It goes without saying that it feels pretty strange talking about Penn State football without talking about Joe Paterno as the head coach. Wow, I started watching football back in the 60s and Joe was firmly entrenched there at that point. The rest of my life, there was Joe Paterno and there was Penn State.
But, everything eventually changes.
I never even got used to saying Bill O’Brien before he moved on and took the Houston Texans job.
Now, it’s the James Franklin era at Penn State. Franklin says he’s a Pennsylvania boy going home. He says it’s his dream job. I hope it is, because a good Penn State is good for college football in my eyes. I don’t care about the scandal and all the nonsense surrounding that. The Penn State Nittany Lions were a force when I first started watching football and they have been a force most of my life and they are another program like Notre Dame, Alabama, Michigan, USC, Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio State that is what college football is all about.
I believe they are going to be very good again under James Franklin.
Traditionally, when I think of Penn State football, I think of Linebackers. Penn State has always had a good defense, but their LBs have always been superb.
Linebacker U returns two starters at the position that made them famous. Mike Hull (6-0,225) returns for his senior season after a solid junior year that saw him finish second on the team in tackles. The other outside backer was Nyeem Wartman (6-1,240) a sophomore out of Philadelphia and he had a fanstastic freshman year and looks like a budding star.
The Lions will miss leading tackler Glenn Carson in the middle. Gary Wooten (6-2,240) and Brandon Bell (6-1,225) should have a deluxe battle in the Spring to win the job in the middle. Wooten is a big junior out of Miami, Florida and Bell is a sophomore from New Jersey. Bell got a little more playing time a year ago, but it’s a new season with Franklin’s staff.
Others in the mix at either the middle spot or as back ups on the outside include Adam Cole (5-11,220), Ben Kline (6-2,230) and Charles Idemudia (5-11,235). Outstanding incoming 4 star recruit Troy Reeder (6-3,230) from Wilmington, Delaware looks like a LBer to add to the future rep of Linebacker U. Also, don’t sleep on 3 star LB out of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Torrence Brown (6-4,230)
James Franklin is not only an excellent football coach, but he is an excellent recruiter and the B1G had better keep an eye on him and this team. They are going places. Maybe not this season, but in the seasons to come.
Both defensive ends return, CJ Olaniyan (6-3,245) and Deion Barnes (6-4,245). CJ led the team in sacks a year ago with 5 and Barnes had 2. Depth at the ends should come from Carl Nassib (6-6,245), Anthony Zettel (6-4,260) and Evan Schwan (6-6,250). Garrett Sickels (6-4,230) and Curtis Cothran (6-5,240) redshirted in 2013 and should be ready to battle for playing time in 2014.
Defensive tackle position lost it’s best player, DaQuan Jones, and they also lost Kyle Baublitz. Austin Johnson (6-4,300) played enough to record 27 tackles and a sack as a freshman. Brian Gaia (6-3,280) played some in 2013, but will have to fight off the challenges of Tyrone Smith (6-4,265) and Tarow Barney (6-3,285) a JC transfer from Georgia. Depth could be an issue.
Penn State returns a few starters in the secondary.
Corners should be Adrian Amos (6-0,215) and Jordan Lucas ( 6-0,195). Lucas was the team’s third leading tackler and had 3 interceptions. Amos was 6th in tackles and had another INT. Both have NFL size and are talented leaving the corners in good shape.
Safety Ryan Keiser (6-1,205) also had 3 picks and was 8th on the team in tackles. Jesse Della Valle (6-1,190) is back and should move into the empty safety position.
One of the amazing stories involving Penn State in 2013 was the emergence of true freshman 18 year old Christian Hackenberg (6-4,220). Hackenberg threw for just short of 3000 yards and 20 TDs. He should do nothing but improve in 2014 and the next. Hard to say if the coaching transition should slow his development. Hackenberg threw 10 INTs and had his struggles, but he often looked like a much older and experienced QB. Consider me an outside fan that is very impressed with Christian Hackenberg. He was nowhere near the freshman QB that Jameis Winston or Johnny Manziel were but different circumstances and Hackenberg did not get that redshirt year for seasoning.
Hackenberg was backed up by Tyler Ferguson (6-3,215) who completed 10 passes for 155 yards last season.
DJ Crook (6-1,200) could be another QB battling for the back up job. 4 star incoming freshman Michael O’Connor (6-5,225) from Florida will probably redshirt. My congrats to him for being that level of recruit and signing with Penn State knowing that Christian Hackenberg is already on campus. To me that shows he is full of confidence in his own abilities. It’s up to him to prove to the world that he is as good as he believes he is, but a QB is a lot about having belief in yourself and O’Connor is impressive.
Nittany Lions QB position will be in good shape for years to come.
They are also good for another year at the RB position with seniors Zach Zwinak (6-1,240) and Bill Belton (5-10,205) returning. Zwinak was the starter and had 989 yards and 12 TDs. Belton ran for 803 yards and 5 TDs. They also have 358 yard rusher Akeel Lynch (6-0,210) coming back for his junior year.
4 star incoming freshman Johnathon Thomas (5-11,210) could probably play right away or redshirt and compete with Lynch for the job next season.
Jesse James (6-7,255) returns at TE and was good for 25 catches and 3 TDs. Kyle Carter (6-3,245) is another good one back at TE and had 18 receptions in 2013. Adam Breneman (6-4,235) played as a true freshman a year ago and had 15 catches and 3 TDs. TE is solid for the Lions also.
Mike Gesiki (6-6,220) and Chance Sorrell (6-5,245) are 3 star incoming freshmen that will possibly help out in a year or two. Tight End is a position that should always be full of talent at Penn State, much like Notre Dame and Stanford.
Penn State’s best offensive player a year ago was Allen Robinson and he declared for the NFL pretty much leaving the WR ranks a total mess. Robinson caught nearly 100 passes last season and was dominant at times. He will be missed and especially by Christian Hackenberg.
Geno Lewis (6-0,200) caught 18 passes from Hackenberg a year ago. Richy Anderson hauled in 13 passes. There’s really nobody else with experience.
DaeSean Hamilton (6-0,185) redshirted last year and was a 4 star recruit. Saeed Blacknall (6-3,205), Chris Godwin (6-2,205) are star recruits coming in this season. They will need to be ready to play for day one because Penn State lacks depth at WR.
Offensive line returns 2 starters in Left Tackle Donovan Smith (6-5,320) and Left Guard Miles Dieffenbach (6-3,295). Third year sophomore Angelo Mangiro (6-3,305) and redshirt freshman Wendy Laurent (6-3,285) will battle out in the Spring for the center position.
Anthony Alosi (6-4,285) or Brendan Mahon (6-4,305) or Tanner Hartman (6-6,270) should fight it out for right guard. Looks like Andrew Nelson (6-5,295) could be the Right Tackle. Franklin will need to recruit some depth here pretty quickly and probably needs to hit the JC ranks.
Penn State opens with Central Florida which is a tall task, but UCF lost QB Bortles and the game will be in Dublin, Ireland. All other games on their schedule are winnable other than maybe Ohio State. I am picking 7-5 for Penn State in 2014, but I am also expecting a couple of surprises and would not be shocked with 8-4 or 9-3. Franklin will get it done at Penn State and we will soon see if he was serious about Penn State being his dream job because others will come calling for his services.