CFN Preview 2013 - Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State WR Allen Robinson
Penn State WR Allen Robinson
Posted Jun 5, 2013 2013 Preview - Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State Nittany Lions

Preview 2013

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Bill O'Brien
2nd year: 8-4  
Ten Best Penn State Players
1. WR Allen Robinson, Jr.
2. QB Christian Hackenberg, Fr.
3. TE Jesse James, Soph.
4. LB Glenn Carson, Sr.
5. RB Zach Zwinak, Jr.
6. TE Kyle Carter, Soph.
7. DT DaQuan Jones, Sr.
8. CB/S Adrian Amos, Jr.
9. DE Deion Barnes, Soph.
10. TE Adam Breneman, Fr.
2013 Schedule
8/31 Syracuse (in East Rutherford)
9/7 Eastern Michigan
9/14 UCF
9/21 Kent State
10/5 at Indiana
10/12 Michigan
10/26 at Ohio State
11/2 Illinois
11/9 at Minnesota
11/16 Purdue
11/23 Nebraska
11/30 at Wisconsin
From purely a football standpoint, how can Penn State football matter? It's simple. Keep winning, and unlike last season, eventually the team will screw someone up.

Penn State went 8-4, but the second the thrilling overtime win over Wisconsin ended, that was it, and in the end, nothing the team did had any effect whatsoever on the 2012 college football season.

The Badgers went on to win the Big Ten championship. Northwestern finished with double-digit victories and a bowl win. Navy and Purdue went on to bowl games despite losing to the Nittany Lions. After November 24th, the world kept spinning without Penn State football, and no one seemed to notice or care. Whether the NCAA had it in mind or not, the irrelevancy of the Penn State football season might have been the biggest punishment of all.

The words Penn and State put together always elicits a strong reaction, opinion or response in some way, and that will never change as long as beliefs are so resolute. The problem, though, for Bill O'Brien and all the players who had nothing to do with the scandal, is that as much as they might try, they can't just play football without representing a side of a debate. To the team, winning football games has to mean nothing more than winning football games.

No, you don't "heal" a scandal by winning any more than you make a bad situation worse by losing – Penn State University wouldn't be any different if the football team went 4-8 instead of 8-4 - but that doesn't mean O'Brien and his team won't battle.

The one major positive coming out of the entire mess has been O'Brien. Put in an impossible situation, he has had to walk both sides of the line very, very gingerly, and all the while doing a phenomenal job of simply coaching football.

This year's team will have a major fight on its hands to try and put together a winning season with some major holes to fill and little to no depth, but the biggest problem could be the unquantifiable emotional angle. For good and bad, last year's team put its collective head down and tried to rally around the awful situation they were put in, and the fortitude showed by going 8-2 after the draining losses to Ohio and Virginia to open the season. Now, there won't be that us-against-the-world attitude, because unlike last season, the emotions just aren't as high and the rhetoric and spotlight have toned down.

So, yeah, for O'Brien and his team, it really is just about playing football games. They can't control anything else.

The starting 22 will be fine, and Penn State will end up having a few good moments against a bad schedule on the way to a 9-3 season at best, 5-7 at worst, and then the season will be over.

What to watch for on offense: The amazing tight ends. For a team woefully lacking in depth at so many spots, it's almost comical how many talented tight ends the offense has to work with. Considering what Bill O'Brien did with the New England Patriots and Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, he'll be certain to utilize all the talented options as much as possible. Matt Lehman might be the starter, but he's just a nice receiver and a strong blocker. 6-7 Jesse James is the gamechanger with the ability to get deep and a nose for the goal line. Before getting hurt, Kyle Carter was on his way to a special season, and if those three weren't enough in comes, arguably, the best tight end prospect in the 2013 class, Adam Breneman. Throw in all-star wide receiver Allen Robinson, and the Nittany Lions have weapons for the passing game.

What to watch for on defense: The shuffling and the experiments. The coaching staff is getting creative, and the effects of the scholarship reductions haven't even started to kick in yet. The starting foursome in the secondary should be fine, but the depth is woefully lacking meaning wide receivers Malik Golden and Trevor Williams are being tried out in the defensive backfield to create a few position battles. Adrian Amos is the team's best defensive back and badly needed at corner, but he could end up moving to safety if other options step up. Former offensive lineman Austin Johnson is getting the start at tackle, and there are certain to be more moves on the way to make the defense work.

The team will be far better if … the defense has to force turnovers. The fumble recoveries came early on with three against Virginia and three more against Navy, but the Nittany Lion D generated just six more over the final seven games. Oddly enough, two of them came in the loss to Nebraska. Meanwhile, the secondary was a disaster at picking off passes. The linebackers did most of the work with Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti combining for five of the ten, and Adrian Amos coming up with just two of the team's three picks from the defensive backs.

The schedule: Can the Nittany Lions recreate the on-field magic of last year? They start out with an even tougher task than Ohio playing Syracuse in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Eastern Michigan will be a good chance to get all the pieces together before a rougher-than-it-looks home game against UCF followed up with a Kent State squad that should be almost as good as the one that almost went to the BCS. It'll be tough to get to 4-0, but it's possible before getting a week off to prepare for the Big Ten season.

It's a bad break to have to play both Michigan and Nebraska from the Legends, but at least the two big games are at home. The road trip to Indiana to start things off is a must win with Michigan and an away game at Ohio State to follow, but there's a week off to prepare for the Buckeyes. Illinois, at Minnesota and Purdue is the light section that needs to be taken advantage of with Nebraska and a road game at Wisconsin to close out the year.

Best offensive player: Junior WR Allen Robinson. The hope is that super-recruit quarterback Christian Hackenberg is the star of the show right away, and four different tight ends could start for just about anyone in the Big Ten, but it's Robinson who'll be the main man everything will work around. Zach Zwinak is the tough runner who'll handle everything with the ground game, but when the team needs something big to happen, Robinson will be the steady force. It didn't matter how much attention was paid to him, he always produced.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Glenn Carson. He might not have the talent of Gerald Hodges or the fiery leadership of a Michael Mauti, but he's going to be the team's main linebacking force with the other two stars gone. Steady, but with the athleticism to be occasionally spectacular, he'll put up big numbers in the middle, and he has just enough talent flanking him to not have to do it all by himself.

Key player to a successful season: Freshman QB Christian Hackenberg. Okay, hotshot. Have fun. If he's not the best quarterback recruit in the country, he's No. 1A with size, arm, poise, and all of the NFL tools to quickly grow into a phenomenal performer under Bill O'Brien's tutelage. There's just enough talent and experience at the other starting spots to come up with another good season, but if Hackenberg or JUCO transfer Tyler Ferguson aren't great, the season won't be.

The season will be a success if … the Nittany Lions win eight games again. The schedule is too light and breezy to shoot for anything less, but like last year in the gaffes against Ohio and Virginia, there will be a few hiccups along the way. Fortunately, there's enough talent to hope for a win or two against the Michgans and Nebraskas of the world. Every game is a bowl game for Penn State, and it'll have to rise up for the really, really big showdowns and make those special.

Key game: Aug. 31 vs. Syracuse. Last year's team was able to fight back from losses to Ohio and Virginia, but this year's team might not have the same fortitude. With home games against Eastern Michigan, UCF and Kent State to follow, a win over Syracuse could mean a 4-0 start before getting a week off to prepare for the Big Ten slate. A loss would take the team off the map before September.

2012 Fun Stats:
- 1st Quarter Scoring: Penn State 97 – Opponents 20
- Time of Possession: Penn State 31:22 – Opponents 28:38
- 4th Down Conversions: Penn State 19-of-34 (56%) – Opponents 10-of-27 (37%)
- 2013 Penn State Preview | 2013 Penn State Offense
- 2013 Penn State Defense | 2013 Penn State Depth Chart