Bill O'Brien enters his second spring as the leader of the Nittany Lions.
Year One After Paterno was a tough one to handle off of the field, but was a pleasant surprise on it. Bill O'Brien took over in the face of the worst NCAA scandal in history and Penn State was rewarded with an offense that was more creative and innovative than anything Happy Valley had seen since (at least) Michael Robinson's Orange Bowl run in 2005. The sanctions continue to hold this program down, but the returning talent has PSU poised for yet another winning season.
Penn State 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 8-4 (6-2)
Spring practice dates: March 18-April 20
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 6
Passing: Steven Bench, 2-of-8, 12 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Zach Zwinak, 203 car., 1,000 yards, 6 TDs
Receiving: Allen Robinson, 77 rec., 1,018 yards, 11 TDs
Tackles: Glenn Carson, 85
Sacks: Deion Barnes, 6.0
Interceptions: Adrian Amos, 2
Redshirts to Watch: RB Akeel Lynch, TE Brent Wilkerson, WR Malik Golden, WR Eugene Lewis, OL Wendy Laurent, DL Austin Johnson, DB Jake Kiley, OG Anthony Stanko, DT Derek Dowrey, DT Brian Gaia
JUCO Transfers to Watch: QB Tyler Ferguson
Aug. 31 Syracuse
Sept. 7 Eastern Michigan
Sept. 14 UCF
Sept. 21 Kent State
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 at Indiana
Oct. 12 Michigan
Oct. 19 Bye Week
Oct. 26 at Ohio State
Nov. 1 Illinois
Nov. 9 at Minnesota
Nov. 16 Purdue
Nov. 23 Nebraska
Nov. 30 at Wisconsin
Offensive Strength: Offensive line. This group returns three starters as well as the top four tight ends on the roster. The running game should be just fine with three of the top four rushers returning as well.
Offensive Weakness: Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. There aren't many weaknesses on this offense with the glaring exception under center.
Defensive Strength: Depth. There are major holes to fill on all three layers of the defense, but there are tons of bodies in the secondary and young stars ready to emerge along the defensive line. The redshirt freshmen class is large and will be on full display this spring.
Defensive Weakness: Linebackers and leadership. Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges depart, leaving a gaping void in the linebacking corps and in the leadership department. It is time for new faces to continue the LB-U trend in Happy Valley.
Spring Storylines Facing Penn State:
1. Develop a quarterback. Bill O'Brien transformed Matt McGloin into a very capable quarterback and now he will have to do it again with players far less experienced. Sophomore Steven Bench and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson are the only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster this spring. Both are simply keeping the seat warm for incoming uber-recruit Christian Hackenberg, who will show up in Happy Valley this summer. This spring gives both Bench and Ferguson the chance to prove that Hackenberg doesn't need to be ready to start right away. The incoming freshman has the talent to steal the job by the end of the fall but does O'Brien want to go into the season opener counting on a true freshman?
2. Replace leadership at linebacker. It's safe to say that the Nittany Lions wouldn't have been close to eight wins without the leadership of Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges at linebacker last fall. Not only will their 204 tackles be missed so too will their uncanny ability to elevate the play of those around them. Glenn Carson and Mike Hull return with experience and were solid as a supporting cast. Yet, both will need to step into lead roles now and continue the tradition of Linebacker-U. Others like Nyeem Wartman and Ben Kline will need to take over as supporting actors.
3. Rebuild the defensive line. Two All-Big Ten performers, first-team tackle Jordan Hill and honorable mention end Sean Stanley, need to be replaced. Depth also is a concern, as tackle James Terry and end Pete Massaro have departed. It is time for big-name recruits to blossom into all-conference performers. Names like Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan have bright futures while DaQuan Jones, Kyle Baublitz and Anthony Zettel all have major upside. This unit isn't hurting for talent, and by the year's end, it could be one of the Big Ten's best. But that path begins this spring.
4. Find a center and left tackle. Center Matt Stankiewitch was one of the nation's top pivots a year ago and left tackle Mike Farrell earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. The left tackle and center are the two most important offensive line positions and both must be replaced this spring. Donovan Smith has the inside track on the left tackle spot while a host of young, talented players will battle for reps with the first team this spring. John Urshcel and Miles Dieffenbach return to the guard positions and will be leaned on for leadership all year long. This offense has loads of talent at tight end, wide receiver and even in the backfield, so filling holes along the offensive line is one of the few concerns on offense (along with quarterback, obviously).
Related College Football Content
Ranking All 125 College Football Coaching Jobs for 2013
College Football's Top 20 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2013
College Football's Top 10 Spring Storylines to Watch for 2013
College Football's Top 15 Spring Quarterback Battles to Watch