Penn State's 2010 season certainly wasn't Joe Paterno's finest hour. Though he did eclipse the 400-win mark against Northwestern in November, the 84-year old coach was set back by health issues and a significant quarterback controversy between Robert Bolden and Matthew McGloin on the way to a 7-6 record, the Nittany Lions' worst since 2004.
As his team gets ready to open camp for 2011 next week, however, he is hopeful things are ready to get back in gear this fall in Happy Valley. Paterno took the podium at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago on Thursday ready for a fresh start and optimistic about Penn State's future in the first year of the conference's divisional era.
"I feel a lot better than I did a year ago," Paterno, who suffered from intestinal issues last summer and appeared frail through much of last season, told reporters. "I feel good. I'm back to doing a lot of things I used to do, walking a lot more. I've been watching what I eat. I feel good. I enjoyed this spring, have a lot more enthusiasm."
A number of players spoke to that enthusiasm at the football team's "Lift for Life" event earlier this month, some saying Paterno has been as active as at any point in their time at Penn State. Offensive lineman Chima Okoli said Paterno told the players to expect "one of the hardest training camps we've ever had."
That could be just what the Lions need as they attempt to contend with Leaders Division foes Ohio State and Wisconsin for a spot in the first-ever Big Ten Championship this December in Indianapolis. The Badgers, reigning Big Ten co-champs, added North Carolina State quarterback transfer Russell Wilson in the offseason and are a popular choice by many to take the Leaders crown at year's end. Ohio State, though weakened by the loss of quarterback Terrelle Pryor and head coach Jim Tressel to scandal this offseason, will still be a tough out for Penn State at Ohio Stadium, a venue the Lions have won inside just once in the Big Ten era.
As daunting a task as a division title could be, however, Paterno is excited about the idea of playing in the championship game.
"It's something we want to do," Paterno said. "If we end up winning the division in a big game in Indianapolis, I think that's great. It will be fun and something I look forward to."
If the Lions are going to make it to Indianapolis, however, they're going to have to sort out their quarterback issues. The team will enter camp without an identified starting quarterback, and given the mixed results the Lions saw splitting time between Bolden and McGloin last season, they'll be looking to establish some consistency moving forward.
Both signal callers were lauded by their teammates at 'Lift for Life" for their enhanced leadership skills in offseason workouts. Paterno isn't sure what to expect yet, however, as he's not allowed to observe their summer toils because of NCAA rules. He told reporters he expects to be better, but added a "We'll see," hardly a ringing endorsement.
Either way, Paterno believes the team in general has to get better for Penn State to have a chance at a special season.
"I think we got a lot of work ahead of us," Paterno said. "I don't think we played very well last year. I don't think I did a very good job coaching last year, to be frank with you. I've got to do a better job. Everybody's got to do a better job."
Big Ten Media Days will continue Friday in Chicago.