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Can Christian Hackenberg lead Penn State to 10 wins?
Penn State is one of the Big Ten’s most intriguing teams to watch in 2014. The Nittany Lions are under the direction of new coach James Franklin, who comes to Happy Valley after three seasons at Vanderbilt.
Franklin guided the Commodores to three consecutive bowl games and won nine contests in back-to-back seasons. Vanderbilt is the toughest job in the SEC, but Franklin elevated the program and should be a great fit at Penn State.
Franklin and his staff inherit plenty of All-Big Ten talent, but there are question marks about this team’s depth and offensive line.
Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg is one of the best signal-callers in the Big Ten, and he will have plenty of support from a solid stable of running backs and a deep group of tight ends. Only one starter is back on the offensive line, and depth is a huge concern with freshmen expected to make a major contribution in 2014.
Penn State should be solid on defense with the return of six starters, including linebacker Mike Hull, defensive end Deion Barnes, cornerback Jordan Lucas and safety Adrian Amos.
Also working in the Nittany Lions’ favor is the schedule. Penn State could be favored to win at least nine games in 2014.
Athlon Sports' Top 25 Countdown for 2014 is underway. Penn State ranks as the No. 22 team for 2014.
How Many Games Will Penn State Win in 2014? Over/Under: 9.5
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
At first glance, winning 10 games in James Franklin’s first year seems a bit optimistic. However, take a closer look at Penn State’s schedule and it’s not out of the question to reach double-digit wins in 2014. And as evidenced by Franklin’s ability to get the most out of a roster during his three years at Vanderbilt, 10 wins suddenly looks more manageable. The Nittany Lions should be favored to win at least nine contests, with games against Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State the toughest on the 2014 slate. Of course, games at Indiana or Illinois won’t be easy, but those two matchups are late in the year, allowing Penn State time to develop on the line. With the Spartans and Buckeyes coming to Happy Valley, I think the Nittany Lions find a way to win one of those games and finish with a 10-2 record in Franklin’s first season. With a lack of depth, an injury or two on the offensive line could be a huge setback in the win column. However, if Franklin keeps Hackenberg upright in the pocket, Penn State should be a top-25 team in 2014.
Brent Yarina, (@BTNBrentYarina), BTN.com Senior Editor
Under. I think Penn State will be competitive in James Franklin’s first season, but I can’t see any scenario in which it reaches 10 wins. Ineligible for the Big Ten title game and a bowl game, the Nittany Lions need to go 10-2 in the regular season to hit the over. Bill O’Brien was lauded for his work in two years in State College – he won 2012 Big Ten Coach of the Year – and he won eight and seven games. If Franklin won 10 in Year 1, with both the talent the Nittany Lions lost from last season and the NCAA sanctions still affecting depth, they’d start designing a statue. Simply put, there are too many question marks facing this team, from the aforementioned depth issues, unproven wide receivers and the competitive East Division, to name a few. I see another season of seven or eight wins.
Kevin McGuire, (@KevinonCFB), CrystalBallRun.com and CollegeFootballTalk.com
Penn State picking up ten wins is going to be a tall order in 2014, despite the momentum being created with James Franklin taking over as head coach of the program. Penn State has a tough division with both of last season’s Big Ten championship game participants (Ohio State and Michigan State) as well as alight game at Michigan in Big Ten play. Things start off with a game in Ireland against defending American and Fiesta Bowl champions UCF, although the Knights figure to take a step back this season. The Nittany Lions should get off to a good start and see some great growth in quarterback Christian Hackenberg, but at some point the lingering concerns about depth as a result of the sanction phase in the program could come in to play along the way. Penn State won seven games last year, which would mean needing to improve by three wins to cover. If I had to bank on a result right now, I think nine might be the ceiling for Penn State in 2014.
Don't get me wrong, I love the James Franklin hire for Penn State and fully expect him to enjoy quite a bit of success leading the Nittany Lions. However, this is Franklin's first go-round in the Big Ten, and while the SEC may be the nation's toughest conference, that doesn't mean the B1G won't come with its own learning curve for Franklin and his staff. Franklin does have the luxury of an elite quarterback at his disposal in Christian Hackenberg, but the talented sophomore signal-caller will be without his top target this season, as All-Big Ten wide receiver Allen Robinson will be in an NFL training camp this summer, not in Happy Valley. In fact, the offense returns just three other starters besides Hackenberg, while the defense brings back just six. Bill O'Brien didn't leave the cupboard bare for Franklin, but this program is still dealing with the aftermath of the NCAA sanctions handed down as a result of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, so depth is still an issue. The schedule is certainly manageable, but with Ohio State and Michigan State in the same division, there's very little margin for error when it comes reaching double-digit wins. The future of the program is in very good hands with Franklin, but I'll take the under on 10 victories in Year 1.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
That’s the under for me, easy. Picking the over means Penn State has to go 10-2 during the regular season. Penn State has won 10 regular season games three times since 1997. That’s three times without NCAA sanctions. James Franklin was a miracle worker at Vanderbilt, that’s downright impossible at Penn State. I know other people on this panel are going to point to Penn State’s easily navigated schedule, but we’re essentially counting on Penn State to beat Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State while being perfect the rest of the way. The Nittany Lions entered spring practice with two scholarship offensive tackles and lost a starting guard to injury. Christian Hackenberg may be a first-round talent, but that line is going to catch up with him at some point during the season. Even if Penn State expects the defense to rebound, the Nittany Lions don’t have the depth to put together a 10-win season, no matter the schedule.