Quarterback is where this Penn State football season begins and ends.

So much relying on just one player this fall.

At least on paper, the Nittany Lions are a top-10 team with enough firepower on both sides of the ball to win the Big Ten - and also contend for a national title.

And Daryll Clark is that senior leader and signal caller who can nearly run as well as he can throw. He's proven and he's tough, tough enough to hurtle his body at defenders and run them over if necessary.

The problem: He's already suffered two or three concussions and is trying avoid another at all costs.

An injury would not only wipe out arguably the top quarterback in the Big Ten, it would force Joe Paterno to play either former walk-on Matt McGloin or go with a true freshman.

National title hopes would probably vanish, the entire season would be turned.

So it's on with "The Daryll Clark Show," backup plan be damned.

With only a few days before the season-opener, here is a position-by-position look of the 2009 Nittany Lions who are favored, along with Ohio State, to fight for league honors and another bid to a BCS bowl game:

Quarterback

Clark is the top returning QB in the league. His ability to lead others, as well as a consistent, strong throwing arm and patience under fire, could take the Lions far with their home-friendly schedule.

Freshman Kevin Newsome enrolled in January, which has apparently helped his development immensely.


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He is a big runner and throwing combination who always will be one play away from the field.

Running back

Evan Royster is the leading returning rusher in the league and could form a lethal force with speedy backup Stephfon Green, especially if they're on the field at the same time. Both are good receivers, too.

Wide receiver

The key will be finding a suitable rotation for the variety of options including big targets Derek Moye and Brett Brackett, possession receiver Graham Zug, tiny speedster Devon Smith and do-everything Chaz Powell.

Tight end

It should be one of the deepest spots on the team, led by steady senior Mickey Shuler and the overly-talented yet disappointing Andrew Quarless. These guys will be busy.

Offensive line

It's arguably the biggest question with the only two returning starters switching positions (Stefen Wisniewski to center, Dennis Landolt to left tackle). Depth is a huge concern but three warm-up games should help solidify the starters.

Defensive line

Depth is not quite as strong as desired, but the tackle combination of Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu is as good as it gets in the Big Ten. A big help would be the healthy return of end Jerome Hayes.

Linebacker

The loss of injured Mike Mauti keeps this group from being possibly the best nationally, though Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman on the outside should hold the entire defensive together. They're that good at everything they do. Watch for special teams star Nate Stupar making a name for himself.

Secondary

We're not sure if the inexperience will doom this group in a couple of games or if the instincts of safety Drew Astorino, the speed and aggressiveness of cornerback Knowledge Timmons and the raw athletic ability of freshman safety Gerald Hodges will hold things together in time.

Special teams

While Jeremy Boone could be the best punter in the league, the kicking situation is muddy with either first-time starters Collin Wagner or true freshman Anthony Fera. That could be a problem down the road. The return game has plenty of explosive possibilities, but many worry that coach Joe Paterno will go with a safe option like Zug or Astorino on punts.