Sunday, July 15, 2012

Previewing Big Ten Football: Penn State

Penn State Nittany Lions.svgIt wasn't a coincidence that I'm doing the preview for PSU this week. I know in light of recent events things have been difficult in Happy Valley, but there will be football. I've heard a lot of media coverage involving Freeh Report, and many analysts give their opinions. I'm not going to go into that here. I will say though, that for those who think Penn St deserves a football ban, they are way off base.   Let's concentrate solely on football.

2011 Record: 9-4 (6-2 Big Ten)
Head Coach: Bill O’Brien, first season
Projected Returning Starters: 12
As everyone knows, JoePa is gone. Recent events aside, he leaves behind a program where he coached for over 40 years, with over 400 wins. Replacing Paterno is no easy task, and so they decided to bring in Bill O'Brien, the offensive coordinator of the AFC champion New England Patriots. O'Brien began his coaching career in 1993 with Brown before spending more than a decade coaching in the ACC. He joined the New England Patriots in 2007. O'Brien is the first new coach in over 46 years, so some fans might have to give him some time to work in his system and see how he views the program. It's a learning curve every program has to face when a new regime comes in, and Penn St hasn't had to go through it in a long time. With only 12 returning starters, look for the Nittany Lions to have a rough season on the field.

Once again, Penn St has a quarterback issue to begin the season. It's been a few years since they've had a permanent starter, and I don't think this season will be any different. Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden, and Paul Jones will probably all see some reps, but I think McGloin will be the frontrunner. McGloin and Bolden combined to throw for over 2000 yds last season, but with only 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Those numbers need to spike considerably in order to compete on the field. Also, keep in mind that most of their offense last season was run-based due to the ineffectiveness of the quarterbacks. O'Brien favors tight-end schemes, preferably two-tight-end sets like we saw in New England, and hopefully that will set up the passing game easier.

If by any chance they make a bowl game, or shine on the field in any way, it will be because of Silas Redd. Redd ran for over 1200 yds and 7 touchdowns last season, and if the offensive line is cohesive, he could get much more.

The receiving core is pretty average for the Big Ten. Gone is sure handed Derek Moye and what is left is Justin Smith and Devon Brown. Both receivers fared well last season, but will need to step it up a notch. Tights ends Kevin Haplea and Garry Gilliam might see more action under O'Brien but again, it all comes back to who is throwing it to them.

The defense, nicknamed "Linebacker U" is always strong and scrappy for Penn St. Despite all of the distractions last year, Penn State finished first in the league in points allowed. The secondary is a big question mark for the Nittany Lions. They will be starting a new pair of corners and safeties. The front seven will have to be better since they need to replace a few starters there as well. One problem some foresee is the hiring of Ted Roof as defensive coordinator. Yes, Roof had the same position at Auburn when they won the national championship. Yet last year, they stunk up the place, losing leads in almost every game and being blown out consistently. If that was a one time deal, then great for Penn St.  Otherwise, it could be a problem.

Penn St lucked out in some ways this year. They don't have Michigan or MSU on their schedule, who are two of the stronger programs in the conference. Non-conference foes such as Ohio, Navy, and Temple will hopefully be wins, but Virginia is being built into a strong contender so I doubt they make it past them without a loss.

Bottom line, PSU is in for a rough season. With the major turmoil going on outside of the field, a new head coach, and uncertainty at quarterback; the horizon looks bleak for this year. I think they'll do what they can to inch by.

Penn State Predictions:
Record: 5-7
Big Ten Finish: 9th
Ability To Compete With Top Teams: Extremely Small
Upset Status: Small
Bowl Status: None

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