By: chalifour.eric | 5/19/12, 11:39 AM EDT
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You can read the entire Penn State preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 Big Ten magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
#44 Penn State
Big Ten Leaders PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Bill O'Brien, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bill O'Brien | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ted Roof
The Lions had a terrific tailback in Silas Redd. The question is, what else have they got now that Redd decided to transfer to USC? The team doesn’t have much depth at tailback and will likely turn to sophomore Bill Belton as the team's No. 1 rusher. Redd's decision to leave Happy Valley was a huge blow to the offense, as there are few proven playmakers, concerns on the line and an unsettled quarterback situation.
After he was named coach, Bill O’Brien didn’t watch film of the three main candidates for the starting quarterback job in order to avoid developing any preconceptions. Senior Matt McGloin completed 54 percent of his throws last year and with Rob Bolden's decision to transfer, should be Penn State's quarterback in the season opener. Sophomore Paul Jones was academically ineligible last season and has some catching up to do. McGloin was named the starter in early June, but Jones could see playing time this season.
Up front, senior center Matt Stankiewitch is the only returning starter. Longtime Texas offensive line coach Mac McWhorter has joined the staff, and he’s looking to use the same clean-slate approach that O’Brien is taking at quarterback.
The Lions have some holes to fill, notably at defensive tackle, where junior DaQuan Jones will be stepping into the tackle spot vacated by Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Devon Still. The good news for Jones is that he’s got a big-time player alongside him in senior Jordan Hill. Penn State typically gets good pressure from its tackles — Hill and Still combined for eight sacks last season — so Jones’ performance is a key for this defense.
The Lions are also hoping for big things from two proven seniors who were waylaid last year by ACL surgery, end Pete Massaro and outside linebacker Michael Mauti. But even if Mauti needs some time to get back up to full speed after sitting out spring drills, Penn State should be fine at linebacker with All-Big Ten hopeful Gerald Hodges and Glenn Carson returning.
The Lions’ biggest concerns are in the secondary, where four starters must be replaced from a unit that led the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense last year. Sophomore cornerback Adrian Amos gives them a good place to start, but depth is a concern.
Junior Anthony Fera was the Lions’ do-it-all special teams ace. As a placekicker, he salvaged more than a few red zone mishaps, making all 11 of his field goal attempts from 39 yards and in. He was 3-of-6 from 40 and beyond, and he also handled punts, averaging 42 yards per attempt. With his decision to transfer to Texas, the Nittany Lions will have question marks on field goals and at punter. Penn State didn’t get much from its return game last year, finishing sixth in the Big Ten on kickoffs and ninth on punts.
When Penn State hired O’Brien away from the New England Patriots’ staff, it gave him free rein to change what he felt needed to be changed in order to reinvigorate a program that had fallen into decline in the waning years of the Joe Paterno era. O’Brien has taken that mandate seriously, retaining only two members of the previous coaching staff, revamping the strength program and installing a new offensive system. Players have responded enthusiastically, but it will be tough to keep this team focused, especially with a ban on postseason play.