Alabama comes into Happy Valley as a heavy favorite, with every media outlet in America picking the Crimson Tide. You think that matters to Joe and the boys? Some players have said they were slightly intimidated last year in Tuscaloosa. Not in 2011. They're ready, and here is what we'll be watching for in what ought to be a wet, sloppy, defense-heavy game.
1. Defense wins championships. Okay, so this isn't a championship game by any stretch. But it could have championship implications down the line if this is the lone loss for either team. And since both teams' defenses outshine their offenses, whichever defense can come up with more stops, takeaways, and field-position victories should walk away with a win. Alabama returns 10 defensive starters, while Penn State is vastly improved over a meager 2010 defense. Edge: Even
2. Forecasting the weather. Half othe state of Pennsylvania has been underwater for going on two days now, and it's not expected to stop anytime soon. Penn State has already closed some of the grass tailgating lots, and maintenance crews have been working diligently to keep the Beaver Stadium field in decent condition. A wet field and sloppy conditions means that the passing games will be minimized, rushing yards will be at a premium, and special teams could decide the outcome. Edge: Even
3. Whiteout in Beaver Stadium. As expected, this game is a whiteout for Penn State fans, all of whom are urged to wear white to the stadium. Provided the rain doesn't keep them from the game, the fans will be loud, hostile and constantly in the heads of the Tide players. This will be the first road start for whichever quarterback Alabama chooses to send out in the first quarter, a daunting task for a young player. If you don't think it's a factor, ask Rob Bolden, who made his road debut last year in Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium - that didn't turn out too well for the Nittany Lions. Edge: Penn State
4. Trent Richardson vs. Silas Redd. Richardson, the junior heir apparent to Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram made a name for himself against Penn State last year, bulldozing anyone in his path en route to Alabama victory. On the other sideline, the sophomore heir apparent to all-time leading Penn State rusher Evan Royster wowed fans a week ago with some dizzying stats that have Lions fans salivating at the potential. Given the weather, each of these backs will see a lot of carries. Whoever can find that extra gear should come out on top. Edge: Alabama (by the thinnest of margins)
5. The other visitors. All eyes will be on the players, but this is also one of the biggest recruiting weekends in recent history for Penn State, with more than 40 players planning to be in attendance. With the Class of 2012 down to just a few spots remaining, the Penn State staff will be looking to take the best of the best. While the outcome isn't that important compared with the overall atmosphere, the current players will hopefully be trying to show these would-be Nittany Lions how things are done in State College. Edge: Penn State (for motivational purposes)
Final Prediction: Penn State 13, Alabama 6. One touchdown all game, and that comes from defense or special teams.