To call Penn State's off-season tumultuous would be a gross understatement. Since November, the many tributaries of the Jerry Sandusky scandal have dominated every second of Penn State conversation.
And from the firing and death of Joe Paterno to the Freeh Report to the heavy-handed NCAA sanctions (which I vehemently disagree with, but that's for another day), this offseason has been about everything but football. This week, as the Penn State Nittany Lions opened their first training camp since the 1960s under a new head coach, hopefully we can get back to talking about football in Happy Valley.
With just under four weeks until the opening game against the 2011 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Champion Ohio Bobcats, the Nittany Lions and head coach Bill O'Brien have a lot of work to do — especially after losing their number one offensive weapon Silas Redd and starting receiver Justin Brown to NCAA sanctioned free agency.
Over the past several seasons, Penn State fans have become accustomed to less-than-spectacular and mind-numbingly predictable offense. While hoping that pattern can change overnight is probably a little too optimistic, O'Brien and his new coaching staff will at least bring some offensive creativity to the sidelines. But the question remains, is there enough talent left to execute it?
Former walk-on Matt McGloin enters the season entrenched as the starting quarterback. Hardly a top-tier quarterback, McGloin threw 8 touchdowns and 5 interceptions while only completing 54 percent of his passes last season when he shared time with Rob Bolden — who was woefully worse. This season, in O'Brien's tight end focused offense, McGloin has an opportunity to succeed but he will be surrounded by inexperienced players from the offensive line to wide receiver who will have to step up.
While there are quite a few unknowns about how the offense will pan out, Penn State's defense should once again be it's strong suit. Traditionally a zone coverage team under Paterno, Penn State is expected to roll out multiple different coverages and aggressive blitzes under the new staff. While the front seven returns a strong contingent, led by Steelton defensive tackle Jordan Hill and linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, the young secondary could be susceptible to big plays if the new defense relies a lot on man coverage. Mauti, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL, kept the team together throughout the trying off-season and is expected to have a big year on the field as well.
In a season where a scheduled Youngstown State game would have actually been beneficial, Penn State doesn't have any true cupcakes on the schedule. Sure, Ohio and Temple aren't powerhouses, and Navy is still a one-trick-pony with their triple option offense, but they could all be a tough test for an inexperienced team in a new system. However, besides a game at Nebraska, Penn State plays two of its toughest Big 10 games — Ohio State and Wisconsin — at Beaver Stadium, which is always a big advantage.
Being optimistic, I'd like to see Penn State get to nine wins this season, but I know that will be a daunting task and with everything that's gone on in 2012 finishing above .500 in the Big 10 would be a great season. I won't make a prediction, since I'm always wrong, but I am confident Bill O'Brien's team will be competitive every week and win a game or two they weren't expected to.
Enough about what I think about Penn State, how do you think the Nittany Lions will play under new coach Bill O'Brien in 2012? Let us know in the comments below.
Jeff Cavanaugh writes sanctimonious stories about the genius of rock stars for SaraBozich.com. Follow him on Twitter.