Penn State Nittany Lions: Richy Anderson

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – And then there were two.

We’re nearing the start of Penn State’s spring practice, which means we’re nearing the end of our countdown series. This week’s countdown, involving five predictions for the spring, continues with a look at two early enrollees who should earn playing time in 2014...

Barney and Thompkins make immediate impact

[+] EnlargeDe'Andre Thompkins
Steve Dipaola/NikePenn State early enrollee De'Andre Thompkins, who was ranked No. 73 in the 2014 ESPN 300, could be a starter in 2014.
Defensive tackle Tarow Barney and wide receiver De'Andre Thompkins aren’t just poised for considerable playing time in 2014; they could very well find themselves as starters on the spring depth chart.

Thompkins will battle with sophomore Richy Anderson in the slot, and Thompkins might have a higher ceiling. He’s faster and more athletic, but how quickly he ascends centers on his route-running ability. He finds himself in a similar position as Geno Lewis was in his first season, because Thompkins is transitioning from high school tailback to receiver. Regardless, Thompkins is best when he’s in open space -- and he’s sure to wow with a big play or two during the spring scrimmage.

Even if Thompkins isn’t quite ready to surpass Anderson -- and the prediction here is that he will -- the freshman can still vie for a starting job as a returner. On kickoffs, he posted video game-type numbers as a high school junior (11 returns, 560 yards, 51 yard average). And, on punts as a senior, he returned three for an average of 61 yards. Just take a look at his highlight video.

As for Barney, it’s no secret that the Nittany Lions need some help at defensive tackle. Without DaQuan Jones and Kyle Baublitz, redshirt sophomore Austin Johnson will take over one of the spots. The other one is wide open. The position battle here will likely be between Barney and redshirt sophomore Brian Gaia. (Defensive end Anthony Zettel could also be a factor, but for now it’s difficult to see him in an interior role outside of passing downs.)

Even if Barney doesn’t win out, he’s still going to see plenty of time. Defensive line coach Sean Spencer likes to use a lot of personnel and a lot of combinations, not unlike the philosophy of former offensive line coach Mac McWhorter, so Barney will have every opportunity to make a splash.

Thompkins and Barney both have a lot to learn a lot in a short period of time -- Thompkins is changing positions; Barney’s coming from a junior college and took up football a little more than three years ago -- but both players will be thrown into the mix early out of pure need. In other seasons, the staff might bring them along slowly. But this spring? Expect to see them on the field early -- and expect them to make an immediate impact.

More predictions:

No. 5: A more public, eager-to-please coach
No. 4: Blue-White attendance more than doubles from 2013
No. 3: OL struggles surpass secondary as biggest concern
We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. The wide receivers and tight ends are up next.

Illinois: The Illini are looking for more from this group after losing top target Steve Hull, who exploded late in the season to finish just shy of 1,000 receiving yards. While running back Josh Ferguson (50 catches in 2013) will continue to contribute, Illinois could use a boost from Martize Barr, who arrived with high expectations but only had 26 receptions last fall. Another junior-college transfer, Geronimo Allison, could make an impact beginning this spring, but there's some mystery at wideout. Illinois looks more solid at tight end with seniors Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse.

Indiana: Despite the somewhat surprising early departure of All-Big Ten selection Cody Latimer, Indiana should be fine here. Shane Wynn is the veteran of the group after recording 633 receiving yards on 46 catches last season. Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson also depart, so Indiana will be leaning more on Nick Stoner and Isaiah Roundtree. The Hoosiers have high hopes for early enrollee Dominique Booth, a decorated recruit who could fill Latimer's spot on the outside. Productive tight end Ted Bolser departs and several players will compete, including early enrollee Jordan Fuchs.

Iowa: Almost all the wide receivers are back from a group in which none eclipsed more than 400 receiving yards in 2013. Balance is nice, but separation could be nicer for the Hawkeyes this spring. Kevonte Martin-Manley is the most experienced wideout and has 122 career receptions. Tevaun Smith also returns, and Iowa fans are excited about big-play threat Damond Powell, who averaged 24.2 yards on only 12 receptions last season. Iowa loses its top red-zone target in tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and will need Jake Duzey to deliver more Ohio State-like performances.

Maryland: When the Terrapins get healthy, they might have the Big Ten's best wide receiving corps. Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, both of whom sustained broken legs against Wake Forest last season, have the ability to stretch the field as both averaged more than 15 yards per reception before the injuries struck. Leading receiver Levern Jacobs also returns, alongside junior Nigel King and sophomore Amba Etta-Tawo, who averaged more than 16 yards per catch in 2013. Marcus Leak, who started seven games in 2012, rejoins the team after a year away. The Terps are unproven at tight end after losing Dave Stinebaugh.

Michigan: There's a reason why some Michigan fans want Devin Gardner to return to wide receiver for his final season. The Wolverines are thin on the perimeter after losing Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo. Redshirt sophomores Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are both candidates to start, and Dennis Norfleet could be the answer in the slot. But there's plenty of opportunity for younger players like Drake Harris, an early enrollee. Michigan's best pass-catching option, Devin Funchess, is listed as a tight end but plays more like a receiver. The Wolverines will be without their second-string tight end, Jake Butt, who suffered an ACL tear in winter conditioning.

Michigan State: Remember all the justified angst about this group a year ago? It has pretty much gone away as the Spartans wideouts rebounded nicely in 2013. Bennie Fowler departs, but MSU brings back its top two receivers in Tony Lippett and Macgarrett Kings, who showed explosiveness down the stretch last fall. Aaron Burbridge had a bit of a sophomore slump but provides another option alongside veteran Keith Mumphery, who averaged 16.6 yards per catch in 2013. Josiah Price leads the tight end group after a solid freshman season.

Minnesota: Here's a group to watch during spring practice, particularly the wide receivers. Minnesota has proven it can run the ball and defend under Jerry Kill, but the passing game was putrid in 2013, ranking last in the Big Ten and 115th nationally. Youth is partly to blame, and while the Gophers still lack experience, they can expect more from promising players like Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones. Senior Isaac Fruechte provides a veteran presence. Minnesota looks solid at tight end with sophomore Maxx Williams, the team's receiving yards leader (417) in 2013.

Nebraska: The Huskers lose a significant piece in Quincy Enunwa, who led the team in receiving yards (753) and had three times as many receiving touchdowns (12) as anyone else in 2013. Kenny Bell is set to recapture the No. 1 receiver role, which he had in 2012, and comes off of a 52-catch season as a junior. Nebraska must build around Bell this spring with players like the mustachioed Jordan Westerkamp, who had 20 catches as a freshman, including a rather memorable one to beat Northwestern. Will Jamal Turner turn the corner this offseason? Juniors Sam Burtch and Taariq Allen also return. Cethan Carter started six games at tight end last fall and should take over the top spot there as Jake Long departs.

Northwestern: The passing game fell short of expectations in 2013, but there's reason for optimism as Northwestern returns its top three pass-catchers in Tony Jones, Christian Jones and Dan Vitale. The two Joneses (no relation), who combined for 109 catches in 2013, lead the receiving corps along with junior Cameron Dickerson. Speedy Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler provides a playmaking spark, possibly at slot receiver. Vitale, who had a somewhat disappointing sophomore season, has All-Big Ten potential at the superback (tight end) spot. Although Northwestern rarely plays true freshmen, superback Garrett Dickerson, Cameron's brother, could see the field right away.

Ohio State: A group that drew heavy criticism from coach Urban Meyer two springs ago is stockpiling talent. Devin Smith is the familiar name, a big-play senior who has started each of the past two seasons and boasts 18 career touchdowns. Ohio State must replace top wideout Corey Brown and will look for more from Evan Spencer. Michael Thomas has stood out in practices but must translate his performance to games. This could be a breakout year for H-back Dontre Wilson, who averaged nine yards per touch as a freshman. Buckeyes fans are eager to see redshirt freshmen Jalin Marshall and James Clark, and incoming players like Johnnie Dixon could make a splash right away. Ohio State returns an elite tight end in Jeff Heuerman.

Penn State: The Lions have very different depth situations at receiver and tight end. They're looking for contributors on the perimeter after losing Allen Robinson, the Big Ten's top wide receiver the past two seasons, who accounted for 46 percent of the team's receiving production in 2013. Brandon Felder also departs, leaving Geno Lewis as the likeliest candidate to move into a featured role. Richy Anderson also returns, but there will be plenty of competition/opportunity at receiver, a position new coach James Franklin targeted in recruiting with players like Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall. Things are much more stable at tight end as the Lions return three talented players in Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman.

Purdue: If you're looking for hope at Purdue, these spots aren't bad places to start. There are several promising young players like receiver DeAngelo Yancey, who recorded a team-leading 546 receiving yards as a freshman. Cameron Posey also had a decent freshman year (26 catches, 297 yards), and Danny Anthrop averaged 18.4 yards as a sophomore. A full offseason with quarterbacks Danny Etling and Austin Appleby should help the group. Tight end also should be a strength as Justin Sinz, who led Purdue with 41 catches last season, is back along with Gabe Holmes, who returns after missing most of 2013 with a wrist injury.

Rutgers: The good news is tight end Tyler Kroft returns after leading Rutgers in both receptions (43) and receiving yards (573) last season. Kroft will immediately contend for All-Big Ten honors. Things are murkier at wide receiver, where top contributors Brandon Coleman and Quron Pratt both depart. Leonte Carroo took a nice step as a sophomore, averaging 17.1 yards per catch and enters the spring as the frontrunner to become the team's No. 1 wideout. Ruhann Peele is another promising young receiver for the Scarlet Knights, who boast size with Carlton Agudosi (6-foot-6) and Andre Patton (6-4).

Wisconsin: The quarterback competition will gain more attention this spring, but Wisconsin's receiver/tight end situation could be more critical. The Badgers lose Jared Abbrederis, their only major threat at receiver the past two seasons, as well as top tight end Jacob Pedersen. Players like Jordan Fredrick and Kenzel Doe must translate their experience into greater production, and Wisconsin will look for more from young receivers like Alex Erickson and Robert Wheelwright. Help is on the way as Wisconsin signed five receivers in the 2014 class, but wideout definitely is a position of concern right now. Sam Arneson is the logical candidate to step in for Pedersen, but there should be competition as the Badgers lose a lot at the position.
Tags:

Nebraska Cornhuskers, Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, Wisconsin Badgers, Big Ten Conference, Illinois Fighting Illini, Iowa Hawkeyes, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Football Recruiting, Indiana Hoosiers, Maryland Terrapins, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats, Purdue Boilermakers, Adam Breneman, Allen Robinson, Kyle Carter, Jesse James, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Jacob Pedersen, Jared Abbrederis, Josh Ferguson, Kenny Bell, Devin Funchess, Devin Smith, Kenzel Doe, Ted Bolser, Aaron Burbridge, Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes, Corey Brown, Shane Wynn, Richy Anderson, Chris Godwin, Jamal Turner, Jeremy Gallon, Jalin Marshall, Dan Vitale, Garrett Dickerson, Saeed Blacknall, Danny Etling, Dontre Wilson, James Clark, Austin Appleby, Drake Harris, Drew Dileo, Isaac Fruechte, Gabe Holmes, Quincy Enunwa, Jordan Fredrick, Danny Anthrop, Johnnie Dixon, Cameron Dickerson, Alex Erickson, Martize Barr, Amara Darboh, Geronimo Allison, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Geno Lewis, Tony Jones, Christian Jones, Justin Sinz, Nick Stoner, Steve Hull, MacGarrett Kings, Brandon Felder, Jake Duzey, Maxx Williams, Jordan Westerkamp, Donovahn Jones, Sam Burtch, Dominique Booth, DeAngelo Yancey, Josiah Price, Damond Powell, Brandon Coleman, Deon Long, Michael Thomas, Stefon Diggs, B1G spring positions 14, Amba Etta-Tawo, Andre Patton, Cameron Posey, Carlton Agudosi, Cethan Carter, Dave Stinebaugh, Drew Wolitarsky, Duwyce Wilson, Evan Spencer, Isaiah Roundtree, Jehu Chesson, Jon Davis, Jordan Fuchs, Keith Mumphery, Leonte Carroo, Levern Jacobs, Marcus Leak, Matt LaCosse, Miles Shuler, Nigel King, Quron Pratt, Robert Wheelwright, Ruhann Peele, Sam Arneson, Taariq Allen, Tevaun Smith, Tony Lippett, Tyler Kroft

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- We're nearing the end of this week's countdown, which involves ranking Penn State's most impactful recruiting classes of the past decade.

Up next is a class you should be very familiar with ...

No. 2 most impactful class: Class of 2013

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/Getty ImagesChristian Hackenberg's commitment ensured there would be little drop-off in PSU recruiting despite the heavy sanctions.
Top prospects: QB Christian Hackenberg, TE Adam Breneman, OG Brendan Mahon, OT Andrew Nelson, WR DaeSean Hamilton, DE Garrett Sickels, WR Richy Anderson, LB Brandon Bell

Biggest surprise: Bell. He made a lot of strides as a freshman and even made a start toward the end of the season. Bill O’Brien plugged him in for nine games in 2013, and Bell played a lot in the last three. He made 15 tackles in his final three contests -- 24 total on the year -- and even forced a fumble against Nebraska. He should end up starting the next three seasons.

Impact player: Hackenberg. Does this choice really need to be explained? He was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, one of the better quarterbacks in the conference, and he took off running after enrolling over the summer. Penn State doesn’t often start true freshmen in season openers, but Hackenberg surpassed Tyler Ferguson pretty quickly with a calm demeanor and a penchant for learning a lot in a short time. Hackenberg could end up being Penn State’s best quarterback since Kerry Collins.

Why this class is important: This countdown isn’t just a list of the classes with the best prospects; it’s the most impactful. And when sanctions hit and the nation wondered whether Penn State would suffer a fate worse than death, top prospects such as Hackenberg and Breneman took center stage and showed that the university still could reel in the best of the best -- instead of simply settling for MAC-level recruits, as some predicted.

This class might not produce as many All-Big Ten players as the 2006 group. It might not even end up with an All-American. But this class is so important, and impactful, because of what it symbolized at the time. Happy Valley was still a destination, in part, because of the big names in this class. They offered fans hope. And they helped keep Penn State together while having a profound, ancillary effect in other areas.

You think Penn State reels in arguably the best 2014 class of receivers without Hackenberg? No chance. You can measure impact different ways, and this recruiting class is undoubtedly one of the most important in Penn State history.

More impactful recruiting classes:

No. 5: Class of 2011
No. 4: Class of 2004
No. 3: Class of 2006

Penn State positions to improve: No. 3

February, 12, 2014
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- We've made it to the middle of this week's countdown, and this next position shouldn't come as much of a surprise. This group is now without Penn State's MVP.

No. 3: Wide receivers

[+] EnlargeGeno Lewis
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsGeno Lewis' 18 catches as a redshirt freshman makes him the leading returning wide receiver for Penn State.
The players: Geno Lewis (18 catches, 234 yards), Richy Anderson (13 catches, 111 yards), Matt Zanellato (4 catches, 53 yards), Jake Kiley (played in one game), DaeSean Hamilton (redshirted), De'Andre Thompkins (early enrollee), Chris Godwin (incoming freshman), Saeed Blacknall (incoming freshman), Troy Apke (incoming freshman)

Last season: Allen Robinson finished with the best statistical receiving year in Penn State history. He broke the school's single-season records for both receptions (97) and receiving yards (1,432) on his way to earning his second straight honor as Big Ten receiver of the year. He accounted for about 46 percent of the passing offense -- the most a single PSU receiver's been relied on in more than 25 years -- while Brandon Felder, a senior in 2013, finished second with 28 catches for 312 yards. Robinson was among the best receivers in the nation, but Christian Hackenberg had few reliable targets outside of him who weren't listed at tight end.

What's missing: A-Rob and experience. One quick look at the returning players is all it takes to understand what Penn State's going up against. Four of the nine scholarship wideouts are true freshmen, and only one -- Zanellato -- is an upperclassman. Lewis is the closest thing to a proven commodity, and he needs to improve his route-running for PSU to experience any hint of success here. The future looks bright with one of the nation's top classes of incoming freshmen, but without Robinson there's obviously going to be a drop-off at this position.

Moving forward: Lewis is the only returning wideout who played in every game last year, so he certainly appears to be the No. 1 -- unless a true freshman can usurp him. James Franklin is going to need those true freshmen to do a lot of heavy lifting this season because there's really no alternative. Zanellato and Anderson will play, but neither is the gamebreaker that Thompkins, Godwin or Blacknall have the potential to be. Thompkins played more tailback than receiver in high school -- catching just 44 balls in the last three seasons -- so he could become the early No. 2 if he learns quickly in the spring. A breakout spring for him would go a long way in putting this staff's minds at ease.

Looking to the past & future: WRs

December, 20, 2013
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It's never too late -- or too early -- to see what we learned from this past season and also look ahead to next season. So, over the next two weeks, we'll break down each position on the Nittany Lions.

Up today: Wide receivers.

REWIND

Expectations entering the 2013 season: Allen Robinson was expected to be better than ever but -- with a true freshman quarterback -- it wasn't quite certain if his numbers would equal his breakout 2012 season. Even Robinson acknowledged numbers might not reflect his improvement.

[+] EnlargeAllen Robinson
AJ Mast/Icon SMIAllen Robinson posted eye-popping numbers despite the lack of a credible threat on the other side.
But he gained weight, speed and strength and was sure to play a huge role in the offense. Outside of him, Brandon Felder was expected to step up to become a consistent No. 2 option. And some pegged 2013 as a breakout season for Eugene Lewis, who could overtake Felder early in the season.

How they fared: It's difficult to surpass high expectations when they're practically touching the clouds, but that's exactly what Robinson did. He set the school's single-season record (again) with 97 catches and added another school record with 1,432 receiving yards. He accounted for 46 percent of the passing offense.

The problem here is that all the other wideouts fared poorly. Felder struggled with drops and inconsistency all season. He had a good game against Michigan (six catches, 97 yards), but that and the next game were the beginning of the end. Bill O'Brien clearly had enough of his mistakes, as he wound up with just two catches in the final five games.

Lewis was still a little rough around the edges, the result of not playing wideout until college, and he had good performances in the first and last games of the season. But in the 10 games between? He had 72 receiving yards. And those were the No. 2 and 3 receivers.

What we learned: Without Robinson, this corps is in trouble. Lewis showed glimpses of potential, but not enough to quiet the questions surrounding this group. If it wasn't for Robinson, the receiver position might've been as weak as the safeties ... and that's saying something.

Grading the position: C+. Robinson gets an A, but the rest of the group gets a D. Average that together, and you get this mark. Robinson was one of the nation's best, but the rest of the group was definitely below average. They certainly had their moments but didn't consistently factor into the gameplan. It was a season to remember for Robinson and a season to forget for every receiver not named Robinson.

FAST FORWARD

Key losses: Felder and (possibly) Robinson. A-Rob still hasn't officially stated whether he'll declare early for the NFL draft, but it sure seems as if that's a likelihood. On the positive side, PSU has three talented incoming freshmen at the position -- including ESPN 300 wideouts De'Andre Thompkins and Chris Godwin. One could be asked to immediately step in to plug the gap created by Felder and/or Robinson.

Position stock watch: On hold, but likely trending downward. It's a simple equation. If Robinson stays, this position will be better than last season. Felder was a nonfactor, and his departure won't be felt that much, while Lewis should only get better. But if Robinson leaves? Well, feel free to hit that panic button because PSU just lost the best player on its team. This position would instantly become the biggest question mark on the offense, right ahead of the offensive line.

Key to next season: Finding someone to complement and/or replace Robinson. Penn State needs at least two solid options at receiver in O'Brien's pass-heavy offense, but that's far from a guarantee next season -- even if Robinson returns. Expectations will be very high for Lewis, who needs to take a few steps forward after an overall disappointing redshirt freshman season. Lewis obviously has playmaking ability, as he caught three highlight-worthy passes from Christian Hackenberg, but that needs to be parlayed into an every-game performance.

What we learned: Week 14

December, 1, 2013
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Lessons learned from Penn State's 31-24 upset win over No. 15 Wisconsin in the season finale, its first win over a top-15 team since the Capital One Bowl victory over LSU in 2010:

1. Don't underestimate Penn State. You think we would've learned that by now. But after seeing the Buckeyes absolutely dominate Penn State, 63-14, it seemed as if PSU would be in for another flogging. Everyone counted them out -- Vegas put the line at 24 points -- but the Nittany Lions seem to do best when everyone else thinks they have no chance. They came out of absolutely nowhere to not just slip past the Badgers, but to totally outplay them. Penn State's defense stopped one of the nation's best rushing attacks, and freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg picked on the Wisconsin secondary. If there's one thing we should learn from this game, it's that we should never count these Nittany Lions out.

2. The future looks bright. Next season should have its share of question marks, but even look past that. Hackenberg is playing beyond his years, freshman LB Brandon Bell garnered his first start (and grabbed six tackles), and PSU dressed 23 total freshmen. Adam Breneman and Eugene Lewis still have three years left and had terrific performances on Saturday. And then there are other freshmen such as Akeel Lynch, Richy Anderson, Nyeem Wartman, Austin Johnson and Malik Golden who have seen quite a bit of time this season.

3. Sam Ficken's struggles aren't behind him, after all. Ficken had a miserable stretch last season before he seemingly turned it all around -- but those issues are most certainly back. He has made just seven of his last 13 field goals (54 percent) and also missed a PAT last week. He went 1-of-3 against Wisconsin, missing a 31-yarder and 34-yarder, and he'll need to find more answers over the offseason. He's bounced back once already, but he'll need to find a way to do it again. Otherwise, freshman Chris Gulla could push him for time.

4. The offensive line needs to be more disciplined, as far as penalties. Either it wasn't prepared for Wisconsin's defensive linemen moving around or it wasn't focused. Whatever the reason, it was one of the odder sights during Saturday afternoon's game. Penn State was called for at least eight motion penalties, with left tackle Donovan Smith responsible for four of those. Offensive line coach Mac McWhorter was clearly frustrated on the sideline and, although the line played well overall, it certainly needs to concentrate more on the snap count and less on what the opposition is doing. Those mistakes nearly lost PSU the game.

5. Secondary, bad; front seven, good. Joel Stave had difficulty locating quite a few open targets, and that came as a big break for Penn State. The secondary still struggled, but it came up with key interceptions off Stave mistakes to somewhat atone. It's still clearly the weak link of this defense, but the front-seven -- especially the defensive line -- played very well yet again Saturday. They finished with five quarterback hurries and three sacks, and the line really limited the Badgers' rushing attack. Wisconsin was held to its second-lowest rushing total of the season (120 yards), and defensive coordinator John Butler deserves a lot of the credit. That should bode well moving forward.

3 PSU players to forgo final seasons

November, 19, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Coach Bill O'Brien announced Tuesday that three Penn State players will forgo their final seasons of eligibility and be honored Saturday along with the seniors.

Here's a look at each player, what he has meant to the team and who will be taking his place next season:

DT Kyle Baublitz, 6-foot-5, 281 pounds

Season stats: Started seven out of 10 games. 17 tackles, two sacks, one blocked kick.

Synopsis: Baublitz announced Saturday he decided to move on with his life and will perform student-teaching next year at State College Area High School instead of starting along the PSU interior. He will be missed immensely, as he was expected to start alongside Austin Johnson in 2014 as the clear No. 1. His departure leaves PSU in a very difficult spot with DaQuan Jones graduating. PSU clearly doesn't feel very good at this position because it continues to go after juco defensive tackles -- and it wouldn't be out of the question for a first-year player to make an impact next year either.

Taking over: No returning defensive tackles have a lot of experience (i.e. -- Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia), so the smart money would be on defensive end Anthony Zettel moving inside. Zettel said several weeks ago he feels confident he can make an impact along the interior, and PSU could certainly use him. PSU likes to use at least three players on a rotation, so expect Zettel-Johnson to start inside with another guy -- possibly a first-year player -- also seeing a good amount of time.

RT Garry Gilliam, 6-6, 303

Seasons stats: Played in nine games and started four. Helped PSU average 4.2 ypc.

Synopsis: Gilliam is easily the most surprising of the bunch. He moved from tight end to offensive tackle in the offseason, and he has done a tremendous job at transitioning. He has battled Adam Gress for the starting spot all season and, if he returned next year, he'd almost certainly be the starter opposite LT Donovan Smith -- especially considering the other competition, Gress and Eric Shrive, are set to graduate. There's not a lot of options at offensive tackle with Gilliam leaving.

Taking over: O'Brien has been high on freshman Andrew Nelson all season, and he could be the heir apparent. There really aren't too many other options. Anthony Alosi can play both guard and tackle -- but he'll be the only other returning player who's listed as a tackle on the roster. PSU needs to replace two inside linemen, too, so moving a guard to the outside will require quite a bit of forward thinking.

WR Alex Kenney, 6-0, 195.

Season stats: Played in six games with zero starts. Has three catches for 25 yards.

Synopsis: He's the least-surprising player to graduate early. He came in to Penn State as a four-star recruit, but he never really made an impact. He always seemed to be a track athlete in a football uniform. He was supplanted this season by freshman Richy Anderson, and he hasn't caught a pass since Week 3. Even with PSU's top-two receivers likely leaving after this season, Kenney still wouldn't have seen time next season.

Taking over: Anderson has already taken over for Kenney, so it's not much of a stretch to think he'll stay at his slot position. Anderson has 11 catches for 95 yards so far.

Win shows PSU gutsy, not yet great

November, 2, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach watched the referees walk back the go-ahead touchdown in overtime. He watched the points disappear off the scoreboard.

He couldn't have been blamed for harvesting a few doubts at that point. Blame the inevitable loss on dumb luck, a holding call, or take solace in an eventual field goal. But Dieffenbach said this team's been through some hard times -- through players leaving, unprecedented sanctions, a 63-14 thumping against OSU -- so playing against the odds in a simple overtime game? He didn't dwell.

For Penn State, it was just more of the same old, same old.

Dieffenbach turned to his freshman quarterback in the huddle, on third-and-11 from the 15, and told him he was moments from throwing the game-winning TD. Other offensive linemen patted his helmet and told him similarly. Dieffenbach just remembered Christian Hackenberg smiling back -- seconds before finding tight end Kyle Carter on a 15-yard touchdown strike, minutes before an interception would seal another Penn State comeback win.

[+] EnlargeKyle Carter
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsPSU tight end Kyle Carter hauls in a 15-yard touchdown catch in overtime.
"Hell of a ride, know what I mean?" Dieffenbach said, shaking his head. "There are some crazy games we've had in the past. I have all the trust in Christian; I tell him that all the time. I wouldn't expect anything less. I expect us to win those games."

This win didn't say Penn State's a great team. It didn't even say that PSU's a good team. Bill O'Brien took the dais after the game, shook off any notion of this being a fortunate win -- "You're fortunate to win the lottery," he countered -- and said he still thinks Penn State has a chance to be a good football team.

Carter, who admittedly made the play of his career, agreed. Penn State is not a great team. Not yet. But it's getting there.

"We're not there yet. We haven't proved yet that we're a great team," he added. "Great teams beat other great teams. And we just got to definitely keep doing what we're doing."

But that's not say this win meant nothing, that it should be filed away and not celebrated. The Nittany Lions did prove one fact beyond a reasonable doubt on Saturday afternoon, in front of fans bundled up in winter jackets and praying the rain would hold off: You can never count Penn State out.

Trailing by a field goal, with about five minutes left, O'Brien's squad drove 69 yards before a fumble on the 2-yard line halted the drive. For most teams, that would've spelled game over. For Penn State, it just meant a win would take a little longer. Hackenberg spent time on the sideline calmly talking with Richy Anderson and Bill Belton; he told the media, at that point, he knew the game wasn't over.

"We got scrappers," he said.

PSU's struggling defense held Illinois to a three-and-out. And, then, PSU got the ball back at midfield with no timeouts and 1:44 left. Just like two games ago against Michigan, PSU knotted the game up at the end of regulation. And just like two games ago, the Lions sprinted on the field in ecstasy at the end of overtime -- but not in disbelief.

Dieffenbach said he expected this. He put his arm around the smiling freshman quarterback and told him he loved him. Right tackle Garry Gilliam patted Hackenberg on the shoulder and bobbed his head before sprinting toward the railing to high-five the student fans. Adam Breneman and Brian Gaia embraced.

Illinois had a bowl bid on the line. Penn State, on paper, had nothing really. Except pride. But like the scrappy, hard-headed boxer who gets beaten down time and time again, Penn State bounced right back up.

The defense took a beating at times. The offense struggled in the red zone. But, just when the bout seemed lost, when these Lions were down for the count, they delivered a knockout blow and grabbed the unlikely win.

This isn't a great team, but it sure is a gutsy team. The win doesn't say it's good either, but it does say -- with a large, bolded exclamation mark -- that it is something else.

"It does say we're resilent," Carter said. "We're a resilient bunch of guys."
From commitments to official visits to offers tendered, the Big Ten is never at a loss for headlines.

Here’s a look at the latest from an always busy conference:

Bill O’Brien serving pancakes

Urban Meyer has been known as the master in flipping committed prospects in his time at Ohio State and rightfully so with more than a dozen pledged targets becoming Buckeyes. O’Brien is catching up after flipping Jason Cabinda (Flemington, N.J./Hunterdon Central) from Syracuse to Penn State on Wednesday.

Cabinda marks the sixth pledge to change stripes and join the Nittany Lions since O’Brien took over the reins in Happy Valley.

He’s raided Maryland three times in landing running backs Richy Anderson and Johnathan Thomas as well as offensive guard Tanner Hartman. O’Brien has also plucked quarterback Steven Bench from Rice and landed defensive tackle Parker Cothren from Purdue.

Buckeye leafs

Ohio State’s biggest target is headed to Columbus this weekend for the game against Penn State as the top-ranked linebacker in the nation regardless of position comes to town on an official visit in Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County).

McMillan isn’t the only one slated to take an official visit as East Mississippi Community College teammates Avery Gennesy at offensive tackle and A.J. Stamps at safety are coming along. ESPN 300 wide receiver Josh Malone (Gallatin, Tenn./Station Camp) will be on an official visit, too as will commit and defensive end Jalyn Holmes (Norfolk, Va./Lake Taylor).

By the way, Gennesy and Stamps went to the same community college current Ohio State junior and 2013 signee Corey Smith went to.

ESPN Junior 300 standouts Jauan Jennings (Murfreesboro, Tenn./Blackman), Lorenzo Nunez (Kennesaw, Ga./Harrison), Brandon Wimbush (Jersey City/N.J./St. Peter’s Prep), Minkah Fitzpatrick (Jersey City N.J./St. Peter’s Prep), Jacques Patrick (Orlando, Fla./Timber Creek), Anthony McKee (Columbus/Walnut Ridge), Shy Tuttle (Lexington, N.C./North Davidson), Larry Scott (Hubbard, Ohio/Hubbard) and Kelly Bryant (Piedmont, S.C./Wren) have all said they are coming.

As always, the list is fluid and could change at any time. There are a good collection of commits coming to the game as well.

Lee getting close

ESPN 300 linebacker Brandon Lee (Indianapolis/Lawrence Central) cut his list down to Cal, Louisville, Missouri and Virginia Tech on Wednesday night. He will be announcing his decision on Nov. 8, and has already taken an official visit out to Cal and will be out to see Virginia Tech this weekend.

The No. 242 ranked prospect had Northwestern and Penn State in his top list, so those two schools are now obviously out of the running.

It’s still a bit of a mystery as to where he will end up, since Lee has kept everything close to the vest. He is keeping everyone in suspense and taking it down to the wire right up to his announcement date.

London has a top five and a timeline

Running back Madre London (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas) is a highly coveted senior among Big Ten teams. With limited options remaining, plenty of teams are hoping to land the three-star back.

On Wednesday, London tweeted that his top five is Nebraska, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois and Pitt and that he will be making his final decision in two weeks.

The Spartans might have the edge here, but it could go either way since he has taken a few visits recently to various programs.

At 6-foot-2, 202 pounds, he would be a great fit for most programs, so landing this Florida athlete will be a big deal for whichever program gets his commitment.

Michigan coaches on the road

True freshmen impact in the Big Ten

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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True freshmen are having a bigger and bigger impact throughout college football these days, as coaches are either becoming less afraid to throw their youngsters into the fire or are facing fewer options.

[+] EnlargeDontre Wilson
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesThe versatile Dontre Wilson could be one of many to get touches in the diamond formation.
With that in mind, today we are ranking the top five teams in the Big Ten in order of the impact true freshmen are making for that team. We're going with quality over quantity here, mind you.

1. Penn State: The Nittany Lions are starting just one true frosh, but he's a guy with a little bit of importance to the team's fortunes: quarterback Christian Hackenberg. The 18-year-old has had some ups and downs but is on pace for a 3,000-yard season. Tight end Adam Breneman and receiver Richy Anderson have also played in every game, with one start each. Von Walker, Brandon Bell and Jordan Smith are among others who have seen time for coach Bill O'Brien, who doesn't have the luxury to redshirt many guys with the Lions' depth issues.

2. Nebraska: The Huskers' defense is young, all right. So young that two true freshmen are starting at linebacker for Bo Pelini in Josh Banderas and Nathan Gerry. They rank fourth and fifth on the team in tackles, and Banderas is handling a leadership position as the middle linebacker.

3. Ohio State: Urban Meyer says Ohio State doesn't redshirt. If you're ready, you play. Technically, the Buckeyes don't start any true freshmen, but Dontre Wilson has already made a big impact as a runner, receiver and kick returner. Several other first-year players dot the two-deep, such as safety Vonn Bell and defensive lineman Joey Bosa, and running back Ezekiel Elliott ran for more than 100 yards and scored two touchdowns last week versus Florida A&M.

4. Indiana: No surprise to see the Hoosiers on this list, since coach Kevin Wilson has played as many true freshmen as any coach in the country the past few years. That means Indiana finally has some veterans, but Wilson is starting T.J. Simmons at linebacker and getting contributions from Darius Latham on the defensive line, Antonio Allen in the secondary and Marcus Oliver and Clyde Newton at linebacker.

5. Wisconsin: The Badgers are mostly an experienced, veteran team. The one exception is in the secondary. Sojourn Shelton is starting at cornerback for the Badgers, while Jakarrie Washington and Nate Hammon are top reserves in the defensive backfield.

What we learned: Week 3

September, 15, 2013
9/15/13
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Every Sunday around this time, we’ll recap five lessons from the week that was Penn State football.

And away we go:

[+] EnlargeJordan Lucas
Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times/Getty ImagesJordan Lucas and the Penn State secondary had a difficult night against UCF.
1. The first-year starting cornerbacks still have a lot of learning to do. Trevor Williams and Jordan Lucas did not have good games. That much is obvious. Defensive coordinator John Butler was forced to bench Williams and slide Adrian Amos over to cornerback at one point. And Lucas committed a huge pass-interference penalty on a third-and-9 play that prevented a PSU comeback. UCF's Blake Bortles completed nearly 75 percent of his passes, and PSU's corners led the team in tackles. Those aren't numbers you want to see. Those two will see other tough passing attacks, and there's no telling if Amos will be able to stay at safety as a result. This now seems to be the biggest issue on the team.

2. Zach Zwinak's fumble concerns are still not behind him. He's big, he's strong, and he wears defenses down. But -- and this is a big 'but' -- he still has problems holding onto the pigskin. That was the main knock on the 240-pound back last season, and it would appear he's still not over those issues. Zwinak committed a costly fumble in the fourth quarter that also killed PSU's comeback hopes. He fumbled five times last season and still hasn't lived down that reputation.

3. The sanctions are catching up with Penn State. Butler conceded as much, and he's right. The defensive coordinator explained that PSU has been forced to limit tackling in practice out of the fear of injuries. And, if you limit tackling, missed tackles are going to happen. It's a product of that depth. Fewer scholarships mean fewer options on defense. The bad news for Penn State? Injuries tend to progress along with the season -- so it's only going to get worse.

4. Mike Hull is not at 100 percent. He just didn't seem like the same linebacker against Central Florida, and his participation was limited. Bill O'Brien was asked about where Hull was, injury-wise, after the game and the head coach responded, "He's a tough kid, and I think he is giving us everything he's got." He didn't elaborate but said he'd watch the tape and offer more information Tuesday. Safety-turned-linebacker Stephen Obeng-Agyapong replaced Hull when he couldn't go, and linebacker is obviously a huge concern for PSU moving forward. Hull is important to this defense, and it greatly impacts this defense when he's not 100 percent. And he clearly was not 100 percent.

5. True freshmen are really stepping up. It's not just the obvious here in Christian Hackenberg, who has exceeded very lofty expectations already. It's a lot of other true freshmen. Tight end Adam Breneman finished second in catches Saturday with four (for 22 yards), and Richy Anderson finished third in catches with two (for 21 yards). Anderson seems to have supplanted redshirt junior Alex Kenney as the slot receiver. And run-on Von Walker has also seen a lot of time as a returner and on other special teams. This is a special class and should offer fans hope for the future.

PSU position preview: Wide receivers

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
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Allen RobinsonRich Barnes/US PresswireJunior Allen Robinson returns after setting PSU's single-season record for receptions in 2012.
As part of an ongoing series, NittanyNation will preview a different position leading up to the season opener against Syracuse on Aug. 31. Up today: Wide receivers.

Projected starters: Allen Robinson (2012 stats: 1,013 yards, 77 catches, 11 touchdowns) and Brandon Moseby-Felder (437 yards, 31 catches, one touchdown)

Key losses: None

Next in line: Redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis was close to playing last year but, as a former high school quarterback, he needed an extra year to learn the receiver position. He's a fast, exciting playmaker who should add another wrinkle to this offense.

Matt Zanellato also will see an increased workload this season and said he's been practicing at all the receiver positions. He's versatile, so Zanellato should help catch some defenses off-guard. In the slot, Alex Kenney is the top guy -- with true freshman Richy Anderson backing him up.

What to expect: This group is clearly better than last year, and with Lewis' addition to the lineup, the quarterback here shouldn't have to just turn to A-Rob and the tight ends for targets. Moseby-Felder and Lewis have good speed, and this position is definitely in good shape. It's deeper, more experienced and more talented than in 2012.

Robinson was the best wideout in the Big Ten last season -- and he only has gotten better. That should be a scary thought for opposing defenses. Outside of Robinson last year, the Nittany Lions really didn't have a No. 2 wideout the first few games of the season -- Moseby-Felder had a lingering injury -- but that's not a problem this year.

A lot of the receivers have the ability to play at different spots, and that should keep defenses guessing. The statistics might not match last year's, but this is one of the most-improved units on the team.

Recruiting trail: The Nittany Lions didn't need to grab three receiver commits in the 2014 class, but it's hard to say no to some of the top guys on your recruiting board. PSU received verbals from ESPN 300 wideouts in De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) and Chris Godwin (Middletown, Del./Middletown), in addition to three-star WR Troy Apke (Pittsburgh, Pa./Mount Lebanon).

The Lions have arguably the best group of receiver commits in the country, and it's very safe to say PSU is done at this position for this class. Looking ahead to 2015, it seems as if PSU would take either one wideout or none. It already has offered Van Jefferson (Brentwood, Tenn./Ravenwood).

Best-case scenario: Robinson earns All-America honors, grabs a bunch of jump balls and breaks his own single-season record. Debates begin as to whether he is PSU's best receiver ever. Meanwhile, Lewis has a breakout season, while Moseby-Felder builds off last year and Zanellato plays well when called upon.

Worst-case scenario: Robinson is better than last year, but it doesn't show. With a struggling quarterback, teams shadow Robinson and he is unable to make the same impact he did in 2012. Lewis gets confused on some routes, and Moseby-Felder doesn't improve enough to take some of the pressure off of Robinson. This group is good, better than last year, but it's difficult to see.

Top position question: Will Robinson declare early for the NFL draft? Obviously, this question is a bit premature -- but it's one every Penn State fan wants to ask. He has the ability to play in the NFL, and it really wouldn't be that surprising for him to at least inquire about his draft grade.

We recently asked Robinson's father, also named Allen, about declaring early for the NFL. Here's what he had to say:

"What I would really like him to do is play his senior season," Robinson's father said. "Allen is young. I think he can get much better. I think he can put on some more weight, and I think he can get faster before he goes to the next level. But that's just my own thoughts.

"We'll see how things turn out."

5 lessons learned: PSU's media day

August, 9, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State's media day might be over, but there's still plenty to reflect on.

Here's a look at five lessons learned from a day spent talking to coaches and players:

1. Tyler Ferguson currently boasts the early edge at quarterback. That wasn't a huge surprise, considering Christian Hackenberg enrolled over the summer while Ferguson started school in January. But Hackenberg has picked up things quickly, and there's no telling where the race might be in another week or two.

But, as luck would have it, that's exactly when Bill O'Brien hopes -- hopes -- to name the starter. The head coach isn't a fan of waiting until the night before the season opener because he wants the starter to get more reps with the first team. At this juncture, most of the media believes Hackenberg will start ... but O'Brien said that Ferguson holds the slight lead right now.

2. Linebacker is the biggest concern when it comes to depth. Penn State might be known as Linebacker U, but it's not very big on quantity this season. When asked about depth on defense -- since the DTs don't have the greatest numbers either -- O'Brien didn't hesitate in expressing his concern over the linebacker unit.

Nyeem Wartman will start as a redshirt freshman and the top backup, Ben Kline, is still coming off a shoulder injury and didn't participate in Thursday's practice. One more injury at this spot could spell doom for this defense. Safeties such as Adrian Amos and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong could come in relief of Wartman on passing downs, but there's only so many tweaks this staff can make to shore up the depth here.

3. Special teams are a point of focus. The Nittany Lions finished among the bottom of the country in just about every special teams category last season -- No. 103 in net punting, No. 90 in punt returns, No. 112 in kick returns, etc. O'Brien said the team is working hard on improving those numbers.

Sam Ficken remains the starting kicker, but he should be pushed by preferred walk-on Chris Gulla. That true freshman has also practiced punting a lot, so he should also compete with Alex Butterworth. And, as far as kick returners, those duties remain between eight candidates -- including Richy Anderson, Alex Kenney, Bill Belton, Trevor Williams, Akeel Lynch and Eugene Lewis.

4. Newest injuries don't affect depth that much. True freshman wideout DaeSean Hamilton, a four-star wideout from Virginia, is out for the season with a wrist injury suffered from high school. But Hamilton was a redshirt candidate before the announcement, and the corps there is pretty deep. PSU shouldn't miss a beat at wideout.

Redshirt freshman Brent Wilkerson also suffered a back injury and is "out for a while," although O'Brien declined to elaborate. Regardless, tight end is the deepest position on the roster -- and there are at least four other tight ends who could see time here. Kyle Carter and Jesse James remain the starters, but Matt Lehman is a solid backup and Adam Breneman could see time as a true freshman.

5. WR Allen Robinson is just getting started. Robinson broke the longstanding school-record for receptions last season, but assistant coach Stan Hixon said Robinson has just scratched the surface of his potential. The All-Big Ten wideout improved his strength, speed and hounded teammates over the summer for some extra 7-on-7 drills.

Robinson acknowledged he might not top last year's numbers -- 77 catches, 1,013 yards, 11 TDs -- but that doesn't mean he's not a better wideout. He has been timed at 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and he has worked hard on winning more one-on-one battles this offseason. He's a good basketball player with a strong vertical leap, and he could be the big-play threat this offense desperately needs. He's the best player on this offense -- and he has gotten better. Much better.
Penn State released an updated depth chart today and, although quarterback remains a question mark, some positions certainly became clearer.

Here's a closer look at some of the notable changes:

1. Lots of movement in the secondary.

Adrian Amos
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesA starting cornerback last season, Adrian Amos currently tops the depth chart at safety.
Adrian Amos is the top DB for the Nittany Lions, and he shined at cornerback last season. The versatile player practiced a lot at safety this offseason, though, and the depth chart now lists him as a starting safety alongside ... well, apparently, the other starter still isn't a lock.

Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, who started last season, is listed as Amos' backup. The other starter isn't yet decided, as Bill O'Brien put the "OR" next to Malcolm Willis' name, meaning a competition is still under way between him and walk-on-turned-scholarship athlete Ryan Keiser.

At cornerback, which saw Amos and the graduated Stephon Morris as the 2012 starters, there are two new names to watch. Sophomore Jordan Lucas grabbed one starting spot, while wideout-turned-corner Trevor Williams is listed at the other. Da'Quan Davis is Lucas' backup.

2. TE-turned-OT Garry Gilliam is now up to 305 pounds.

That's a huge turnaround in less than a year. He played the role of blocking TE last year and started the season at 262 pounds. So, in about 10 months, he's gained 43 pounds. That says quite a bit about PSU's strength and conditioning program. He's currently listed as Dononvan Smith's backup at left tackle.

3. Kyle Baublitz will start alongside DaQuan Jones at DT.

Redshirt freshman Austin Johnson received a lot of praise over the spring, and he seemed poised to grab the starting spot. But the more-experienced Baublitz is instead part of the first-string lineup.

Baublitz played in six games last year, and the most recent roster puts him at 286 pounds -- 32 pounds lighter than Jones and 11 pounds lighter than Johnson. He had two tackles and one sack last year.

4. The long-snapper is ... MLB Glenn Carson?

At least for now, it is. Sean Corcoran is an incoming run-on who's expected to compete for the starting snapping jobs, so Carson's name there could be short-lived.

5. Bill Belton remains the No. 2 RB, while Brandon Moseby-Felder will still start opposite WR Allen Robinson.

Neither was a big surprise, but there were questions surrounding both players. Akeel Lynch is the no. 3 RB, while Eugene Lewis-Matt Zanellato are the receiving backups. (Lewis should still see a considerable amount of time on the field, obviously.)

Moseby-Felder nursed a leg injury last season, which slowed him down in the early going, and he could be a nice surprise this season. Early enrollee Richy Anderson might have garnered his share of pats on the back, too, but he's listed as a fourth-stringer. A redshirt could be in his future.

6. Charles Idemudia is the non-scholarship LB to watch.

Yes, the starting lineup is still Mike Hull-Carson-Nyeem Wartman ... but that was never really in doubt. With just five scholarship linebackers on the roster -- six once Brandon Bell gets on campus -- a walk-on was poised to see some time.

PSU's players threw around a couple names, such as Adam Cole and Matthew Baney, but Idemudia is the only non-scholarship LB listed on the depth chart.

7. Kick/punt returners listed.

PSU tried a few different players on special teams last season. But as of now Belton and Alex Kenney are listed as the top-two kick returners, with Jesse Della Valle as the top punt returner. Those three had the most kick/punt returns last season, so it's not a huge shock to see those names again. One interesting change, though? Anderson is the No. 2 PR.

Notebook: QB race remains murky

April, 20, 2013
4/20/13
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Steven Bench and Tyler FergusonAP Photo, USA Today SportsThe quarterback battle at Penn State between Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson will continue, and they'll be joined by top recruit Christian Hackenberg this summer.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien crossed his arms and furiously chewed a piece of gum when the inevitable question was asked Saturday: Was the Penn State coach any closer to naming a starting quarterback?

He had to know the question was coming. That was the storyline of the Blue-White Game, the main topic fans discussed in the stands, and a topic that reporters have peppered him about every time O'Brien has made himself available.

"No, I'm not any closer," he said. "But I enjoy coaching both guys and, eventually, we'll have to make a decision. But I'm not ready to make that right now."

Inconsistency appeared to be theme of the day for junior college newcomer Tyler Ferguson and returning sophomore Steven Bench. O'Brien didn't use that term, but he might as well have. He said the pair obviously would've liked to have some plays back but also made some nice throws.

(Read full post)

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