Team: Penn State Nittany Lions
Head Coach: Bill O’Brien (1st year at PSU)
2011 Record: 9-4 (6-2 Conference)
Overall Head Coaching Record: 0-0
After a tumultuous off-season (understatement of the century), long time New England Patriots assistant Bill O’Brien takes over the head coaching duties at Penn State in 2012. Coach O’Brien is intently focused on creating a new culture in Happy Valley and eliminating all mental ties between Jerry Sandusky/sexual abuse and the Penn State football team. I understand the Penn State fan base has garnered somewhat of a negative reputation over the years (and even throughout the Sandusky investigation), but I have to say that I am truly happy for the Nittany Lion faithful. Regardless of the way they treated Ohio State’s fan base after the Tressel situation, no true fans of any athletic program deserve the stigma associated with all the events that have transpired. Not to say that I don’t get frustrated seeing message board comments from fans still supporting Joe Paterno or Sandusky, but fans in Happy Valley, especially the true Penn State fans who have “taken the blinders off” and realize exactly what took place, do not deserve this. Now, onto football…
In fact, I am predicting Penn State to win only one B1G game this year. Yes, I said ONE game. Although Coach O’Brien and his heavily preached “us against the world” mentality may be inspiring to some, it will wear off after a couple B1G losses. Penn State’s 2012 conference schedule includes games at Illinois, vs. Northwestern, at Iowa, vs. Ohio State, at Purdue, at Nebraska, vs. Indiana and vs. Wisconsin. Yes, games like Illinois, Iowa and Purdue seem winnable, but with only seven returning starters and a first-time head coach, the only realistic winnable conference game is vs. Indiana.
However, let me say this: I do very much like Coach Bill O’Brien and his potential to resurrect a program like Penn State. But, he is very much hindered with scholarship reductions, below-average talent and the current stigma associated with Penn State. As many bad records and horrendous recruiting classes he and Penn State may have over the coming years, I do not expect Coach O’Brien to ever exhibit anything other than a positive mentality, happy appearance and relentless approach to each season. Why? Because he is in one of the best coaching positions anyone could have. There are zero expectations for him to win, and he has an immeasurable number of excuses to choose from if he happens to screw anything up. There are almost no consequences for anything he does, whether it’s signing a bottom-of-the-B1G ranked recruiting class or having a winless season. He can build this program from the ground up and, I believe, has (at a minimum) a 5-8 year window to do so.
According to Rivals.com, Penn State’s 2012 recruiting class is ranked 51st in the nation and 7th in the B1G. This class may would been ranked a tad higher had our very own Coach Urban Meyer not flipped 5-star DE Noah Spence to the Buckeyes. One player I see benefitting from the departure of starting RB Silas Redd to USC is 3-star RB Akeel Lynch from St. Francis High School in Athol Springs, NY. Lynch had been projected to see substantial time as Redd’s backup, and with Redd’s exit, Lynch can make a name for himself early on in his college career. With PSU replacing most of their secondary in 2012, 3-star recruits S Jordan Lucas and CB Da’Quan Davis may see quality minutes as well.
Returning only seven starters may not leave me enough to room to talk about all vital departures. Offensively, WR Derek Moye will be missed. Moye led the Nittany Lions in receiving for three consecutive seasons, all the while battling injuries. B1G Defensive Player of the Year DT Devon Still will leave a gaping hole in PSU’s defensive line. I’m already having visions of Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall breaking 25 yard runs in the ‘Shoe on October 27 against a struggling Penn State team…
Overall Record: 5-7
Conference Record: 1-7
Offensive Team MVP: WR Justin Brown
Defensive Team MVP: LB Gerald Hodges
Week 9 Nittany Lion-Buckeye Brawl Score: Penn State 6 Ohio State 34
Previous B1G Summer Previews:
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Illinois Fighting Illini