Previewin' the B1G: Penn State

By Kyle Rowland on July 13, 2014 at 6:00a

All the success Penn State’s enjoyed the past two seasons has caught many college football fans by surprise. Maybe 15-9 overall 10-6 in a struggling Big Ten isn’t the stuff of legend. But when all that occurs coupled with what the Nittany Lions were up against, it’s just as impressive as a conference championship.

Perhaps the most surprising development was Penn State’s recruiting took a minimal hit. And ever since James Franklin replaced Bill O’Brien, the Nittany Lions roar has been heard from coast to coast. Recruiting, the lifeblood of every football program in America, is keeping Penn State afloat. And quarterback Christian Hackenberg is the biggest contributor.

Hackenberg garnered freshman All-America honors and was named the Big Ten’s freshman of the year after leading Penn State to seven wins and throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. He went to State College with hype and lived up to it.

Tom Brady and Andrew Luck he is not – yet – but Hackenberg has many believing he could be the next great NFL quarterback. For now, it’s another two or three seasons in college. In 2014 and beyond, he’ll be without O’Brien and wide receiver Allen Robinson. As accurate and efficient as Hackenberg is, finding new targets probably won’t prove too difficult.  

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent
8/30 Central Fla. (Dublin, Ireland)
9/6 Akron
9/13 @ Rutgers
9/20 UMass
9/27 Northwestern (HC)
10/11 @ Michigan
10/25 Ohio State
11/1 Maryland
11/8 @ Indiana
11/15 Temple
11/22 @ Illinois
11/29 Michigan State

“Every offense is going to vary a little, but the particulars of it are very similar with pro style,” Hackenberg said of the new system. “After you run one for a year and start getting used to it, it’s tough to learn a completely new one. But really, they’re pretty similar.”

A bigger concern than receivers might be the offensive line. Penn State only returns two starting linemen, and every coach, player and fan knows the importance of cohesion and depth on the offensive line. During the spring Franklin even said it would take more than just a quarterback to be successful on offense. 

“We’re thin at [offensive line], there’s no doubt about it,” Franklin said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Penn State’s loses on the line are magnified because they’re John Urschel and Ty Howle. Searching for help doesn’t just mean keeping Hackenberg protected. Running backs Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak and Akeel Lynch also need room to roam.

“I think D-line and running backs are probably the positions where we have the most talent and depth,” Franklin said. “I think we have three running backs that we feel really good about and I would even say a fourth in Cole Chiappialle. He’s done a great job, and they’re very impressed with him.”

Success on offense will require plenty of replacements, because the Nittany Lions only have four starters back on the entire unit – six on defense. The receiving corps will feature an assortment of unheralded – and unfamiliar – names. Eugene Lewis’s 18 receptions are the most by a returning receiver. The tight end position could be home to more talent, with Jesse James, Kyle Carter and one-time Ohio State commit Adam Breneman filling the depth chart.

That same depth isn’t present at linebacker, where the Nittany Lions are not so Linebacker U. this season. There’s no Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges or Glenn Carson in 2014. The leadership role now falls on Mike Hull. His 78 tackles tops the combined 73 from Nyeem Wartman, Brandon Bell and Ben Kline.

“Last year, I was a lead by example guy. Now, I realize I have to step up and talk and get everybody where they need to be,” Hull said. “I'm trying to get to the point where Mauti was at – expecting a lot out of guys and letting them know, and being intense and vocal out there every single time. I think I’ve learned a lot on how to be an effective vocal leader. I think it’s really starting to mesh and take off.”

The defensive line lost All-Big Ten tackle DaQuan Jones, but the return of Deion Barnes, C.J. Olaniyan and Austin Johnson softens the blow considerably. Former line coach Larry Johnson left the position in good hands, with an eight-man rotation that gives Penn State one of the deepest defensive lines in the Big Ten.

Experience in the secondary bodes well for the backend of the defense. Adrian Amos, Jordan Lucas and Ryan Keiser complete an underrated unit. As important as Hackenberg is to Penn State, if the defense performs at an adequate level, the Nittany Lions could overachieve for a third consecutive season.

With NCAA scholarship restrictions being lessened, the sun is finally rising over Happy Valley again. But it’s possible Year 3 of sanctions could rid the team of meaningful second- and third-string players. After a rough winter, patching potholes won’t be the only labor in Central Pennsylvania. There’s plenty of sorting out to be done on the football field.

But the talent level is only getting better, pointing to a Penn State resurgence. Franklin isn’t one to shy away from the expectations.

“We're going to wake up every single morning, do a back handspring out of bed, excited about the opportunity to represent this great institution," he said.


Comments Show All Comments

Crumb's picture

It's not Hackenburg's arm that is the issue (though he did throw a pick to Pitt Brown) it's gonna be if his feet can move quick enough to lighten the beating his body is gonna take.

"The only good thing about it is winning the d*** thing" - Urban Meyer on The Game The War

+4 HS
burnest1420's picture

4 starters on offence I don't care how good your QB is it all uphill for PSU!!  Hackenburg would be way better if Obrien didn't bolt off to the NFL.

+4 HS
Killer nuts's picture

I feel much better about the 5 starters we are returning on offense..

+1 HS
SpielmanForPres's picture

Schedule certainly is favorable. 

+2 HS
Hovenaut's picture

I found it important that Franklin noted defensive line first as one of PSU's strengths. The Nit fans that I know are torn over losing LJSR...and to Ohio State to boot.

Also agree with Spiels4Prez above...Franklin could (and maybe should) get about eight to nine wins out of this team.

+1 HS
Damonbuckeye's picture

PSU will win about 3 games tops.. No way they win "8-9" games they have no talent outside their te's and qb and litteraly no depth. Hack wont make it to through the whole season, this years PSU team is doomed...

-2 HS
Hovenaut's picture

They could...could be undefeated when they host OSU 10/25.

They're better than three wins. Agree to disagree.

+3 HS
HilltopHustle's picture

3 games? Wanna bet on that? I'm looking at that schedule and seeing 5 sure bets.

+3 HS
GABuckeye's picture

Agree- Akron, UMass, & Temple should be automatice Ws.  They have a great chance against Rutgers, Indiana, Maryland, and UCF.  I'll put them at 6-7 wins on the year.

+1 HS
Citrus's picture

Penn State could be dangerous because Hackenberg. He seems to be the real deal. Over the course of the season they'll take their lumps but one game in Happy Cally is fairly dangerous.

+1 HS
whiskeyjuice's picture

I too see alot of potential in Hackenberg. Plus with Franklin, there is and will be a lot of hype during their home games. 

After the OSU beat them down last year, Franklin will use that as motivation to not let it happen again. 

yes I think OSU wins, but Penn State will not be a cakewalk.

"Championships are not won on Saturdays in November. Championships are won on Tuesdays in August." -- Kerry Combs

+2 HS
Mr Soul's picture

It will be a cake walk.  They are Penn State.

Keep the change, ya filthy animal!

+2 HS
216ToThe614's picture

Adam Breneman was never committed to us. We did pursue him hard though.

Pick up your feet, turn your corners square! And DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE!!!

+6 HS
FitzBuck's picture

I thought I was taking crazy pills.  

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

BroJim's picture

I think Maryland has a real shot at beating Penn St. this year and i'm looking forward to watching that game.

I season my simple food with hunger

+1 HS
highwire's picture

I like Maryland but only because I feel that turtles are underrated and pretty legit.

BrewstersMillions's picture

Brady Franklin sure looks like he's doing and saying the right things...I've railed on PSU more than most but this guy just doesn't scare me until he does. Its all window dressing right now. He seems to be getting a lot of credit because his success was relative to where he coached. Still lacks a marquee win outside of beating Georgia-who at the time was held together by chewing gum and gorilla glue. I get that he was at a middle of the run SEC school but all he really did was beat weak Non Conf's and bad SEC (Yes, they exist) teams. Urban is going to take this guy's lunch this year, next year, and the year after.

+3 HS
trigg03's picture

The only credit I will give to Franklin is he won a few games at Vandy BUT big fricken deal! He lost to UC a bowl game! He didn't exactly scorch the Earth on his way to State College. Its not as if he turned Vandy into a powerhouse. So he has 1 bullet to fire at recruits & that's Playing Time. Once that is mo longer the case & he has an awesome 5-7 or 6-6 record to boast about.
..then what?? PSU will never be what they were. It is grey skies in their forecast for a long long time.

+1 HS
apack614's picture

I'm thinking Penn St is at least winning 7 at least I wouldnt be surprised if they did, I hope they do.. I miss the old Lions sometimes lots of great emotional games between the two of us

I can't wait to poop in the PL bathroom.