2014 Penn State Nittany Lions Team Preview
Penn State Nittany Lions
Head Coach: James Franklin
2013 Record: 7-5 overall, 4-4 Big Ten Leaders Division
2013 Bowl Result: Not Eligible
2014 Returning Starters: 5 offense, 7 defense
Odds to Win 2015 College Football Championship: No Odds
Odds to Win Big Ten Title: No Odds
Odds to Win Big Ten East: No Odds
Regular Season Wins: over 7.5 -150 / under 7.5 +120
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The Penn State Nittany Lions are in the third year of a four year NCAA post-season ban which also includes scholarship limitations. Former coach Bill O’Brien left to coach the Houston Texans in the NFL. Penn State brought in alum James Franklin to be the coach. He did a masterful job bringing Vanderbilt’s football team to competitive relevance in the rugged SEC.
Nittany Lions fans hope Franklin can bring the same success to Penn State that he did with Vanderbilt. Only 12 starters return though, and Penn State is in a tough division with Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan.
Last season, Penn State won their first two games but would then alternate wins and losses for the next ten games to finish 7-5. The season was highlighted by a wild 43-40 win in four overtimes against Michigan and a 31-24 upset win at Wisconsin in the season finale.
Last year, the Penn State offense averaged 259 passing yards and 174 rushing yards. The Nittany Lions scored 29 points a game. John Donovan is the new offensive coordinator.
Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg had an impressive debut last season completing 58.9% of his passes for 2,955 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He should cut down on the interceptions with a year under his belt. He added 15 pounds of muscle in the off season and could be the best quarterback in the Big Ten.
The top three running backs return for Penn State. Zach Zwinak had 210 carries for 989 yards with 12 touchdowns. Bill Belton had 157 carries for 803 yards with 5 touchdowns, along with 15 catches for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns. Akeel Lynch had 60 carries for 358 yards and a touchdown.
Receiver Allen Robinson left early for the NFL and is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He had 97 catches for 1,432 yards and six touchdowns. Tight end Jesse James had 25 catches for 333 yards and 3 touchdowns and is the leading returning receiver. Junior Geno Lewis looks to become the go-to receiver after making 18 catches for 234 yards and 3 touchdowns. Tight ends Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman will also get a lot of targets.
Junior left tackle Donovan Smith is the only returning starter on the line. None of the other rotation players have ever started a game on the offensive line.
Penn State allowed 383 yards per game on defense and gave up 26 points. Seven starters return under new coordinator Bob Shoop.
The Nittany Lions must replace All-Big Ten tackle Daquan Jones. Still, ends Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan and tackle Austin Johnson return and the line should still be effective.
Mike Hull moves from outside to middle linebacker. He will be flanked by Nyeem Wartman and most likely Brandon Bell.
Three starters return in the secondary with cornerback Jordan Lucas, safety Ryan Keiser and cornerback-turned-safety Adrian Amos.
Senior kicker Sam Ficken made 15 of 23 field goals last year. Ficken will compete with walk-on Chris Gulla for the punter job. Franklin made it a point to improve the punt and kick return games which were among the worst in the Big Ten last year. Talented freshman De’Andre Thompkins will likely handle both jobs.
Penn State opens the season in Dublin, Ireland against Central Florida. They also have non-conference home games against Akron, Massachusetts and Temple. In conference, Penn State travels to Rutgers, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. Northwestern, Ohio State, Maryland and Michigan State come to Penn State. The scholarship limitations will create a lack of depth so Penn State could be in trouble with any injuries. Motivation could be an issue late in the season with no possibility of post season play. Still I think 7 wins is a realistic goal.
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