2014 College Football Preview – Penn State Nittany Lions

The Penn State Nittany Lions football program has two years remaining on its four-year bowl ban.  But the crippling NCAA sanctions (which include scholarship reductions) haven’t stopped the team from posting winning records the last two seasons.

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The Penn State Nittany Lions football program has two years remaining on its four-year bowl ban.  But the crippling NCAA sanctions (which include scholarship reductions) haven’t stopped the team from posting winning records the last two seasons.

This year, former Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin steps in to replace Bill O’Brien, who left to take the Houston Texans head coaching job.  Franklin has a strong pedigree and will have a solid group to work with as he enters his first season.

Quarterback Christian Hackenberg returns for his sophomore campaign after winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year.  Hackenberg is a big-time talent; some prognosticators have him as the top quarterback prospect when he becomes eligible for the NFL Draft.  As a true freshman, Hackenberg completed almost 59 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns against 10 interceptions.

Hackenberg lost top receiver Allen Robinson to the NFL, and so Robinson’s production will have to be found elsewhere.  However, the Nittany Lions return a strong set of tight ends, including first-team preseason All-Big Ten selection, Jesse James.

Penn State also returns its top three running backs, Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch.  The three-headed monster combined for over two thousand yards rushing last season.

The Nittany Lions’ problems are likely to come on the offensive line, which will be a largely inexperienced group.  Only two players return who have logged any starts, and that number could be reduced to one depending on guard Miles Dieffenbach’s recovery from an ACL tear.

On defense, the Nittany Lions have plenty of returning talent.  The front seven is especially deep and skilled.  Defensive ends C.J. Olaniyan and Deion Barnes anchor a pass rush that is sure to be improved and will cause problems for opposing quarterbacks.

With Rutgers and Maryland entering the Big Ten this year, Penn State’s schedule looks a bit different from years past.  Nevertheless, the Nittany Lions still must face Ohio State and Michigan State at home and Michigan on the road.  Aside from those three games, the schedule sets up well for the Nittany Lions to finish with another winning record this season.