever the Nittany Lions have played on the last Saturday in November, McQueary has invited as many as 25 teammates to his parents' house for turkey and—don't tell Paterno—touch football. Two years ago John and Anne McQueary went through two turkeys, one ham, 15 pounds of mashed potatoes and 10 pies.

Whenever McQueary has stepped onto the field at Penn State, he has made something happen, for better or worse. Two years ago his last-minute, 42-yard touchdown pass in a 59-34 rout of Rutgers precipitated a shouting match between Paterno and two Scarlet Knights assistants, one of whom suggested Paterno had bet on the game. Last season, when the Nittany Lions trailed Indiana 10-3 in the second quarter, Paterno yanked Richardson and sent in McQueary, who sparked a 48-26 victory. He returned to the bench the next game. "If you keep your mouth shut, work hard and do well in school, Joe is going to give you a shot," McQueary says.

Paterno says McQueary's ability to make decisions reminds him of Collins. "You've got to anticipate the window opening," Paterno says. "You can't wait until the window opens. I never quite got Wally to that level of confidence. This kid will have confidence in himself."

Paterno has a lot of the pieces necessary to become the ninth coach to win at least three national championships. Linebackers Brandon Short, a redshirt sophomore, and Jim Nelson and Aaron Collins, both seniors, lead the seven returning starters from a defense that learned on the job a year ago. Junior tailback Curtis Enis is also back after rushing for 1,210 yards at an average of 5.4 yards a pop. So is Joe' Jurevicius, the fifth-year wideout who averaged 21.2 yards on 41 catches last season. He is one of the 28 players on the roster who know firsthand what it takes to go 12-0, as Penn State did three years ago.

The schedule stairsteps to Pasadena. Penn State can open the season by winning the Pennsylvania championship (Pittsburgh, Temple). Next up is the Big Ten (Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin come to Beaver Stadium). If the Nittany Lions reach 10-0, and if they're able to push themselves away from the McQuearys' table, they can go to Michigan State on Thanksgiving Saturday and deliver Paterno his 300th victory.

That's a lot to ask of a fifth-year quarterback with little experience. But Rhule, who has played with McQueary longer than anyone else and thinks it would be a mistake to underestimate him, says, "What's the word? Charisma? He's got it."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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