In the midst of the most turbulent time in school history, the Penn State Nittany Lions showed in 2012 they could overcome adversity and rally together as a team. This upcoming season, they’ll be looking to build off of their momentum from last year as the healing process continues.
With a new head coach at the helm, the Bill O’Brien-led Nittany Lions feasted on their Big Ten opponents, finishing the 2012 campaign with a surprising 8-4 record despite NCAA sanctions and numerous transfers stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
When the 2013 season finally rolls around, Penn State will attempt to keep the ball rolling as the program inches its way back towards national relevance. The first step for O’Brien and Co. is making sure the best group of 22 hits the field when August 31 rolls around.
The biggest question mark on offense heading into 2013 is at the quarterback position. Following the departure of senior starter Matt McGloin, the Nittany Lions will be looking to replace the production the former walk-on brought to the table. The job will fall to either freshman Christian Hackenberg or junior Tyler Ferguson, both newcomers who will have plenty to prove this fall. Both will be given the opportunity to earn the starting gig, but it’s believed that Hackenberg has the leg up in the competition.
At running back, Penn State appears to be set with 2012 surprise Zach Zwinak back in the mix. Coming off a 1,000-yard season, the junior shouldn’t have any trouble reasserting himself as the go-to back. He’ll also get help from redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch, who has the explosiveness to be a true homerun threat for the Nittany Lions’ ground attack.
Wide receiver will easily be the strongest group for the Penn State offense, with Big Ten Receiver of the Year Allen Robinson back for what should be a huge junior campaign. The Nittany Lions also return Brandon Moseby-Felder and Alex Kenney, who were both integral parts of the passing game last year. Tight end will also be a strong position for Penn State, with Kyle Carter and Jesse James coming off strong 2012 seasons and Brent Wilkerson ready to become a part of the offense.
The offensive line returns three starters, including All-Big Ten guard John Urschel. Along with Donovan Smith and Miles Dieffenbach, Urschel and the rest of the front five shouldn’t have any trouble opening up holes for running game and keeping whoever is under center upright.
It will be exciting this year to see what Deion Barnes, the 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, can do for the Nittany Lions with a full season of college ball under his belt. He will team with senior defensive tackle DaQuan Jones to form a strong defensive line for Penn State. The other expected starters are Austin Johnson and C.J. Olaniyan, who are entering their first seasons in significant roles with the Nittany Lions.
The biggest question mark on defense comes at the linebacker position after Penn State lost both Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti to the NFL this past offseason. Glenn Carson will carry the unit from the inside linebacker spot, but the Nittany Lions will be forced to go with two new starters on the outsides. Mike Hull, a rising star, will bear the burden at one outside spot while redshirt freshman Nyeem Wartman will likely take over on the other shoulder of Carson. Expect Ben Kline to see some snaps as well throughout the season.
In the secondary, Penn State returns three starters in cornerback Adrian Amos and safeties Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Malcolm Willis. Meanwhile, sophomore Jordan Lucas is expected to take over the other starting cornerback job. The Nittany Lions’ defensive backfield has a plethora of experience, but will need to do a better job of creating turnovers in 2013 after suffering an interception draught last year.
The Nittany Lions start the season off with clear sailing, facing four winnable games in the months of August and September against the likes of Syracuse, Eastern Michigan, UCF and Kent State. From there, though, the tide turns towards the Big Ten, a conference that looks very strong heading into 2013. Penn State’s next two games pit them against Indiana and Michigan. Both games are winnable, but will take a valiant effort in order to walk away with a victory in hand. Three more Big Ten games will lead them to their two final conference showdowns with Nebraska and Wisconsin.
While it’s going to be far from a cakewalk, the potential is there for Penn State to improve on their 8-4 mark from a season ago.