"I hope folks aren't expecting too much," says Herrmann.
6. Penn State
Two years ago Dayle Tate broke his hand. Sorry to hear that, Dayle—whoever you are—but what's that got to do with the Top 20? Well, Dayle Tate is an extremely promising quarterback who has spent the last couple of seasons not playing behind Chuck Fusina at Penn State. Oh, sure, he's gotten into a few games, like last year's early-season outing against Rutgers. Tate suffered a broken collarbone in that one. Thus, in two seasons Tate has played less than one quarter of varsity ball. But now that Fusina, who holds just about every Nittany Lion individual passing and offensive record, is gone, Tate, a junior, is the man. If he goes down, so does Penn State.
"Those broken bones were difficult to cope with," he says. "For me, Jesus was the answer. If I play, I'll praise the Lord, and if not, I'll praise Him anyway. But I have a feeling my time has come."
If he's right, the Nittany Lions could string together a second straight season of the type of football the East is supposed to produce about once a decade. Last year Penn State merely went 11-1, achieved No. 1 ranking for the first time in its 92-year history, slipping to No. 4 only after losing to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
The chances for just such a repeat look good. Tate's performance in the spring game was astonishing—19 for 43 for 257 yards and a touchdown. And the forward wall of the nation's No. 1 defense (it allowed only 54.5 yards rushing a game) returns pretty much intact. And in Booker Moore, Mike Guman and Matt Suhey, the Nittany Lions have a set of running backs that accounted for 1,673 yards and 15 of the team's 21 touchdowns last season.
Defensive tackles Matt Millen and Bruce Clark and leading sacker Larry Kubin join three other 1978 starters on a unit that forced turnovers resulting in 101 points—or 9.2 a game. Because State yielded only 8.8 points a game, how effective does the offense have to be? Clark (270 pounds) won the Lombardi Award as the nation's top lineman or linebacker, and Millen (255) was among the four finalists for the award. Back, too, is Linebacker Lance Mehl, the team's leading tackier last season.
There could be shortcomings in the defensive backfield, because several erstwhile starters—most notably Pete Harris, who led the nation with 10 interceptions—are academically ineligible. Coach Joe Paterno got that bad news just as fall practice began, but he had worked Grover Edwards at Harris' safety spot in the spring and was pleased. Thus, the question is not whether State's defense will be good, but whether it will be good enough to rival last season's. That unit held Alabama 16.1 points under its scoring average and shut out Ohio State, which ranked among the national leaders with 29.5 points a game.
All-America Placekicker Matt Bahr now plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but Herb Menhardt booted 50-and 32-yard field goals in the spring game, and Brian Franco kicked one from 42 yards out. Paterno's only serious concern is the offensive line, which he spent most of spring drills rebuilding. Paterno would like the time to develop the young line slowly, but he'll not have that luxury. After opening against Rutgers, the Lions face Texas A&M on Sept. 22 and Nebraska at Lincoln on Sept. 29.
That's when Tate will know for sure if, praise the Lord, this time his time finally has come.