|On Saturday MetLife Stadium will serve as Syracuse's home-away-from-home against Penn State. Photo: Kevin McGuire|
After months of waiting, the first kickoff of the 2013 season is nearly upon us. Penn State will begin year two under Bill O'Brien and serve the second of a four-year postseason ban? Nothing to play for? Hardly. While the 2012 season will forever be recognized as one of the most memorable seasons worthy of discussion against a pair of national championship seasons, 1994, 2005 and 2008 and more, the 2013 season will be about taking the next steps forward as a football program.
This Saturday, the next step comes against historic rival Syracuse on an NFL stage in MetLife Stadium.
Penn State has the talent on he first string roster to do plenty of damage this season but the depth will begin to be more of a concern this fall as a result of NCAA sanctions limiting scholarship numbers in the program. The key players will have familiar names on offense with Allen Robinson making plays at receiver, Kevin Carter and Matt Lehman and Jesse James having their way at tight end and Zach Zwinak likely leading the ground attack after rushing for 1,000 yards despite starting the season as the third string running back. The offensive line will have to get tougher to compete with the elite defensive lines on the schedule and must come together quickly to ensure whoever is under center has time to think and process what is going on in the field, be it Tyler Ferguson or freshman Christian Hackenberg.
On defense the Nittany Lions will be led up front by Big Ten freshman of the year Deion Barnes along with DaQuan Jones. The linebackers will be anchored by proven middle linebacker Glenn Carson, who makes up for a lack of speed and dazzle with solid ball awareness and tackling — possibly far more important in the Big Ten. He will have Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman flanking him on both sides, with Wartman expected to put on a bit of a show this season after redshirting in 2012. The secondary has generally been a rough spot for Penn State's defense over the last decade but could be a bit of a surprise element this season if all goes well.
Special teams could once again be a trouble spot for the most part, although kicker Sam Ficken seemed to gain some confidence as the 2012 season progressed. A rough start may not be in the cards once again in 2013.
By most accounts it appears Penn state is a solid pick for seven wins, with some pundits calling for eight wins or perhaps even nine. I am being much more cautious with my prediction though, and some may suggest I am being a pessimist by only counting on six wins. I think Penn State has poential for eight wins, but I'll push on six. I think the non-conference schedule could be trickier than some may want to believe. Kent State and Central Florida have enough talent to make things tricky, and this week's opponent is not exactly led by former Duke basketball player at quarterback.
That said, we know about as much about the Syracuse quarterback situation as we do the Penn State QB situation. The Orange are also breaking in a brand new head coach. Does O'Brien get the edge in this category in week one? Perhaps he does.
The good news is we will find out just what we have to look forward to this season in just a matter of days. Congratulations Penn State fans. You survived another off-season.