I’ll warn you in advance that this preview is going to be depressing. Obviously. there is no bright side to be found, and I’m not going to insult you by trying to find one. Before the sanctions came down this wasn’t going to be a very good team. They had all sorts of holes on the roster, serious questions at key positions, and were facing a monumental and incredibly distracting change of leadership. They were in trouble from the start.
Then everything went boom. The NCAA flexed their muscles like never before, and the future of this program was suddenly incredibly bleak. As I write eight players who were expected to be on the roster this year have transferred, and that’s not likely to be the end of it. We’re not talking about bit players, either — these were key guys who were going to be relied upon heavily.
Beyond the loss of talent, the biggest issue facing this team is going to be mental. These players are going to feel persecuted. All eyes will be on them. They’ll feel impossible pressure, and they will be helpless to do much about it — at least against strong opponents. This could be ugly — really, really ugly.
The good news is that new Head Coach Bill O’Brien knows a thing or two about working with quarterbacks. He has been working most recently with Tom Brady, after all. The bad news is, though, that he doesn’t have a lot to work with here.
In the spring it was a three-way race for the starting spot. Senior Matt McGloin and junior Rob Bolden played last year, though neither put the stamp on the position. Redshirt sophomore Paul Jones had academic issues last year that cost him a season, but he’s back in the mix this year. None of them were any good in the Spring Game, and the depth was their only advantage. Now Bolden has transferred to LSU, so that depth is damaged. McGloin likely has the edge now, but he’s hardly inspiring.
Running back was going to be a bright spot on offense — likely the only one. Silas Redd was coming off a huge season and was arguably the second-best running back in the Big Ten heading into the season. The highest-profile player on the team is now also the highest-profile departure as he’ll be playing a prominent role for USC this year. Behind him depth is a major issue. Here’s a sign of how bleak things are — Bill Belton, who will be high on the depth chart, played receiver and wildcat QB last year as a freshman, but didn’t play running back.
Receivers aren’t deep and lack star power, but compared to other positions they should be relatively fine. What will really be interesting to watch, though, is what happens at tight end. O’Brien loves the position, as was incredibly obvious if you have watched the Patriots recently. Tight ends have been little more than an afterthought on this team, though, so it’s hard to know what to expect. Depth took a hit when junior Kevin Haplea left for Florida State as well. O’Brien will be focusing heavily on this position, so if we see early success here we could have reasons to be more optimistic about things in general.
I don’t want to kick this team when they are already down, so I will write just one sentence about the line. They have lost four starters from a line that wasn’t great last year, so experience and depth are an issue.
At this point the defensive line is a relative reason for hope. They lost Devon Still to the NFL and that hurts, but they have more depth and talent here than elsewhere and should be able to be reasonably effective.
There is still a big potential for issues, though.
Four-star freshman tackle Jamil Pollard was likely to get playing time, but he has bolted to Rutgers. Other key players say they are staying, but rumors continue to simmer around guys they couldn’t afford to lose. For now this line is a positive, but if they lose a player or two it could be trouble.
Penn State always seems to have linebackers, and it’s a solid position again. They were going to be in great position, but junior Khairi Fortt, likely their second best option, will now play for Cal. Still, it could be worse.
The front seven has a chance to be reasonably solid. They’ll need to be given the inevitable woes of the offense. Anthony Fera, a very strong leg who was both the punter and kicker for the team has moved on to Texas, so the defense will also likely be dealing with consistently worse field position than they otherwise would have.
The secondary? Lousy. They only have two guys who have started any games at all, and neither are stars. They lack depth in a major way, they are shuffling guys in from other positions to try to find something that will work, and nothing is certain. They are going to be very vulnerable to the deep ball. That means much more pressure on that front seven to try to salvage things.
2012 Penn State Nittany Lions Schedule Analysis
The nonconference schedule could be worse. A trip to Virginia will be brutal, but home games against Ohio, Navy, and Temple wouldn’t be intimidating in normal circumstances. The mystery for these games — especially the opener against Ohio — will be how the typically rowdy crowd responds to all that has happened and what impact that has on the team.
In normal circumstances the conference schedule wouldn’t be too bad, either. They get Ohio State and Wisconsin at home. Illinois and Purdue are relatively easy road trips. Indiana would normally be a gimme at home.
2012 Penn State Nittany Lions College Football Futures Odds
Since the team is ineligible for all postseason play there are no odds posted for them to win their division, conference, or a national title.
2012 Penn State Nittany Lions Football Predictions
It’s going to be ugly. This was going to be a tough year in the best of cases given the massive changes in philosophy and leadership the team was facing. The school has done things the same way for so long that change wasn’t going to be easy. Given all the distractions and the loss of key talent — most notably Redd — things are going to be even worse.
O’Brien not only needs to make all his changes but he has to deal with a serious talent deficit and he has to ensure that his players don’t feel sorry for themselves or quit. It’s really difficult to know just how rough things will be, but I have to think that five wins would qualify as a major victory. I’m not at all optimistic they’ll do that well, though their schedule is relatively advantageous.
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