PENN STATE AT A GLANCE
Coach: Bill O'Brien (8-4,
second season at Penn State)
Last season: 8-4 (6-2 Big Ten)
On the web: gopsusports.com
Ticket info: 1-800-648-8269 (1-800-NITTANY)
Worth watching: Health of the linebackers. Yes, Penn State is "Linebacker U" and the team has a solid crop of starters (Glenn Carson, Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman) in the middle of its defense. But there is not much behind them. Ben Kline and Gary Wooten would be the fourth and fifth options behind the starters. Kline appeared in all 12 games last season, but was used sparingly at linebacker. Wooten is a redshirt freshman. So, with the loss of Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges (both drafted by the Vikings), more will be asked of the Lions' starters this season. If they are able to stay on the field, Penn State's defense should have another strong season.
Great unknown: This one is obvious: the quarterbacks. O'Brien did not publicly announce whether Tyler Ferguson or Christian Hackenberg will start Saturday against Syracuse. There are plenty of other questions concerning the Nittany Lions' signal-callers, both making their Division I debuts. How will they adjust to this level? Who will get more reps? Will one win the job outright by Week 2?
It all comes down to: The starting quarterback, whoever it may be, getting a grasp of the offense. Before this season, O'Brien was a "one-quarterback" coach, and it came as a surprise to some when he said he would use both Ferguson and Hackenberg in the opener. However, there's a good chance one of the signal-callers will win the job, and if they can run the offense efficiently, Penn State has the chance to be a very good team. Talent at the skill positions and an offensive line with some veterans will surround the new quarterback, but that player will need to do his part as the season progresses.
Circle the dates: Penn State's homecoming date with Michigan on Oct. 12 is the most intriguing game at Beaver Stadium. The Lions haven't faced the maize and blue since 2010, when they outscored them, 41-31. Two weeks later, O'Brien will lead his team to Columbus to meet Ohio State. The Buckeyes are the heavy favorites in the Big Ten, and this game under the lights at the Horseshoe could have national title-race implications. Penn State also finishes its home slate with Nebraska on Nov. 23. Saturday's opener at MetLife Stadium comes 155 days before Super Bowl XLVIII is played in the same venue on Feb. 2, 2014.
Number crunching: While this will change Saturday, there are currently just two players on Penn State's roster who have ever thrown a pass in a Division I game. They are running back Bill Belton and punter Alex Butterworth. Belton took some snaps in the wildcat formation in 2011, and Butterworth had an incompletion on a fake punt against Ohio State last season.
Prognosis: The Lions have the talent and potential to win double-digit games this season, but there are a lot of variables. In addition to an unproven quarterback and very little linebacker depth, they have two inexperienced cornerbacks, very little linebacker depth, and less scholarship players than other schools. Penn State's nonconference schedule features four winnable games, but it will get tough once the Big Ten season hits.
- Stephen Pianovich