CAMP HILL, Pa. - When it comes to Penn State's starting quarterback, Joe Paterno refuses to gaze into the crystal ball.

For one, the Nittany Lions coach insists he hasn't made a decision who that person might be. And two, he avoids the topic like his own retirement for fear that his words will be read as favoring one candidate over the other.

Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin are the candidates, even though Paterno likes to toss fifth-year senior Paul Cianciolo into the mix. Last month, the 81-year-old coach hinted that Clark was the leader in the clubhouse, but yesterday at a Nittany Lion Club fund-raiser, Paterno said there's still time for each to jockey to the front.

"Each one of them can enhance their chances," Paterno said. "We've talked to each one about what they have to do better. One's got this problem, one's got that problem, another one's got this problem, but they all can overcome them."

Asked what those problems might be, Paterno didn't bite.

"I'm not going to get into where someone can read into this one's got this and this one's got that," he said. "I think we've got three good prospects."

Asked if there were any similarities between Clark and former quarterback Michael Robinson, Paterno quipped, "They're both African Americans."

Clark's roommate, fullback Dan Lawlor, said the 6-foot-2, 231-pound senior liked his position as summer workouts continue.

"During the spring, he was the first guy and Devlin was rotating in here and there," Lawlor said. "So I guess he still feels he's the guy."

Penn State is coming off two straight 9-4 seasons and will return 17 starters.

The middle part of the schedule is brutal. Game 7 is at Wisconsin. Penn State then plays at home against Michigan before going to Ohio State. The three-game stretch is perhaps one of the hardest in Paterno's 43 years as head coach.

"And both Ohio State and Michigan have open dates before we play them," Paterno said. "The Big Ten did us a good job this year."

That portion of the schedule will likely gauge the health of the Lions. Paterno's health was of concern a month ago, when he was taken to the hospital to be treated for dehydration. He looked tan and rested yesterday.

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.