Head Coach: Bill O’Brien (2nd season)
2012 Record: 8-4 (6-2)
Beaver Stadium, PA
The Penn State Nittany Lions were considered the surprise of not only the Big Ten last season, but many considered PSU the surprise team of College Football. We all know about the scandal that took place at the school in 2011, so nobody really knew what to expect in 2012, especially after a number of players jumped ship for other programs.
Bill O’Brien was hired as the new head coach for Penn State, a move which surprised many. O’Brien had experience with the NFL game, and bringing his style of offense to a team in this big of a transitional period raised a lot of eyebitems. The Nittany Lions ended up going 8-4 overall last season, giving O’Brien the ESPN National Coach of the Year award. Something nobody saw coming.
The Nittany Lions are a year into their offensive system under O’Brien, so that will help this unit tremendously. Penn State returns five starters from a year ago offensively, but the Nittany Lions do need to find a replacement signal caller for this year. Right now it looks as though the QB competition is between both Tyler Ferguson and Freshman phenom Christian Hackenburg. Early on this spring it looked as though Hackenburg would take over the starting spot, but reports are that the coaches could go either way to start the season. One thing the Nittany Lions do have going for them is running back Zach Zwinak. Zwinak finished the season with better than 1,000 yards rushing for the Nittany Lions and with his talent and experience returning to the backfield, it should take some pressure off whoever is under center.
The PSU signal caller also has the benefit of Allen Robinson out wide, Robinson is the returning Big Ten receiver of the year. The Nittany Lions return their five top pass catchers from a season ago, which should give this offense plenty of ammo to put up points in bunches.
The line for the Nittany Lions is solid, and even though the line is lacking some game-time experience, this unit is big, physical and has the potential to be one of the better units in the Big Ten this season.
The defensive unit for the Nittany Lions returns six starters from a season ago, and as usual with Penn State, the talent is up front.
PSU returns both Deion Barnes and DaQuan Jones on the ends, which should give the Nittany Lions a very solid outside rush. Defensive tackle Austin Johnson is only a freshman, but has been doing good things and should provide a solid anchor for a stout line.
The secondary for the Nittany Lions is experienced, but underachieved a bit last season. This unit will get tested more and more as teams in the Conference are transitioning to the faster tempo spread offense.
The linebackers are of course solid as always for the Nittany Lions, albeit somewhat inexperienced. Linebackers are traditionally the heart and soul of this defense, and while Carson and Hull are both very good, there isn’t a ton of experience surrounding them, so it will be interesting to see how this unit plays early on.
The Nittany Lions should once again be one of the better teams in the Big Ten, but their lack of experience under center, and the defensive secondary has me concerned.
Penn State should win plenty of games once again, but I just don’t see this team overtaking the Badgers and the Buckeyes in the Leaders division this year.