LOS ANGELES -- Maurice Evans has become the forgotten man of Penn State's defense.
A year ago, he finished second in the country with 12 1/2 sacks and sixth in tackles for losses with 21 1/2.
Evans, a 6-foot-2, 262-pound junior, appeared to be on the verge of stardom. He was named a first-team preseason All-American and was being compared to former Nittany Lions All-American defensive end Tamba Hali, a first-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006.
After starting the regular season opener at left end against Coastal Carolina, Evans' once-promising season began to unravel.
The one-time sack artist was sacked by an off-the-field incident in early September. Evans and defensive tackle Abe Koroma were suspended for three games by coach Joe Paterno after police searched their State College apartment and found a small amount of marijuana.
Evans not only has seen his playing time diminish, but he also has watched his replacement, Aaron Maybin, rack up 12 sacks and blossom into an All-American and potential first-round draft pick.
"Is it like a lost year? I don't think so," the soft-spoken Evans said yesterday. "It was just something that happened. I had a little bumpy road in the beginning, but everything's fine now.
"I got back on track as far as football's concerned. After the suspension, I came back and everything's been great."
Evans and Koroma waived their preliminary hearings on charges of marijuana possession. They are scheduled for a Jan. 22 pretrial conference.
"I'm just as lost as everybody else as far as the next step with the legal issue and everything," Evans said. "I have no idea what's going to happen."
Evans played in nine games this season with three starts. He had 31 tackles, 4 1/2 for loss, but only three sacks. Even so, Evans is awaiting feedback from the NFL draft advisory committee before deciding if he will bypass his final year of eligibility.
"I'll have to see what they say," he said. "I have no answers right now as to whether I'm coming out."
Maybin, a third-down player who was used primarily in passing situations last year, began preseason drills as the backup to Evans. But when Evans was suspended and Jerome Hayes had a season-ending ACL injury, Maybin seized the opportunity.
"It hasn't been a lost year [for Maurice] because he's played well, he's done a good job," injured linebacker Sean Lee said. "At the same time, it's a lesson learned for him. You can't put yourself in a tough situation.
"We're held to a higher standard and you have to have a certain responsibility to your teammates to act a certain way and not get yourself into predicaments like that."
Evans, who has rarely been made available for interviews since the incident nearly four months ago, wishes he would have used better judgment.
"I do regret it," he said.
Maybin, a redshirt sophomore, also is considering the possibility of leaving early to enter the NFL draft. Mel Kiper Jr. ranks him the fourth-best player overall.
"It's actually been a good thing to see Maybin grow into being a good player," Evans said. "He's a good athlete. I'm happy for him."
Maybin, who will lead No. 6 Penn State against No. 5 Southern California tomorrow in the Rose Bowl, was asked how his playing time might have been affected had Evans not slipped into Paterno's doghouse.
"I mean, I would have played and everything, and I would have gotten my snaps," Maybin said. "But I can't really say how much I would have played or what would have happened.
"I haven't thought, 'What if.' Not once."
NOTES -- Paterno reiterated yesterday that he is not happy with Penn State's 40-day layoff between games. "I think we're at a little bit of a disadvantage, but I don't think that will really have an effect where it will have an impact on the outcome of the game." ... Lee is eight months into his rehabilitation from surgery to repair a torn ACL. He is feeling better, but the honorary captain and part-time coach from Upper St. Clair High School conceded that sitting out the Rose Bowl "is tough. I'll be at practice, pacing back and forth, wanting to be on the field."
Ron Musselman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published December 31, 2008 5:00 AM