Penn State has the talent to surprise

There could be three surprise teams in the Big Ten, while Tennessee has questions about its young lineup.

Updated: June 23, 2003, 5:00 PM ET
By Mel Kiper Jr. |
Q: With Michigan off the schedule and home games against Ohio State and Wisconsin, what are Penn State's chances of competing in the Big Ten? -- Alex, Syosset, N.Y.
Zack Mills
The left arm of Zack Mills will have a lot to do with Penn State's fortunes in 2003.
Penn State is an underrated team, and people will be making a mistake if they write the Nittany Lions off just because of the losses they suffered to the NFL.

Quarterback Zack Mills is the key guy for the offense after passing for 17 touchdowns and over 2,400 yards last season, and he will need wide receiver Tony Johnson to step up and fill the void left by the graduation of Bryant Johnson. And at 6-3 and 190 pounds, Kinta Palmer has the size to step up and become a solid No. 2 option for Mills. Those guys will get some help up front from 6-3, 325-pound senior tackle Chris McKelvey, and Sean McHugh is an excellent fullback.

The big question for the offense, though, is how to replace 2,000-yard rusher Larry Johnson, and Penn State will be counting on highly touted freshman Austin Scott to step in and contribute there. Scott broke all kinds of Pennsylvania high school records last year while rushing for 3,863 yards and 53 touchdowns, leading his team to a state title. He is a player with big-time talent and could be this year's Maurice Clarett, and if he can make some things happen this offense has a shot to be pretty good.

Mel Kiper Jr.

Football analyst
Mel Kiper has served as an NFL draft analyst for ESPN since 1984. He is a regular contributor on SportsCenter and ESPN Radio and writes weekly for ESPN Insider.