Category Archives: Penn State Football

Solid Recruiting Class Led by Offensive Line Giants

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Penn State head coach James Franklin appears to be poised for a long tenure in Happy Valley, and he has already shown his power to recruit top-flight high school seniors. The 2015 Nittany Lions recruiting class features over two dozen players who are already enrolled at the University and practicing in hopes of making an impact as soon as opening day of this year.

Saquon Barkley is a strong and lightning fast 5′ 11″ running back out of Whitehall, Pennsylvania who will likely be plugged into the multi-headed monster that is the Penn State backfield immediately. His knack for turning from a blocker into a receiver in the flat and his sticky hands will both be valuable commodities.

Garrett Taylor is a highly touted cornerback out of Richmond, Virginia. While on the sidelines during one of his official visits last year, Taylor wore a Richard Sherman “Shut Down” t-shirt. A bold move from a bold man who clearly has big intentions.

The Nittany Lions made two huge recruiting scores both literally and figuratively when they were able to officially sign Sterling Jenkins out of Baldwin High School in Pittsburgh and junior-college transfer Paris Palmer out of Plymouth, North Carolina. Ready for the numbers on these two offensive lineman? How does 6′ 8″ and 305 pounds sound?

Both players are just a few inches away from setting the all-time record for height at the college football level. In a year’s time, they will likely be anchoring an o-line that protects Christian Hackenberg as he embarks on his Senior season. It is almost unfathomable to imagine two men the better part of 7 feet tall with strength and agility anchoring the offensive attack.

Penn State also inked 6′ 5″ offensive tackle Ryan Bates out of Warminster, Pennsylvania and 6′ 4″ offensive guard Steven Gonzales out of Union City High School in New Jersey. Most major programs recruited up to a half-dozen offensive lineman, but no other program was able to lure such an impressive, intimidating and diverse collection of young talent.

Another name Penn State football fans might want to keep an eye out for his Tommy Stevens. The 6′ 4″ 200-pounder out of Decatur Central High School in Indianapolis was recruited as both a quarterback and defensive tackle – an extremely rare combination at any level of college football.

Nittany Lions Bid Farewell to a Collection of Solid Players

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After being lured away from the head coaching position at Vanderbilt University to lead the esteemed program in Happy Valley, James Franklin only had one year to acquaint himself with many Junior and Senior players who opted to test the waters in the 2015 NFL Draft back in May. Here’s a quick look at the players who will be the most difficult to replace both on the field and in the locker room.

6′ 6″ 340-pound offensive tackle Donovan Smith was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the 34th overall pick. The mountain of a man did an excellent job over the last two seasons of blocking for Christian Hackenberg as he matured from a wide-eyed freshman into a confident leader.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Penn State

He will now be expected to block for #1 overall pick Jameis Winston. The Heissman Trophy winner and National Champion will not have far to travel from Tallahassee to Tampa Bay, where he will be expected to be the future of a Buccaneers franchise that has been less than stellar over the last decade and a half. Expect Smith to make an impact and likely become a starter in his rookie season.

6′ 7″ tight end Jesse James is now a Pittsburgh Steeler after the esteemed franchise selected him with the 24th pick of the fifth round. He seems to be an absolute perfect fit for a squad and city known for its blue-collar work ethic and toughness. He will immediately become a gigantic target for Ben Roethlisberger, and the Steelers are always going into every season expecting to compete for the Super Bowl. The man with the same name as a famous Wild West outlaw is going to be a tough matchup for linebackers throughout the AFC North.

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Free safety Adrian Amos is headed to Chicago to play for the Bears after being selected with the 142nd overall pick. The loss of Amos will certainly hurt a secondary that was exposed at various times throughout the 2014 season.

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Other notable departures include reliable kicker Sam Ficken, who made a number of huge field goals throughout his career. He was still a free-agent as of press time, but will likely get some phone calls as soon as kickers start shanking high-pressure kicks a few weeks into the NFL season.

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Linebacker Mike Hull was a fan favorite who could fill up the stat sheet with tackles on any given Saturday. In terms of locker room leadership and tutelage of younger players, the loss of Hull is the biggest on the defensive side of the ball. One might even say it’ll be a big “Hull” to fill.

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All Statistical Leaders Return to Fuel Powerful Offensive Machine in 2015

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Penn State 2015 Schedule Preview

 

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The Penn State Nittany Lions 2014 football team got off to a fast start with a 4-0 record, but they finished the season with an unimpressive 6-6 mark. They prevailed in dramatic fashion against Boston College in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, but enough about the past. Let us look to the future, and the prospects of the Penn State 2015 football schedule.

Provided that the Nittany Lions can take care of business at Lincoln Financial Field in an opening season matchup against the Temple Owls, they will have a smooth path paved for easy victories at home over the course of the next five games. This means that they could go into the Saturday, October 17 matchup against the Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium in Columbus at 6-0 on the season.

At this could put the squad in an excellent position to score a huge upset in what is clearly the biggest game on their slate. Head coach James Franklin will have quarterback Christian Hackenberg performing at an even higher level in 2015, and the two experts of their craft working together bodes well for the short-term future of the program

The 2015 schedule will finish up with two out of three games on the road in November. A challenging matchup at Northwestern looms on November 7, and Penn State will host the Michigan Wolverines in Happy Valley on November 21. The schedule will commence with a visit to East Lansing to play the Michigan State Spartans on the final Saturday of the 2014 college football season.

It seems safe to presume that there are at least eight guaranteed wins in the PSU 2015 regular season schedule. If they are able to hold serve at home in import matchups and perhaps shock the world on the road and a few other huge ones, Penn State could put themselves in a position to fight for big things.

Sept. 5 at Temple

 

Sept. 12 BUFFALO

 

Sept. 19 RUTGERS

 

Sept. 26 SAN DIEGO STATE

 

Oct. 3 ARMY

 

Oct. 10  INDIANA

 

Oct. 17  at Ohio State

 

Oct. 24 at Maryland (M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore)

 

Oct. 31  ILLINOIS

 

Nov. 7 at Northwestern

 

Nov. 21 MICHIGAN

 

Nov. 28 at Michigan State

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Nittany Lions 2014 Football Season Capped Off with Bowl Victory

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The 2014 Penn State Football Season was shrouded in uncertainty. It started with four straight wins, continued with four straight losses and ultimately culminated in a 6 – 6 season followed by an amazing and very impressive bowl victory. The bulk of the extensive NCAA ban was lifted in late September of 2013, paving a path for a football program that can once again fly at full mast. Taking all this into account, the season can be seen as a success.

When James Franklin was hired to be the head coach in January 2014, he simultaneously became the first African-American to ever hold the position and a man expected to turn the storied program into a winner as soon as possible. Early returns are positive, and early-season wins against UCF, Akron, Rutgers and UMass gave the fans plenty of reasons to be excited. But the ship ran aground on the final Saturday in September when the Nittany Lions lost at home to Northwestern by 23 points, followed by losses to Michigan, Ohio State and Maryland.

The ship was righted once again with consecutive victories against Indiana and Temple, but losses at Illinois and at home against a tough Michigan State team brought their record to an even .500. Thankfully, six wins is still enough to be qualify for a bowl game in an era where teams play about a dozen times instead of the classic and traditional 10. As a result, Penn State was chosen to play in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, which has quickly become a New York City tradition. The baseball field can be converted into a football field with a few quirks and abnormalities. Nonetheless, the game sold out in a matter of hours and unfolded underneath a wintry forecast typical to the area and the time of year.

The announcers went out of their way to express that the game would be a slow-paced, grind-it-out type of affair starring the defensive units. This was true up until halftime, when the game was tied at 7, but both teams exploded with a flurry of offense in the second half, entertaining the several thousand fans in attendance and taking the game into overtime. Penn State kicker Sam Ficken was nails while banging a 45-yard field goal through the uprights with just a few seconds left in regulation.

Boston College scored a touchdown on their first possession in OT, but missed the oh-so-crucial extra point. Penn State knew exactly what they had to do in order to claim victory in front of a crowd that was noticeably in their favor. Three pinpoint Christian Hackenberg passes resulted in a game-winning touchdown, and the high-stakes extra point sailed through the uprights moments later. The Sophomore threw 34 completions in a total of 50 attempts, resulting in 371 yards and four touchdowns. The dramatic conclusion can and likely will serve as a clear indication that Penn State is primed and ready to do bigger and better things in the upcoming years.

Race for First Four NCAA Playoff Slots Intensifies as Finish Nears

Some college football experts worried out loud before the season that the 2014 Playoff would ultimately render the regular-season useless. Proponents of the newly-introduced mini-tournament made the case that it would officially end the bickering by creating a system that ultimately decides the champion on the field. As it turns out, both schools of thought are incorrect. It is clear that the playoff is a progression forward in the overall scheme of college football, but it simply makes the fifth-ranked team the new third-ranked team. Here is a compelling case for a half-dozen, very deserving squads.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

MSU entered the 2014 season with high ambitions, but even the most passionate fan could not have imagined the situation they have created nine games into their 12-game season. They’ve made easy work of their schedule to this point, dispatching of major players such as LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M. If they are able to get past an always difficult Alabama squad in Tuscaloosa next Saturday, they will pull to 10–0. If there are able to beat Ole Miss on hostile turf in the last weekend in November, they will be a clear-cut #1 heading into the playoff.

Florida State Seminole

Jameis Winston’s off field exploits have been well-documented and are the subject of substantial investigations, but his on-field play has propelled the defending National Champions to a 9–0 record with two cupcake home games left on the schedule. Simply put, the Seminoles are a lock for the first NCAA Football Playoff ever.

Alabama Crimson Tide

With Auburn losing to Texas A&M, the seas have parted for Nick Saban’s bunch to once again have a chance to make an impact on the National Championship scene. Their 20–13 overtime victory over LSU in Baton Rouge was impressive, but they still have to roll through Mississippi State and Auburn at home to preserve their one-loss record.

Oregon Ducks

By scoring 24 points in the second quarter and 24 points in the fourth quarter against on the road against an always dangerous Utah team, the Ducks pulled to 9–1 with a convincing 24-point victory, and are now on the fast-track to the four-game tournament. But pollsters historically slight West Coast schools, so we’ll see.

Texas Christian Horned Frogs

TCU is nother one-loss team that will be able to make one hell of a case for the 2014 NCAA Football Playoff if they are able to defeat the final three opponents on their schedule. Games at Kansas, at Texas and at home against Iowa State shouldn’t be much of a problem, which would create a huge problem for the panel assigned to determine the four entries.

Ohio State Buckeyes

The Buckeyes manhandled Michigan State in East Lansing this past Saturday, giving them an outside shot at entrance into the elite 4-team playoff if they win their remaining games and certain things go their way. A deserving and talented squad, they could very well end up playing the role of the first school to have a legitimate gripe for being left out of the new college football postseason.

Nittany Lions Ride Rollercoaster to Mediocrity Throughout 2014 Campaign

Penn-StateNobody was expecting PSU to make it into the first College Football Playoff Tournament ever, but many Penn State football fans were hoping that the team would at least make sizable strides behind second-year starter Christian Hackenberg, and perhaps prove themselves worthy of a major bowl game.

The sanctions and bowl ban that came in the wake of the fallout involving the horrific actions of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky were officially lifted by a rational and forgiving NCAA that decided punishing people who were not in any way involved in the wrongdoings had gone on long enough. The result was a Penn State Football squad that came into 2014 full of zest and hopefulness, and four consecutive wins out of the gate gave a passionate fan base in Happy Valley plenty of reasons to dream big.

Sadly, things fell apart once the conference portion of their schedule began. A home loss to Northwestern by a score of 29 – 6 left fans shocked and unsure about the future, and what happened over the course of the next five weeks brought the team back down to Earth with a thud. Losses at Michigan and at home to Ohio State and Maryland left the team with a 4–4 record early in November. This has left them hoping to scrap their way into bowl eligibility and make a showing in the postseason. Penn State eked out a 13–7 victory against the Hoosiers in Indiana this past Saturday, keeping their bowl hopes in place.

It will only take one win in the next three games, but at this point apprehensive fans are hesitant to count on that. A feisty Temple Owls squad will come into town hoping for another signature win in their already impressive 2014 campaign. If the Nittany Lions are unable to beat them next weekend and cannot prevail with a victory at Illinois on November 22, it will all come down to a final, season-capping affair against what is sure to be an angry Michigan State Spartans team on the final Saturday in November.

As far as individual performances go, there are players who deserve praise and others who deserve to be called out. Hackenberg has not progressed at a pace that everyone affiliated with the program hoped and expected. His seven passing touchdowns on the year are juxtaposed with 10 interceptions, and a 57% completion percentage is nothing to boast about.

Running back has been a noticeable weakness, which has equated to a squad that has had trouble moving the ball. Senior ballcarrier Bill Belton has done his best to gain just over 3 yards-per-carry on a total of 80 totes. The brightest star on this team has clearly been freshman wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, who caught 11 balls on the opening weekend against UCF and 14 passes in a close loss to Ohio State a few days before Halloween. He has officially eclipsed Hackenberg as the hottest Pro prospect in Happy Valley, a region that is full of a mix of consternation about the present and hope for the future.

Nittany Lions Selected in 2014 NFL Draft

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Pop quiz: when was the last time a Penn State Nittany Lion was selected in the first round of the NFL draft? Give up?

The Miami Dolphins snagged defensive end Jared Odrick with the 28th overall pick of the 2010 Draft. This is a bit of a surprise given just how many Penn State players are making an impact in the NFL, including San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVarro Bowman, Kansas City Chief defensive end Tamba Hali and Oakland Raiders center Steve Wisniewski.

The first Nittany Lion to be selected in this year’s NFL Draft was wide receiver Allen Robinson. The Jacksonville Jaguars are in need of talent at nearly every position, and Robinson will likely be expected to learn the offense quickly and produce results as soon as this year. Justin Blackmon’s career has been one giant question mark to this point, so the 6’3” 20-year-old out of Penn State via St. Mary’s Preparatory High School in Detroit, Michigan has an excellent opportunity in front of him.

The Tennessee Titans selected that DaQuan Jones in the fourth round with the 112th overall pick. He will also have a chance to immediately factor in on a defensive line that has been in a state of flux the past few seasons. Tennessee is clearly building a winner, and Jones represents one of many exciting draft picks for the Midwestern franchise.

The final Penn State alum to go in this year’s NFL Draft was guard Jon Urschel. Urschel was selected in the fifth round by the Baltimore Ravens, a team that was on top of the world just a short year and a half ago, but is now scrambling to put pieces together around high-paid quarterback Joe Flacco. The 6’3”, 320-pounder has bulked up over the course of the last few seasons, and will likely become even more strong and robust as a result of professional training regimens and top-flight nutrition plans.

Urschel was born in Winnipeg, Canada, attended high school in Buffalo, New York and dominated on the gridiron in Happy Valley. He will now make the short trip to Baltimore to begin training for the first year of what he hopes will be a long and illustrious professional career. Folks who follow the program closely know that the Nittany Lions roster is chock full of young talent, so it shouldn’t be long before the dry streak involving Penn State first round picks is broken.

Penn State Sends Off Potential NFL Studs to Professional Ranks

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Penn State Sends Off Potential NFL Studs to Professional Ranks

Head coach Bill O’Brien’s second year in Happy Valley didn’t go as well as first, but that was no reason for him to leave one of the most storied programs in college football history for the allegedly greener pastures of the NFL. Nonetheless, the Nittany Lions produced a number of top-flight graduates who are now hoping to make a living playing at the professional level. A 7–5 record meant the team did not exactly get the attention of the national press, but there are a handful of players who recently demonstrated their skills at the NFL Combine and cannot wait to the coached up by the best in the biz.

The cream of the crop is arguably wide receiver Allen Robinson, a strong 6’3″ pass catcher with big, sure hands. Over the course of the last few seasons, Robinson demonstrated many of the skills that make scouts salivate and anxious to get him inserted into big play offenses. Many experts have predicted Robinson going as high as the mid-first round, and a handful of teams are in dire need of big plays from the wide receiver position. His ability to run routes to near perfection and gain separation as the ball is in the air have a lot of teams interested in what he might be able to do for them.

DaQuan Jones was the top-ranked defensive lineman on the national college football radar going into the 2013 season, but a season abbreviated by injury did not allow him to showcase his skills to their fullest. Nonetheless, he ended up with 56 total tackles, including three sacks and an astounding 11.5 tackles for a loss. He has likely fallen out of the first round, but some team equipped with wise and savvy scouts aware of his skills and potential will surely snatch up and give him an opportunity to play a role in a defensive line in need of bulk.

Penn State fans are very familiar with the exploits of inside linebacker Glenn Carson over the course of last few years, and he will hope to put forth a performance that impresses scouts during an upcoming Pro Day. Carson had the most starts of any Nittany Lions player over the course of last four seasons and was a stout defender who opposing offenses often looked to avoid while drawing up their attack. He played in two bowl games in 2011 in 2012 before sanctions were implemented.

Passionate Nittany Lions fans will also be rooting for the likes of Zach Zwinak to catch on with a team if he does not get drafted in the first seven rounds. The 6’1”, 240-pound Frederick, Maryland native had a very impressive career moving the ball down the field for Penn State, as evidenced by the 2012 campaign in which he read for exactly 1000 yards in the 2013 season in which he racked up 989 on the ground. Given the series of reprehensible decisions that former Penn State coaches made which led to the recent repercussions and disciplinary actions, is a testament to the residual prestige of the great university that they were still able to put forth a handful of players well-groomed for a career at the professional level. Here’s wishing all of them the best.

Snapshot of James Franklin”: the New Nittany Lion King

The skys brighten after the rain moves out.Photo by Mark Selders

Snapshot of James Franklin”: the New Nittany Lion King

Just when things seemed to be in place for former coach Bill O’Brien to lead the Penn State Nittany Lions into the era of their next dynasty, he pulled up anchor hastily and quickly set sail for the NFL. This left a void atop one of the most esteemed and well-known college football programs in the nation. It was quickly filled by the worthy and capable James Franklin, a 42-year-old native of the state who is already poised to ultimately make this job the defining role of his coaching career.

Franklin was born in the tiny town of Langhorne in the early 1970s before he attended the local high school and starred as a four-year starting quarterback at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania. They played in a tiny division where evenly matched teams would do battle against one another for a full 60 minutes – the kind of games that help one carve out a deep competitive spirit and establish a familiarity with what it takes to win.

Like almost every head coach in major college football, he slowly climbed the ranks throughout the past decades, putting in work at small universities and gradually climbing the ladder of respect and recognition. His first paid coaching gig came in 1995 as the wide receivers coach for Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, a Division II team. He was only there one year before returning to his alma mater to coach defensive backs. His break in the Division I ranks came in the late 1990s when he was hired as the tight ends coach at Washington State University. In the following years Franklin coached wide receivers at Idaho State and eventually Maryland, a job he held onto for five years until he got the attention of the NFL and was tapped to fulfill the same role for the Green Bay Packers throughout the 2005 season.

After stints at Kansas State and big role with Maryland as offensive coordinator, it was becoming clear to the entire college football world that Franklin had the mettle to someday be a head coach. That day came at the perfect time when the Vanderbilt Commodores came looking for head coach in 2011. He went on to rack up the highest winning percentage of any coach in last half-century at Vandy, leading the school to a bowl appearance in each of the three years he was at the helm.

Throughout the 2013 season and especially throughout the last five games, Franklin showed an ability to win a football game in a variety of ways. A 52-point output in a win over the University of Alabama Birmingham demonstrated that the team could light up the scoreboard, and a 14 – 10 victory over the Volunteers in Knoxville, Tennessee showed that they could win a slugfest in hostile territory.

Franklin will likely move quickly to connect himself with the local community and a large and passionate fan base. Winning fans over is all about winning football games, and the Nittany Lions will have plenty of opportunities to do so throughout a 2014 regular season schedule in which they will likely be Las Vegas favorites in at least nine of their 12 scheduled games.