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5 storylines: PSU vs. Illinois

9/27/2012

Every week, NittanyNation takes a look at five storylines that stand out: What should fans keep an eye on? What's the bigger picture? What might be on display Saturday?

Here are NittanyNation's Week 5 storylines:

1. "Poaching" PSU players: When Tim Beckman's staff stepped foot on Penn State's campus after the sanctions, animosity was instantly created between the Fighting Illini and the Nittany Lions. Players tried to deflect any talk of the rivalry this week, but tailback Derek Day admitted the team was offended. Ryan Nowicki was the lone Penn State player to transfer to Champaign, and PSU cornerback Stephon Morris called him a coward at media day.

2. Strong defensive lines: It could be difficult to run in this game. Illinois boasts four experienced linemen, two of whom are on quite a few watch lists. Michael Buchanan (Nagurski, Bednarik, Lombardi, Hendricks) and Akeem Spence (Lombardi, Outland) could wreak havoc in Penn State's backfield -- but the Nittany Lions are no slouches either. Jordan Hill tends to clog up the middle, and Deion Barnes is a threat to sack any quarterback.

3. Preparing for two quarterbacks: Two days after Illinois coach Tim Beckman called the quarterback battle an open competition, he declared Monday that Nathan Scheelhaase was the starter. Penn State doesn't necessarily seem to be buying that. "Preparing for this team is very, very difficult because you almost have to prepare for two types of offenses," Bill O'Brien said. Even if Scheelhaase starts, Reilly O'Toole will likely come in relief at some point. That could create a quarterback controversy in Champaign -- or that could cause some frustration for Penn State.

4. The possible return of Bill Belton: Well, at the very least, Penn State will not have to rely on its fifth-string tailback this week. Three running backs -- Derek Day, Michael Zordich, Curtis Dukes -- are healthy enough to buckle those chin straps. And Belton practiced Wednesday. This could be the first time he plays since suffering a severe ankle sprain in the third quarter of the opener. Belton's ability remains a bit of a mystery, and he could answer some questions Saturday.

5. Special teams: This could be the deciding factor of the game, and the edge definitely seems to be in Illinois' favor. Illinois' starting kicker Nick Immekus is injured, so it will have to turn to Taylor Zalewski -- but the redshirt freshman nailed 2-of-2 field goals so far. Sam Ficken hasn't been nearly as fortunate, as he's just 2-of-6. Illinois punter Jutin DuVernois is among the best in the nation, while Alex Butterworth punted a 15-yard ball last week. Luckily for Penn State, Jesse Della Valle seems to be the answer to the return game, while Illinois struggled in that department last week.