All solid college football squads are built on core players who learn the system early and fill important roles for a handful of seasons. Unlike college basketball, where players often treat their collegiate careers as a quick stop-off before the pros, college football players wishing to compete at the sport’s highest level must first put in at least three years of work. Here are the most important Nittany Lions who will be returning for the 2015 fall campaign.
Christian Hackenberg is already a Junior? That happened fast. Barring a Heisman-worthy season that catches the attention of NFL teams drafting in the Top-10, Hackenberg will complete his four years of eligibility in 2016. If things go as planned, he will have carved his name into the short list of truly great Penn State shot collars. The offensive line is young and lacks experience as compared to most top 20 teams, so that could be an issue in 2015.
Hackenberg will be able to spread the ball to several talented wide receivers and tight ends if he indeed has time to do so. The bunch is led by super Soph DaeSean Hamilton, who set an all-time school record last year against the eventual CFB Champions with 14 catches for 126 yards in a 31-24 loss to Ohio State.
At 6′ 1″ and 211 pounds, Hamilton has the build of a durable athlete, and he is clearly unafraid to go across the middle and catch passes all over the field. His 82 receptions in 2014 were good for 899 yards and two touchdowns. It would not be at all surprising if he eclipses those lofty figures this year. Expect him to have a monster season.
Junior running back at Akeel Lynch will be carrying the brunt of the rushing load going into the season, and the coaching staff will obviously favor who has the hot hand as the season progresses. At 6′ 0″ and 220 pounds, Lynch has a similar sturdy and strong build that is essential for the type of running attack that the Nittany Lions have historically employed.
The 2015 Penn State defense will be anchored by senior defensive tackle Anthony Zettel. Alongside Junior Austin Johnson, the two should make it very difficult for teams to pound the ball up the middle, especially in short yardage situations.
Penn State is returning the overwhelming majority of its productivity from the 2014 season. In fact, every offensive statistical category other than kicking featured and underclassmen at the very top of the list.