Believe it or not, it’s time to play actual football games.
After the most difficult off-season in college football history, the Penn State football team finally begins the 2012 season Saturday at noon at Beaver Stadium against Ohio.
Jerry Sandusky is in jail. Joe Paterno passed away and his statue was taken down. The Freeh report was released and the NCAA slammed Penn State with unprecedented sanctions meant to decimate the football program. These all led to the daily reports of which players were leaving the program.
No, the news has not been good for the last nine months.
The one piece of news that appears to be working out well was the hiring of Bill O’Brien as the Nittany Lions’ coach.
By all accounts, he has handled all of this mess as well, or better, than anyone could’ve expected.
It’s O’Brien’s team now – and all he is tasked to do is to is to win football games, lead the rebuilding of the university and the collective psyche of over 600,000 students and alumni.
And while the Sandusky scandal, Freeh report and NCAA sanctions still loom large, thankfully some focus can be directed on the field and the talk can talk can turn to offense, defense and wins and losses.
So how will the 2012 Penn State football team do?
Well, it really depends on who you are asking.
In general terms, the further the away the prognosticator, the worst the record. Many national media members are predicting a losing record for the Lions – some almost gleefully.
However, the general consensus of the beat writers that cover the team regularly – has Penn State posting a a 7-5 record.
Time will tell which group will be correct but the thought here is that the beat writers have a better idea of what’s going to happen than many of the national ones.
Why? Well, let’s start with the defense.
The defense was dominating last year and it should be very good again this season. No defensive starters transferred after the sanctions, which was very good news for the O’Brien.
O’Brien, in fact, called the front seven the strength of the team. The defensive line and linebackers should be strong and will be counted on heavily.
The secondary took some hits but, by all accounts, performed admirably during preseason camp.
Like last season, the defense should be dominant in most games.
Offensively, the Lions were not good last season. They were at or near the bottom of the Big Ten in most offensive categories.
Then just days before camp was to begin, running back Silas Redd, wide receiver Justin Brown and kicker Anthony Fera transferred.
Clearly, taking what many thought were the three top weapons off an already bad offense isn’t a recipe for success.
Sophomore Bill Belton will be the starting running back and O’Brien has talked glowingly about his ability. Redd’s 1,200 yards will be missed but it’s not like Belton isn’t going to be productive.
Brown would’ve been the top returning receiver but there is now a group of six or seven receivers that will rotate in and out – led by Allen Robinson.
O’Brien has also talked positively about the performance of the offensive line during camp.
But let’s face it, the biggest difference in the offense will be the coaching. Starting quarterback Matt McGloin has raved bout the coaching he has received and the offense he gets to run.
McGloin has been up and down during his tenure but the former walk-on has clearly distinguished himself as the starter.
In addition, the scheme the offense run will vary week to week depending on the opponent.
The new scheme and coaching should offset the losses on offense.
Listening to the players, we have also found out the new strength and conditioning program is leaps and bounds better than the previous one. We also have heard that his was the best run camp any of them have participated in.
What do we make of it all?
Well, last year’s team posted a 9-3 regular season record. This year’s team could actually get close to that.
The non-conference schedule is certainly not easy – but there is no Alabama on it either. Ohio won 10 games last year. Playing at Virginia will be tough. Navy’s offense is always difficult to prepare for and Temple nearly beat the Lions last year.
The conference schedule begins on the road at Illinois. Those first five games will go a long way in determining how this team performs this season.
Even though they are not locks, one can expect Penn State to win the three non-conference home games. That means the trips to Virginia and Illinois are huge.
With games later in the year against Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin, winning early is the only way that Penn State is going to get near last year’s win total.
The prediction here is the Nittany Lions go 8-4. After everything that has happened, any record above .500 would be a good season and go a long way in helping recruiting.
Whether Penn State has a good season or not, it will be nice to finally be talking about football games again.
Marty Valania covers football for nittanylionsden.com. Follow him @EastRecruiting on Twitter.