Penn State is banned from postseason play in 2013, but optimism is still running high in Happy Valley.
Bill O’Brien wasn’t lured away from Penn State by the NFL, and the second-year coach is clearly proved he ranks among the Big Ten’s best coaches after going 8-4 in 2012.
The Nittany Lions suffered some key personnel losses, including the departure of linebacker Michael Mauti, quarterback Matt McGloin and defensive tackle Jordan Hill.
Despite the departure of a handful of key players, Penn State returns running back Zach Zwinak and receiver Allen Robinson, and incoming freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg could be a future star.
The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.
Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May.
How Many Games Will Penn State Win in 2013?
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Penn State can get to seven wins, but it won’t be easy. I was skeptical about Penn State even fielding a winning team last season, but Bill O’Brien earned his coach of the year nods thanks to his transformation of the passing game. Quarterback is still a question, but player development has come a long way. The defense will be the major concern, particularly from a leadership standpoint. Guys like Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Jordan Hill held this group together, and now they’re gone. Then throw in dismal special teams play. Still, the schedule is manageable. We can probably count on games against Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin as losses and games against Eastern Michigan, Kent State and Illinois as wins, but the rest is up for grabs. The worst of the sanctions is yet to come, so this may be the most competitive Penn State team we see for a couple of years.
Kevin McGuire, No2MinuteWarning.com and NittanyLionsDen.com, (@KevinonCFB)
Despite some relative uncertainty surrounding the key position of quarterback to start the 2013 season, Penn State should be able to manage to get through their non-conference portion with a winning record. Games against Eastern Michigan and Kent State at home should be marked down as wins and a home game against Central Florida should also be a possible win. The Syracuse game to open the year in MetLife Stadium, to me, is a toss up for now but a 4-0 start to the year is certainly not out of the question.
When I look at the schedule now I see three games I feel are likely losses: Michigan, at Ohio State and Nebraska. The road game at Wisconsin to end the year I would mark as a loss but who knows how things will end up at the end of the year.
Right now I think eight wins is the likely ceiling for Penn State, but seven wins may be more likely unless Bill O'Brien finds a way to work some more magic with the offense.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
There are serious issues at quarterback and with leadership on defense — at linebacker, in particular — but this Penn State roster is in much better shape than most fans would think considering what the Nittany Lions have dealt with over the last 18 months. The skill positions on offense are stacked and both lines of scrimmage should be a strength of the team overall. And frankly, the schedule isn't all that daunting. A 4-0 record in the four non-conference games (three at home, one nuetral) is all but guaranteed — Syracuse, Eastern Michigan, UCF and Kent State — and the bye weeks set up nicely before tough stretches of the season. Lets assume that road trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin and home games against Michigan and Nebraska are losses, that leaves extremely winnable games with Indiana, Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota. A 4-4 conference record would give Penn State another eight-win season under miracle worker Bill O'Brien — which would have to be considered an extremely successful campaign.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though Penn State has some significant personnel losses, I think eight wins is a reasonable goal for 2013. Finding a new quarterback is the top priority for Bill O’Brien, but considering his work with Matt McGloin, he should be able to turn Steven Bench, Tyler Ferguson or Christian Hackenberg into a reliable starter. Breaking in a new quarterback is never easy, but the Nittany Lions have good skill players, and the offensive line returns three starters. The defense has six starters returning, including rising star defensive end Deion Barnes. The biggest question mark on defense will be replacing the leadership and production from linebackers Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and defensive tackle Jordan Hill, especially since all three players held the team together after the sanctions were announced.
While Penn State is far from a perfect team, the schedule works in its favor. Syracuse, Eastern Michigan and Kent State should be three guaranteed wins in non-conference play. UCF is a dangerous opponent, but Penn State should win that game to start 4-0. In Big Ten games, the Nittany Lions don’t have to play Northwestern or Michigan State and host Michigan and Nebraska in crossover play. Bill O’Brien’s team travels at Ohio State and Wisconsin – two games it was likely to lose to this season regardless of where it was played. Considering Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana are all winnable games, matching last season’s 8-4 record seems very likely for Penn State.
Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
No one predicted that Bill O'Brien would lead Penn State to eight wins last season, let alone an impressive 6-2 showing in Big Ten play. Not only was O'Brien in his first season as a head coach on any level, he also was tasked with picking up the pieces in the wake of the worst scandal in NCAA history.
Even though the memory and the damage done by the scandal will never go away, one could argue that O'Brien has just as difficult a task facing him as it relates to the football field this season. O'Brien lost several key pieces from last season's senior-laden team and will have break in a new quarterback this fall. The offense could struggle to repeat last season's production, which puts more pressure on a defense that is replacing five starters, including two each on the line and among the linebackers.
That said, I am a firm believer in O'Brien and what he is building at Penn State, especially after what he accomplished last season. Thanks to a relatively soft non-conference schedule, I think the defense will be able to carry the team early which will allow the offense to develop and get better as the season progresses. In the end, call me optimistic, but I like the Nittany Lions to finish no worse than 7-5 overall and .500 in the conference.
Nathan Rush (@AthlonSports)
The over-under for Penn State this season is eight wins. On paper, losses to Michigan, at Ohio State, Nebraska and at Wisconsin are good bets. Make no mistake, these aren't Joe Paterno's national title-contending Nittany Lions of yesteryear. Even with players' names on the backs of the old school blue and white jerseys, it's hard to recognize the new Penn State of this post-Paterno era. But the Bill O'Brien brand appears to be growing in popularity following an overachieving 8–4 record (6–2 in Big Ten) in his debut season and a solid recruiting haul that includes early enrollee 5-star quarterback Christian Hackenberg. The "Grand Experiment Redux" has not become the Patriots of Pennsylvania juggernaut envisioned by O'Brien, who was Tom Brady's play-caller prior to PSU. But another eight-win season should help bring a little light to Happy Valley as it continues to recover from the dark days of the Jerry Sandusky scandal — which will prevent Penn State from playing in a bowl game this season.
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