Once again, the contingent of SB Nation Big Ten bloggers is a great one, and we're blessed with one of the elder states-blogs of the entire community within our network. Black Shoe Diaries was one of the groups I talked to when I first looked at joining SB Nation over four years ago, and Cari Greene was kind enough to answer this week's questions.
T-Mill: It is year two of the sanctions. Exactly how many scholarships will Penn State be down and what will the effect be?
Cari: Technically, per the sanctions, we should be at 75 scholarships this year. Last year, we played the season at 67; I'm not sure the exact numbers, but last I checked, we were around the same this year, maybe one or two more. So, we will undoubtedly be below what the NCAA mandated, but likely above the 65 that is the base of the reductions (and goes into effect in 2014). Next year will be the year, in my opinion, when the scholarship reductions will have the greatest impact on the field; by that time, though, the end of the sanctions will be nigh, and O'Brien will be able to recruit with the bowl ban as less of an impact (though of course he will still have to be selective in the players he goes after).
T-Mill: Christian Hackenberg looks like the starter from day 1. It looks like he has the tools at his disposal for a good year, but are you nervous about starting a true freshman in the Big Ten?
Cari: As of today, with summer camp not yet starting, the QB position is a toss-up between Sophomore JuCo transfer Tyler Ferguson and Hackenberg, with, in my opinion, Ferguson (we like to call him Hoss or Sue at BSD, for some reason) having the slight edge, as he already is more familiar with both the playbook and the myriad offensive weapons around him. Before Steven Bench transferred to USF, the general consensus was that Hackenberg would redshirt; now, that's much less certain. I only expect Hackenberg to start at New Meadowlands if he absolutely blows Ferguson out of the water, and if that doesn't happen, I only expect him to play if Ferguson gets hurt.
Though our scholarship depth is pretty slim at QB, we do have a trio of walk-ons (or, "run-ons", as BOB calls them) entering the fray this year. With Bench gone, Austin Whipple and DJ Crook are the next two on the depth chart. Both are from New England and enrolled in the spring semester at PSU, going through spring camp. The biggest get in this classification, though, is Jack Seymour, a 2* quarterback from Indiana who decided to walk-on at Penn State despite getting offers from Ball State, Western Michigan and Southern Illinois. Matt McGloin 2.0? Frankly, I hope not (#teamHack).
Regardless of who starts, though, the QB will have a lot of weapons around him, the least of which are 2012 B1G wide receiver of the year Allen Robinson and 2012 Freshman All-American TE Kyle Carter. They'll be joined by talented receivers Brandon Moseby-Felder, who helps stretch out the field, and Geno Lewis, whom BOB has been high on, as well as TEs Jesse James (aka, the Outlaw) and Brent Wilkerson. Additionally, whomever the QB is will be behind a line with more experience (including RSSR John Urschel, who already has both his BS and Masters in math with a 4.0 gpa) and a trio of running backs in Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, and Akeel Lynch who excite all PSU fans with their diverse style.
Frankly, whomever our QB is, if he's at least passable, we should be a threat on offense.
Cari: That's a big concern for me; last year, we did well not just because of talent or coaching, but because the team was held together by its tremendous senior leadership in Mauti and FB Michael Zordich, amongst others. And seeing how the team reacts with them gone, as well as who will step up into that leadership role, will be huge for fans this fall.
But with production...what does it say that linebackers, my favorite position and the one that PSU is arguably known for, is my personal biggest area of concern this year? I think our starters will be very good (Glenn Carson enters this year with two years of starting under his belt; despite being an LB, Mike Hull actually was our nickel back in all passing situations last year and thus saw significant time; Nyeem Wartman actually played a game and a half as a true freshman even with Mauti and Hodges ahead of him, blocking a punt vs Ohio, before getting injured and using a medical redshirt)-but beyond that, there's little to no depth. That's really the unit that the scholarship reductions will have the most impact on this year.
T-Mill: If Penn State has another successful season can Penn State keep the NFL from calling again?
Cari: Yes-for now. Penn State recently amended O'Brien's contract (please insert hyperlink to http://www.blackshoediaries.
That's what I'm expecting, because I prefer to be pessimistic and I still can't trust the guy yet-he's only been here for a year an a half (chump change, really, for PSU). Of course, I'd love to see him stay much longer, at the least to see how he can produce and recruit when not hampered by the sanctions, but I'm not holding my breath.
T-Mill: What is a realistic expectation for Penn State's record this year?
Cari: I optimistically picked us to be second in our division, but I think another year of 8 wins would be great. I think 7-9 is reasonable to expect, and anything below 6 would be a severe disappointment.
T-Mill: Finally, will you miss Purdue as a divisional rival, even though you get Maryland who you're approximately 4,509-1 against?
Cari: I live in Maryland, and with some of the vitriol some of their fans have spewed the past few months, I can't wait to curb stomp them despite the sanctions. That being said, Purdue has always been competitive, and to paraphrase Bring It On (the second time I've referenced this movie in writing in the past few weeks), to be the best you've got to beat the best. In my opinion, Purdue>>>>Maryland, so in that respect I definitely would prefer to play the Boilermakers.
Plus, as I've said before (not sure if I've said it on Hammer and Rails), I think Darrell Hazell was possibly the best hire this off season, despite his lack of moustache, so I really expect you guys to start to improve and really compete. Because of that, I should be glad you're in the West after this year, huh?