Following sachsmoney’s lead for Michigan…and hoping that there is a sizeable Penn State fan base among the membership, let’s turn our attention to the Nittany Lions.
I haven’t attempted this kind of write up before, so please be gentle…
As an introductory comment, I will say that it is highly unlikely that Penn State will enjoy its traditional level of success. The following assessment is intended to consider how likely it is that Penn State can still compete at a relatively high level, subjectively defined as better that .500: 7-5, 8-4, perhaps even 9-3 seasons over the next few years.
Here are the considerations:
1. NCAA Sanctions (found here: http://www.ncaa.com/...ate-conclusions):
Entering the second of four years of sanctions (I’ll disregard for the moment the arguments being bandied about in the menstrual stream media and on the Al Gore-machine regarding PA Governor Tom Corbett’s lawsuit vs. the NCAA (filing found here: http://i.usatoday.ne...caa-lawsuit.pdf), and its potential success or failure in attempting to roll back the sanctions).
· Penn State is entering its first year in which the initial-award scholarship limit will be capped at 15 (vs. normal 25). I would point out as well an area of confusion on many folks’ part: the 65 scholarship limit does not kick in until commencement of the 2014-2015 academic year, and it runs through the 2017-2016 academic year. It did not start concurrently with the 15 initial-award scholarship limit that commences for the 2013-2014 academic year. If you do the math, once the sanctions have run their course, Penn State will not regain a full 85-scholarship roster until 2019 at the earliest, and perhaps 2020 (I can share a spreadsheet if anyone wants to see the data).
· In my mind, the question is whether Penn State can either 1) make do with the legitimate 3- to 5-star recruits that it can attract within this limit; 2) attract some [handful] of lesser-star recruits who are willing to suck it up and attend Penn State as a non-scholarship student-athlete despite the sanctions; 3) a combination of 1) and 2); or 4) a bizarre and unpredictable mixture of infinite possibilities. I assume that Penn State will retain a roster somewhere close to its current number of 110 (making the balance up with walk-ons). Is it possible that somewhere in those non-scholarship “run-ons”, as BO’B so affectionately has dubbed them, there is a sufficient number of quality athletes to permit Penn State to at least tread water or remain quasi-competitive throughout the “Trouble Years”? Someone like Deon Butler comes to mind. So far, five prospects have announced their intentions to run on at Penn State: Central Mountain HS (PA) athlete Von Walker, State College HS (PA) DL Evan Galimberti, Hyannis Barnstable HS (MA) QB D.J. Crook, Salisbury School (CT) QB Austin Whipple, and Toms River HS (NJ), and PK/PP Chris Gulla (more on the latter three below).
· It is interesting that despite the sanctions, to date there have been at least two players – Johnson HS (MD) running back Richy Anderson and Hazel Green HS (AL) defensive lineman Parker Cothren – who have actually decommitted from Maryland and Purdue, respectively, to play for Penn State starting in 2013.
2. The Coaching Staff
· With limited data, BO’B appears to be a legitimate college football coach. He seems to have pushed most of the right buttons in recruiting, staff organization and management, player development and mentorship, on-field management and in-game decision making, off-field press and media relations, and – a key – gaining the confidence of the administration. NFL flirting and open courtships notwithstanding, and recognizing that they may become an annual end-of-season rite or kabuki dance, creating in its wake the constant effects of friction and speculation, BO’B seems to have successfully maneuvered through the inaugural season’s minefield.
· BO’B has assuaged many fears with his assurances that he is committed to Penn State. This certainly has had and will continue to have a positive effect in the recruiting arena – especially for the blue chippers who are verbally committed to become members of the recruiting class of 2013. National Letter of Intent signing day for them is February 1.
· Regarding the recent departure of Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof, most folks in the know seem to consider this as no real loss. Many have expressed disappointment that Larry Johnson or Ron Vanderlinden (the two holdouts from the Paterno era) were not promoted over John Butler. But from all accounts, Butler has earned the admiration of fellow coaches and is respected and well-liked by the players. And there is the possibility that LJ’s and RVL’s legacy association with the previous regime likely could have been considered a detrimental PR weight that held them back). In any case, I believe most Penn State fans do not consider Roof’s departure a big loss, because they feel Roof really isn’t that great of a DC. All you need to do is look back at Tom Bradley, who had the Lions in the top 5 defensive teams in the country in 2011, while Roof guided the team to a 16th place finish in 2012). Roof’s departure does raise at least one concern/question: does it portend other staff defections? Did some coaches come to Penn State to enjoy the fruits that might accrue to them through their association with a former NFL coach? Is the petal now off that rose?
· One subtle but very important consideration is the improved strength and conditioning program put in place this past year by new S&C coach Craig Fitzgerald. Look for the fruits of his labor to continue growing and providing payoffs, especially in the area of reduced injuries, which Penn State can ill-afford in the scholarship limited period.
3. Key Losses from 2012: Penn State lost 23 players due to graduation or expiration of eligibility at the end of the 2012 season. While Penn State loses many outstanding starters – Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, Jordan Hill, and yes, even Matt McGloin, a sound central cadre of talent remains.
4. The Team Going Forward/Remaining Roster at Conclusion of 2012 Season:
· An assumption going forward is that there will be few, if any, additional transfers. There have been two departures to date: Curtis Dukes and Brennan Franklin, neither of whom left to attend other schools (at least for the time being). Dukes was at one time considered a legitimate contender to become the next great Penn State tailback. But reports were that he couldn’t master BO’B’s offense, and struggled in audible-pass block and protection calls. And Brennan was a 3rd level backup, whose departure is unbelievably being reported at the national level as though it were something of significance. But it is important to note that players on the current roster can still transfer without penalty until the first day of fall practice this year, after which the “free” transfer period will expire completely and regular transfer rules will return. The feeding fenzy that ensued in the immediate wake of the sanctions last year likely won't be repeated, but there are reports of "poaching", most notably Auburn's attempt to entice Bayside Academy (AL) LB/RB Jonathan Walton to change his mind. Granted, Walton is from SEC territory, and SEC schools have become very protective of their territory, so the effort in his case should not come as a surprise
o One element that will be worth noting this year is who can rise to the challenge of holding the team together in the same way Mike Mauti and Mike Zordich did last year?
5. Non-professional evaluation of the returning team and some of the new recruits (note: all class references (i.e., Fr., So., Jr., Sr.) are for the upcoming season):
- Christian Hackenberg: 6’-4” 210#, from Fork Union Military Academy (VA). National #1-rated pro-style QB in the class of 2013, but he won’t enroll until August and thus will miss the spring training period. Some expect him to redshirt this year to gain experience.
- Stephen Bench: 6’3”, 210#, from Cairo (GA) HS. Dual-threat QB. Was lightly recruited due to an injury his senior year in HS, and committed late as non-scholarship 3-star recruit. Was placed on scholarship for the 2013 season, but does not count against the 2013 initial-award total. Saw very little playing time in 2012, but likely will enter the spring training period at the top of the depth chart, as he is the only QB remaining from the 2012 roster. However, most think JUCO transfer Tyler Ferguson (see below) will ultimately win an expectedly intense competition, but will need time to learn the playbook and adjust.
- Tyler Ferguson: 6’4”, 210#, from Bakersfield, CA. A 4-star recruit out of HS, and #2-rated JUCO QB at College of the Sequoias (behind Jake Waters of Western Iowa Community College, who previously narrowed his decision between Penn State and Kansas State before siding with the latter). 3 years of eligibility left. As a JUCO freshman, Ferguson completed 55.6 percent of his passes for 2,650 yards and 26 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.
- Austin Whipple (run-on): 6’2”, 200 #. Pro-style QB from Pine-Richland (PA) HS. Played a year post-graduation at The Salisbury School (CT). Salisbury numbers were 57.7% completion, 1,526 yards, 19 TDs (+ 3 rushing).
- D.J. Crook (run-on): 6’2”, 205 #. Pro-style QB from Hyannis Barnstable (MA) HS. Played a year post-graduation at Worcester Academy. The all-time leading passer in Massachusetts high school history with 8,126 yards and 77 touchdowns in 38 starts. Some of you guys and gals on here may be familiar with him.
o Running Backs:
- Returnees are Jr. Zach Zwinak (203 carries, 1,000 yards, and 6 TDS), Jr. Bill Belton (60-263-3), and Fr. Akeel Lynch*. Many are hoping that Bill Belton can grow into his obvious talent (there were reports of “focus” issues this past season), because Zach Zwinak, bless his heart (and thank you very much for the 1,000 yards in 2012) just isn’t the kind of runner you want standing atop your depth chart).
- Penn State is keeping their fingers crossed in their pursuit of David Williams from Imhotep Institute Cha (PA), a 4-star RB (nationally 7th rated RB and 134th overall prospect). Williams rushed for 1,904 yards and 23 touchdowns on 195 carries as a senior and was selected to play in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl in Carson, CA.
- There is also the possibility that all-purpose back Richy Anderson (verbal commit), from Johnson (MD) HS, who is being slotted as a receiver, could make the switch to provide depth.
o Wide Receivers:
- Returnees are Jr. Allen Robinson (the Big Ten's most productive receiver) with 77 catches, 1,013 yards, 11 TDs, Sr. Brandon Moseby-Felder (31-437-1), So. Trevor Williams (10-97-0), Jr. Alex Kenney (17-172-0), So. Matt Zanellato (2-19-0), So. Eugene Lewis*, Fr. Malik Golden*, Fr. Jonathan Warner*, So. Tyler Lucas* [*-redshirted]. The cat is out of the bag on Robinson and he likely will be targeted heavily by defenses in 2013. But Moseby-Felder offers a very attractive target as an alternative, and Golden looks very impressive as a slot receiver. Rising redshirt Fr. Lewis and rising So. Williams have shown significant potential and will provide depth. Plus, Penn State has loaded up at Tight End (see below), and we know how BO’B loves to use these big boys.
o Tight Ends:
- As the 2012 season progressed and defenses wrapped up Allen Robinson, tight ends played a much more prominent role, and in so doing allowed BO’B to expand the passing game to multiple threats (sound familiar?) Stepping up big was returnee Freshman All-American Kyle Carter (6’3”, 247#) (36-453-2) But lo, two other very talented TEs also blossomed: So. Jesse James (6’7”, 264#) (15-276-5) and Sr. Matt Lehman (6’6”, 258#) (24-296-3). These guys are in the Gronk-Hernandez mold: BIG and agile, capable of blocking and getting open over the middle, in the flat, or downfield.
- Enter into this talented pool one Adam Breneman, 6’4”, 224#, from Cedar Cliff HS (PA). Nationally #1-rated TE enrolled in January and does not count against the 2013 initial-award scholarship total for 2013.
o Offensive Line: Filling the holes left by NFL-bound studs Matt Stankiewitch and Mike Farrell will be a tall order, but Penn State is in good shape on the OL. Returnees include Sr. John Urshel (1st Team All-B1G, and 4.0 in celestial mathematic OBTW), Jr. Miles Dieffenbach, and So. Donovan Smith. Several underclassmen recorded significant playing time and gained considerable experience, so there is plenty of depth. If Zach Zwinak can gain 1,000 yards behind these guys they must be doing a pretty decent job. Pass protection is an area that needs work, although all of the QBs on the roster this year have better legs under them than did McGloin.
o Defensive Line:
- Considering the carousal created from various injuries, the Penn State DL held up very well and performed admirably in 2012. The rotation provided an unexpected opportunity for some underclassmen to gain valuable experience. NFL-bound Jordan Hill (Penn State’s “Vince Wilfork”) will be sorely missed, and other than Freshman All-American DE Deion Barnes, none of the returnees names likely strike fear in anyone’s mind, and graduation hit this area harder than any other on the team. Also other than Barnes, only one returnee – Sr. DaQuan Jones – had more than 20 tackles.
- A notable incoming recruit is 6’4” 230#, 4-star DE Garret Sickels, from Little River HS (NJ). Joining him is 6’5” 230#, 3-star DE Curtis Cothran (not to be confused with run-on Parker Cothren) from Council Rock North HS (NJ).
- The loss of Mike Mauti will be felt far and wide – not because he was that great of a player, but because of the leadership that he provided to the team. The experience and talent that Gerald Hodges will take with him to the NFL will also be felt. Seasoned returnees Sr. Glenn Carson and Jr. Mike Hull are the most likely prospects to step in and fill the void. No other returning linebackers saw significant playing time last year.
- Penn State has only one significant committed recruit – Brandon Bell, a 6’2”, 215# 3-star ILB from Oakcrest HS (NJ). Penn State continues to hold out hope for Zaid Issah, a 6’3”, 210# 3-star athlete (slotted for LB) from Central Dauphin HS (PA). Issah had previously committed to Penn State, but re-opened his recruitment. He reportedly has indicated he still places Penn State at #1 on his list, but wanted to hear about other potential offers.
o Secondary: Without doubt, the secondary is Penn State’s weak link. They seemed incapable of consistently preventing long third down completions last year, which kept the defense on the field much longer than it should have been. They lost their best DB – Stephon Morris – to graduation. And 2012 was the first year starting for both safeties (Sr. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Sr. Malcolm Willis), so both should be able to springboard from that experience. Even so, the other secondary players are themselves starting from where SO-A and MW did last year, so there may be some continuing growing pains in this area. Two incoming recruits – Jordan Smith (5’11”, 180#, from HD Woodson HS (DC)) and Anthony Smith (6’0”, 185#, from Valley Forge MA (PA)) – enroll in January and won’t count against the initial-award limit. The reps they get during the spring will be invaluable for a cornerback rotation that needs bodies.
· Special Teams:
- Despite his early season woes (encapsulated in an inauspicious 1-for-5 vs. Virginia), Sam Ficken proved himself to be a capable and consistent PK. Routinely producing touchbacks on kickoffs, there is no doubt he has the leg. But after missing 7 of his first 11 FG attempts, he finished with 10 straight, and capped off his season with a 3-for-3 performance against Wisconsin. His last won the game in OT.
- Penn State has added run-on kicker/punter Chris Gulla from Toms River North HS (NJ). Gulla was a 4-year starter in HS and made 17 of 22 attempts, including a game-winning 45 yarder. He averaged 42-yards per punt, 66-yards per kickoff, and produced 33 touchbacks.
o Punter: Jr. Alex Butterworth averaged a dismal 37.4 yards per try. Gulla certainly has a shot at displacing him.
6. Conclusion: With the above considered, it’s very hard to make predictions about Penn State’s record next year or for the next several years. Before the season began, last year’s team was viewed as lucky if they won 4 games, with some saying as few as 2. The end results certainly surprised most, including many die-hard Penn State fans. But last year’s team had an advantage of already possessing a sound core of players and, despite the menstrual stream media hype that swirled around them, was considered more capable by those with a more dispassionate and critical eye. So 8 wins should not have come as that much of a surprise. “That’s why they play the games,” as the saying goes. While it is true that this year’s team also has a sound residual core, it is a smaller one than last, and a similar erosion can be expected over the next few years except to the degree that BO’B and his staff can squeeze every last ounce of skill and talent from the recruits and returnees each year, if not take them beyond their current projections.
I will say 7-5 in 2013, followed by 6-6“ish” and 5-7“ish” seasons through 2017. It is possible they may squeeze in an 8 win or a wild-dream 9 win season somewhere along the way, but it is unlikely that they can get beyond that, unless the B1G continues its slide into collective mediocrity. In any case, in the event BO’B stays for the entirety of the “Trouble Years”, it will be very interesting to see what he can do with the potentially very talented QB and TE/WR cadre he and his staff have assembled.
The 2013 Schedule
Aug. 31 vs. Syracuse (at New Meadowlands Stadium; East Rutherford, N.J.)
Sept. 7 - EASTERN MICHIGAN
Sept. 14 - VIRGINIA
Sept. 21 - KENT STATE
Oct. 5 at Indiana
Oct. 12 - MICHIGAN
Oct. 26 at Ohio State
Nov. 2 - ILLINOIS
Nov. 9 at Minnesota
Nov. 16 - PURDUE
Nov. 23 - NEBRASKA
Nov. 30 at Wisconsin
Edited by SoxJox, 11 January 2013 - 05:43 PM.