Despite Probation Penn State Still Comes to Play
Jerry Sandusky – and partially Joe Paterno – ruined the reputation of Penn State football. Bill O’Brien can’t do much to change the public’s opinion of Penn State, but he sure has done an amazing job as head coach in just one year. Last year, Penn State had nothing other than pride to play for. They fielded a depleted roster thanks to transfers of key players such as running back Silas Redd. And there was no potential for a bowl game. So what? O’Brien led the Nittany Lions to a surprising 8-4 season after a shaky start. You should expect much of the same in 2013.
Bill O’Brien is part of the successful Bill Belichick coaching tree (along with the likes of Nick Saban and Kirk Ferentz). His style of play is quite similar to Belichick and his coaching mentality is as well. He preaches mental toughness and there’s no question his philosophy rubbed off on his players last year. Let’s be honest, this is a team that could have easily just laid over and quit early on in 2012. They were a struggling team but by season’s end, they were arguably the second best squad in the Big-10. The Nittany Lions return 8 starters on offense and 7 on defense. They’ll be a force to reckon with in the Big-10…probation or not.
The Nittany Lions Offense
Quarterback Inexperience Only Major Question Mark
Experience at quarterback does matter. So if Penn State struggles this year, it will likely be due to a lack of experience at the most crucial position. Matt McGloin’s playing days are over and it’s somewhat funny that the most heavily criticized player on Penn State’s roster the last few seasons (McGloin) just might end up being the most missed player. His experience would be helpful because the Nittany Lions return absolutely no experience at this position.
JUCO transfer Tyler Ferguson enters fall practice as the starter, but don’t expect that to last long. True-Freshman Christian Hackenberg will step onto campus with every opportunity to win the starting job. And, by all accounts, the job really is his to lose. He does lack experience and so there will be some growing pains with him, but his upside is a high NFL draft pick. We can’t say the same for Ferguson or any other QB on the Penn State roster.
There is some experience, talent, and depth at running back. It’s hard not to be impressed with junior Zach Zwinack. He has a “’nack” for torturing opposing defenses. He entered the 2012 season with low expectations and quickly took over as the team’s feature back. He’s big, quick, and rushed for over 1,000 yards after replacing Silas Redd. Behind Zwinack are freshman Akeel Lynch and junior Bill Belton, both with good speed and size.
Junior Allen Robinson is the focal point of the Penn State offense for opposing defenses. He’s one of the best wide receivers in the country. He’s tall (6’3”) and has great hands and speed. His 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012 led the team. If Penn State’s young QB’s want to have some success, they might want to consider throwing it to Robinson’s side as often as possible.
The Nittany Lions Defense
Lack of Proven Depth Could Cost Penn State Games
Penn State returns 7 starters on defense. That’s the good news. The bad news is there is very little proven depth. That might not cost them games in September, but as the season wears on, this could become a major issue. One thing is certain…if Penn State doesn’t stay healthy on the defensive side of the ball, they could end up being a 4-win team instead of an 8-win team.
One player that Penn State absolutely cannot afford to have get injured is sophomore defensive end Deion Barnes. Barnes is not big, but he’s fast and a fierce pass rusher. As a freshman, he had 6 sacks but only saw limited playing time the first half of the season. If there’s anyone on this defense that will breakout and have an All-American caliber year, it’s Barnes.
The back-7 should be strong for Penn State this year. The linebacking corps has some key losses to overcome but opposing offenses better keep an eye on Glenn Carson. With Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges gone, he’ll be the guy taking over as the key run-stopping linebacker. Penn State’s secondary was one of the best in the Big-10 last season and returns 3 starters. They don’t give up many big plays.
A Final Word on the 2013 Penn State Nittany Lions
In 2012, Penn State had pride to play for and nothing else. They wanted to make a statement and you have to give Bill O’Brien credit for convincing his team to play the “let’s show everybody what we’re all about” mentality. But can he do it two years in a row? We like Penn State to win 7-8 games again but there are three major question marks – quarterback play, depth on defense, and the coaching staff being able to get this team to play hard despite no postseason potential.
Our final prediction: 8-4