Penn State Nittany Lions: Matt Stankiewitch

As part of an ongoing series, NittanyNation will preview a different position leading up to the season opener against Syracuse on Saturday. Up today: Offensive linemen.

Projected starters: Adam Gress (6-foot-6, 320 pounds), John Urschel (6-3, 301), Ty Howle (6-0, 293), Miles Dieffenbach (6-3, 295) and Donovan Smith (6-5, 322)

Key losses: RT Mike Farrell and C Matt Stankiewitch

Next in line: The Nittany Lions will use a rotation again this season, with Angelo Mangiro as the next man up when it comes to the interior. At tackle, Eric Shrive and Garry Gilliam will compete for time. (Shrive is also versatile enough to play inside.)

Those three should see the most time besides the starters. Others who could contribute include Anthony Alosi, Wendy Laurent and true freshman Andrew Nelson.

What to expect: With another season under OL coach Mac McWhorter and strength coach Craig Fitzgerald, this line should take another step forward. Sure, the loss of Stankiewitch and Farrell hurt -- but Howle isn't that much of a downgrade and Smith is healthy for a change.

If the right tackle (Gress or Gilliam) can get off to a good start, this line will be better than last season. Smith could be the next great lineman at Penn State, and the interior is very strong. As a result, Zach Zwinak should see plenty of holes inside and the running game should improve.

This group isn't entirely bigger weight-wise -- Gress, Howle and Dieffenbach lost weight from last season -- but don't let that fool you. This group is stronger, literally, from last season and should push around opposing defensive linemen a bit more.

Recruiting trail: In-state product Noah Beh (Scranton, Pa./Scranton Prep) is the lone offensive lineman of the 2014 class right now, and he won't make an instant impact at Penn State. He's no more than 260 pounds, so he'll need some time to fill out.

On the plus side, he can also play on the defensive line. And he has a lot of upside. Next season, however, could be the "Year of the Offensive Lineman" for Penn State.

PSU could take about three prospects there, and it's already extended offers to more than a half-dozen players -- including the likes of ESPN Junior 300 prospects Sterling Jenkins (Pittsburgh, Pa./Baldwin), Tristen Hoge (Pocatello, Idaho/Highland), Ryan Bates (Warminster, Pa./Archbishop Wood) and Richie Petitbon (Washington, D.C./Gonzaga).

Best-case scenario: At least three linemen earn All-Big Ten honors, as Smith breaks out and earns a reputation as Levi Brown's heir apparent. The line takes great strides, further increasing the legend of the crazy-in-a-good-way strength coach. (He wears shorts in 20-degree temperatures, does the worm before some games and once licked the gym floor to fire up his players.) Fans can breathe easy in future years knowing the linemen are in the hands of Fitzgerald and McWhorter.

Worst-case scenario: The right tackle is a big letdown and creates havoc along the line, while Smith shows himself to be injury prone. The interior is still good, but the tackles struggle without Smith and don't give the quarterback much time to throw.

Top position question: How does Donovan Smith compare to Levi Brown? Well, the last staff sure thought they were similar -- because that was one of the Nittany Lions' big recruiting pitches.

Former PSU coach Bill Kenney playfully pulled aside Smith's seat during a recruiting trip in 2010, telling him it was Brown's seat. The two were both initially recruited to play the defensive line, and Kenney showed Smith some clips of the 2007 first-round NFL draft pick.

Brown, 29, is currently listed at 6-6 and 324 pounds. Smith is 6-5, 322. And Urschel previously hinted that Smith held more potential than second-round pick Stefen Wisniewski. So Smith certainly has the potential to follow in Brown's footsteps.

Penn State season preview

August, 9, 2013
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Can the Nittany Lions build off last season and play the role of BCS spoiler? Let's take a closer look at this 2013 Penn State team:

PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS

Coach: Bill O'Brien (8-4 overall, 8-4 at Penn State)

2012 record: 8-4 (6-2 Big Ten)

Key losses: QB Matt McGloin, C Matt Stankiewitch, DT Jordan Hill, LB Michael Mauti, LB Gerald Hodges, CB Stephon Morris

[+] EnlargeAdrian Amos
Keith Srakocic/AP PhotoKeep an eye out for rising star Adrian Amos, who will play more at safety this season for PSU.
Key returnees: RB Zach Zwinak, WR Allen Robinson, G John Urschel, DE Deion Barnes, DT DaQuan Jones, LB Mike Hull, DB Adrian Amos

Newcomer to watch: QB Christian Hackenberg. He was the top-rated quarterback in the 2013 class, and ESPN ranked him as the 15th-best high school prospect in the nation.

Biggest games in 2013: vs. Michigan (Oct. 12), at Ohio State (Oct. 26), vs. Nebraska (Nov. 23), at Wisconsin (Nov. 30)

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: O'Brien turned this passing offense around last season with an up-tempo style and an efficient McGloin, who tossed 24 touchdowns to five interceptions. But he'll have to start a first-year QB this season, as none of PSU's five signal-callers -- three walk-ons, two on scholarship -- were on the roster last season.

The race is between Hackenberg and Tyler Ferguson, a junior college player who missed about a month of voluntary workouts. O'Brien plans to name a starter about midway through camp. Whoever it is, he will have to learn quickly for the Nittany Lions to repeat the success of last season.

Forecast: Penn State overcame some huge question marks last year and went on to have a surprisingly successful season, but it's not going to get any easier in 2013.

The defensive front seven is short on depth and bigger on inexperience. Nyeem Wartman, a redshirt freshman, will take over for a Butkus semifinalist at linebacker. The starting DT opposite Jones -- projected to be Kyle Baublitz -- compiled just three stops last season and weighs in at just 281 pounds. A single injury at either spot would be devastating for the Nittany Lions.

On the bright side, there are clearly some strong leaders who could make up for some early missteps. Barnes was last year's Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and he's already one of the league's most feared pass-rushers. Hull is poised for a breakout season, and teammates recently called his offseason improvement the most impressive.

But out of all the defensive stars, Amos might surprise fans the most. He moved from cornerback to his natural position at safety in the offseason, and last year's 50th-ranked pass defense should be better this time around.

On offense, just about every unit has improved, with one big exception at quarterback. It'll be difficult for any newcomer to match McGloin's performance, but there's a strong supporting cast. Robinson is the top wideout in the Big Ten, Zwinak reached the 1,000-yard plateau last season, and the tight ends will play as large a role in this offense as any other team in the country.

In short, like last year, PSU is a bit of a wild card. If it receives strong efforts from its quarterback and the front seven, it should surpass last year's record. If it doesn't, it might be fortunate to get to seven wins.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Three seniors will accompany Bill O'Brien to the Big Ten media days on Wednesday and Thursday in Chicago: offensive guard John Urschel, linebacker Glenn Carson and safety Malcolm Willis.

There's plenty of news surrounding these Nittany Lions, so here are five storylines to keep in mind during the two-day event:

1. Asking the NCAA to reduce the sanctions: O'Brien opened this door a little bit Friday, saying he hoped the NCAA would meet him "halfway." And questions will undoubtedly be thrown his way about those statements. Will PSU make a presentation to the NCAA? Will it just hope, wait and keep its fingers crossed?

Reducing the sanctions would have a monumental effect on the program and the university, so it would be no surprise if that turned into one of the main focuses at the B1G media days. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith recently said in an interview that he believed the penalties were "overly harsh."

2. Quarterback "controversy": It's not just Tyler Ferguson vs. Christian Hackenberg that creates an interesting dynamic here. Ferguson hadn't returned to campus as of last Friday and is currently missing summer workouts. Granted, they're voluntary -- but players in the midst of position battles usually don't miss them. O'Brien tried to downplay Ferguson's absence on Friday, saying the media "made a mountain out of a mole hill."

[+] EnlargeJohn Urschel
Randy Litzinger/ Icon SMISenior lineman John Urschel will be the keynote speaker at the final luncheon during the Big Ten media days.
Some things are more important than football -- and Ferguson's mother is sick -- but the questions will continue: Does Hackenberg lead now? When does O'Brien plan to announce the starter? And has Ferguson decided when he'll return to campus? The overall picture will remain blurry for a while, but hopefully part of it comes into focus this week.

3. DE Brad Bars' season-ending injury and depth concerns: Until the end of the sanctions, this will be a continuing theme -- and it seems especially newsworthy now because of Bars missing the season. There isn't much depth at defensive tackle and linebacker, and O'Brien should elaborate more on how he's trying to create, or make up for, depth at those positions.

4. Urschel to be a featured speaker at Thursday luncheon: He might just be the smartest football player in the Big Ten, and it will be interesting to hear what he has to say. All eyes will be on the All-Big Ten lineman, and he'll be representing B1G players as the keynote speaker.

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson was the speaker last season, and he recounted his difficult upbringing and how his 5-year-old brother died when Denard was just 10 years old. That's a tough act to follow.

5. What kind of leadership will PSU have this season? With the departures of fiery quarterback Matt McGloin and the soul of the team in Michael Mauti, leadership on this team has obviously taken a hit. Maybe, then, it's no surprise that O'Brien is bringing along what could be considered the team's top three leaders. Teammates have referred to Willis as the "quarterback of the defense," Carson is the most experienced player on defense and Urschel has stepped up and become a vocal leader on offense.

Still, with a first-year quarterback at the helm -- and the departures of Jordan Hill, Michael Zordich, Matt Stankiewitch, Gerald Hodges and Stephon Morris -- just how big of a concern is the leadership? Even O'Brien didn't hide just how special of a player Mauti was, and it's somewhat reminiscent of the 2006 season, when PSU had to find an identity following the graduation of Michael Robinson and company.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The all-time Penn State fantasy draft might be over, but the controversy has only just begun.

NittanyNation thought it'd take an extra day to reflect on the process, offer some analysis, give some opinions and then move on from a memorable three-hour, 24-round draft.

Steve Jones and Mike Poorman will grade each team later today, but NittanyNation wanted to give its own rundown of the draft and offer a behind-the-scenes look at a few picks.

The best PSU player? In a casual Twitter poll Monday night, linebacker Jack Ham received the most mentions for best overall Penn State player. Team Prato took him in the second round, with everyone except the softspoken McDuffie playfully calling Lou Prato a jerk. (Everyone wanted Ham.)

It was an interesting, nonscientific poll because it took about a dozen votes for a single name to be repeated. LaVar Arrington and John Cappelletti also received multiple mentions.

Prato voted for Lenny Moore by drafting him with his No. 1 overall pick.

[+] EnlargeO.J. McDuffie
USA TODAY SportsO.J. McDuffie wasn't happy when Team Moyer drafted him -- immediately before McDuffie planned to draft himself.
Most memorable part of the draft: Definitely the end of the seventh round. Only one receiver had been drafted until that point (Bobby Engram), and Team Moyer needed a wideout.

So, right before Team McDuffie had back-to-back picks, Team Moyer selected O.J. McDuffie for his own fantasy team.

Team Moyer: "Sorry to do this to you, OJ, but I got to. I'm taking O.J. McDuffie. Need Collins to throw to someone."

Team McDuffie: "Damn, Josh. I was just about take myself."

That's when four receivers -- McDuffie, Bryant Johnson, Deon Butler, Kenny Jackson -- were taken consecutively and caused headaches for the other three participants. That was a key part to the draft. And, five days later, O.J. still wasn't happy about the move.

"I still can't believe you did that," McDuffie said, laughing. "Right before me."

Biggest head-scratchers: Cornerback Brian Miller as the No. 2 overall pick? C'mon, Team McClellan. Cornerback was the slimmest position in the draft, so corners had added value -- that was McClellan's reasoning for taking him so high -- but one could've held off on Miller until at least the fourth or fifth round.

Team McClellan passed up Ki-Jana Carter and Kerry Collins for Miller. Team Morris also received some ribbing for making Sean Lee the No. 1 LB, but Stephon Morris wanted to draft someone in the first round with whom he had played. So that was understandable.

But when Morris took kicker Chris Bahr in the 10th round? Definite head-scratcher -- although he did explain that move here. McDuffie also surprised just about everyone when he drafted Larry Johnson over the likes of Curt Warner and Cappelletti.

Best undrafted players: Where to even begin? There were plenty; you could make up a great team on just left-overs from the draft.

QB Tony Sacca, FB Franco Harris, RB Blair Thomas, WR Derek Moye, OT Chris Conlin, and C Matt Stankiewitch are among the best remaining picks on offense. As far as the defense: DT Jimmy Kennedy, DE Bruce Bannon, LB Michael Mauti, CB Derek Bochna and S Harry Hamilton were also undrafted.

Best sleepers (or best-value picks): OK, we'll throw Team McClellan a bone here. Grabbing two-time All-American and College Football Hall-of-Famer Dennis Onkotz in the 16th round was probably the steal of the draft.

That greatly boosted Team McClellan's LB corps. And he grabbed another great-value pick with Lydell Mitchell in the 20th round. Team Morris definitely got great value in QB Todd Blackledge in the 19th round, and Team Moyer's best-value picks appeared to be LB Greg Buttle in the 18th round and Kenny Jackson in the eighth.

Morris means business: A lot of participants hit the books before the draft, but Morris' preparation was a little different. As a player, he had a bit of a leg up, because he didn't just stop at reading up on all the players -- he went straight to the source.

Morris called up several former players -- including Lee, Chafie Fields, NaVorro Bowman, Derrick Williams and Arrington -- to talk about whom they thought deserved to be drafted.

"Once you told me about it, I had contacts with guys who I played with and guys like Chafie Fields, who I was thinking about signing with, so I just did my research," Morris said Tuesday night. "I asked them about some guys, who I should choose and pretty much went from there."

Morris' research seemed to pay off. Prato was pleasantly surprised at Morris' Penn State knowledge, and his defense is among the best.

Can we get a mulligan? When you're picking players without a fancy draft board and you're racing against the clock, sometimes panic and confusion set in -- and it basically happened to all of us.

Prato regretted not taking Gregg Garrity; Morris likely would've taken Brandon Noble over Devon Still if he had another chance; McDuffie would've drafted himself sooner. And Team Moyer? Why, oh why, couldn't Lydell Mitchell hold out for one more round? Michael Mauti also likely would've replaced Ed O'Neil upon closer inspection.

Looking back on the draft: The most difficult part wasn't necessarily creating your own "cheat sheet" and ranking the best players at each position. It was trying to weigh whether someone like Michael Robinson had more value than someone like Engram.

There was no blueprint to this, since it had never really been done before. We all knew what players we wanted -- but we weren't so sure just who we could wait for and who we needed to grab right away.

Morris agreed that you kind of had to adopt a reactive strategy with the draft. With no mock drafts, it was definitely unique. But, looking ahead, at least future drafters will have some idea of what to expect.

It was definitely a lot of fun. The NittanyNation staff will probably continue trash-talking about this throughout the season. And McDuffie, Morris and Prato were all great sports.

"If I’d know the level of participation McDuffie and Morris would have I’d have picked them 1 and 2," McClellan said. "Great guys and tremendously patient during the whole process, too."
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- NittanyNation asked several Penn State players on Monday about their Pro Day numbers and whether they planned on watching the NFL draft.

Here's what they had to say:

Jordan Hill, defensive tackle, 6-foot-1, 303 pounds

[+] EnlargeJordan Hill
MCT/ZUMA Press/Icon SMIDefensive tackle Jordan Hill improved his numbers at Penn State's Pro Day and is hoping his draft stock climbs as a result.
Combine numbers: 40-yard dash -- 5.23 seconds, Bench press -- 28 reps, Vertical jump -- 22.5 inches, Broad jump -- 103 inches, 3-cone drill -- 7.49 seconds, 20-yard shuttle -- 4.51 seconds.

Pro Day notables: Said his knee probably was still sore at the combine, but he didn't want to shy away from the drills. Felt much better on Monday. Turned in a 4.97-second 40 and increased his broad jump by eight inches.

Watching the draft: "I usually always sit down every year and watch it. It's just something I like. Me being a football player is one thing, but me being a fan is another. And that's what I've always done. I'm a fan of the game, so I know everybody. I know all the players' names and what they did and stuff like that. Especially me being in college, I had to keep up with other big names and stuff like that -- so I'll be seeing where they're going and wanting to know where everybody's at."

(Read full post)

Stephon MorrisJustin K. Aller/Getty ImagesStephon Morris is only 5-foot-8, but his speed is his calling card for NFL scouts.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Cornerback Stephon Morris couldn't suppress a grin when he stepped outside Holuba Hall right after Penn State's pro day.

With a white business card from the New England Patriots in hand, Morris said he spoke with several teams -- including the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans -- but that wasn't the only reason for the smile. Standing at 5-foot-8, he knew his time at the 40-yard dash would be critical.

"You can't have a slow 5-8 corner," he said. "So I'm just glad I wowed them."

Morris couldn't have been happier with his speed Monday afternoon. He claimed he spoke to two scouts after his 40, one of whom hand-timed him at 4.16 while another clocked him at 4.22 on the first run. His official time was a 4.35.

"A 4.16?" one reporter asked incredulously.

"Yeah," Morris said with a laugh. "I rode into it, though."

Although that unofficial number would be pretty impressive if accurate, the bottom line is that Morris was able to turn in a good time after missing a spot in the NFL combine by a mere two votes. He said he his measurements came in at 5-foot-8, 188 pounds, and he did 18 reps on the bench press.

The media wasn't permitted to watch the workouts, which 25 NFL teams attended, but Morris said he was pleased with the scouts' response to his numbers. When asked again about his speed, Morris pointed toward the Outback Bowl in 2011 when he ran down Florida tailback Chris Rainey, who's been timed as fast as 4.28 seconds.

Regardless of his times, though, Morris is just hoping he might hear his name called in late April.

"There's shockers who get drafted every year," Morris said. "And, hopefully, I'll be one of those shockers."

Early rounds: Linebacker Gerald Hodges and defensive tackle Jordan Hill said they're both hoping to be selected in the second or third rounds.

And if they do happen to drop to the fourth?

"I'll be a little upset," Hill acknowledged. But I'll be ready to go to work. I just need the opportunity; I need to get my foot in the door."

Said Hodges: "I'll be upset, too, if I went down that far, but I'm going to put it all in God's hands. Just as long as I have my chance to play in the NFL, it's a dream come true. No matter how you get there, it's how you perform once you get there."

Hodges said he'll be working out in State College for now and already has some individual workouts scheduled with a few teams. He wouldn't name them, but he did say he had formal interviews at the combine with the Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens, among others.

Hill impresses: The defensive tackle said he probably wasn't ready to run the 40-yard dash at the combine because of his lingering knee injury. But he wanted to do everything at the combine; he figured he'd just improve upon those numbers at pro day.

He did just that. He said he turned in a 4.97-second 40 -- 0.26 seconds faster than his combine time -- and increased his broad jump to 9-foot-3.

"I was able to get a full-night sleep; a lot more stress was off," Hill said. "It was my first 40 I ran out there ... and it was one of those things that was brand new to me."

Patience, patience: Now comes the hard part for Rimington Trophy finalist Matt Stankiewitch -- the waiting game.

The center said he felt relaxed after taking part in pro day, but he knew that feeling wouldn't last.

"Of course, you're on edge because you don't know what you're future's going to be like," he said. "I have it in my head that I'm going to get drafted. If I don't, I don't. If I do, I do. In the NFL, it matters where you end -- not where you start."

Stankiewitch took part in field drills and just the broad jump because he didn't want to risk injury and said he believed his numbers would likely be similar those at the NFL combine. He increased his broad jump six inches -- to 8-foot-2 from 7-8.

Package deal?: Fullback Michael Zordich is hoping to land on an NFL team, while his father is hoping for the same -- albeit as a coach -- after the Philadelphia Eagles revamped their staff.

The younger Zordich said the two often joke they're both looking for NFL jobs at the same time. And they're both on the phone trying to find the right place.

"That'd be awesome," he said about the two landing on the same team. "I wouldn't mind playing for Pop."

He said he's not sure whether he'll be drafted, but his focus at this point his just making it to a camp.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- With spring drills just a few weeks away, NittanyNation decided to break down several of the brewing position battles.

Looking ahead: Offensive line

January, 9, 2013
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In the next week, NittanyNation will be taking a glance at different positions and their outlook for next season.

[+] EnlargeDonovan Smith
AP Photo/Kevin TanakaOffensive tackle Donovan Smith was expected to be a breakout star, but he didn't quite live up to his potential this season.
OFFENSIVE LINE

  • Who: A healthy Donovan Smith could be the star on this line for the next few years, but offensive guards John Urschel -- a first-team All-Big Ten selection -- and Miles Dieffenbach are also solid returning starters. There's a lot of depth here, with three returning backups who saw a lot of time on the field last season. Angelo Mangiro, Ty Howle and Adam Gress will likely compete for the openings left with the graduations of Matt Stankiewitch and Mike Farrell. Gress filled in when Smith was injured, but that right tackle position is probably the biggest question mark right now.

  • Strengths: There's a lot of options on the offensive line, and this remains one of the deeper positions for the Nittany Lions. Incoming freshmen Brendan Mahon and Andrew Nelson will add further quality depth, and the interior was definitely a strong point last season. Tailback Zach Zwinak often ran through holes paved by the guards, and that figures to be a big plan of the offensive attack again next season. Zwinak was almost never tackled in the backfield.

  • Weaknesses: This line has to get better when it comes to picking up the blitz. Ohio State really took advantage and often brought an extra rusher to completely disrupt Penn State's offensive rhythm. PSU was relatively average in pass protection -- finishing No. 51 in the nation in sacks allowed (1.75 per game) -- and filling the hole left by Stankiewitch will be a tall task.

  • Player to watch: Gress. There's more depth on the interior, and that makes RT Gress all the more important. He was penciled in as the spring starter last year but lost his starting job to Farrell and struggled at times. When Smith was injured, it was pretty evident the line wasn't the same -- and Gress' offseason should be closely watched to see what strides he can make.

  • Overall: Thanks to an improved strength-and-conditioning program, Penn State's offensive line appears to be on its way to becoming a stronger unit -- literally. Mangiro and Howle are more than competent enough to take over at center, but Stankiewitch was one of the best players in the nation at his position. The departures of Farrell and Stankiewitch could definitely lead to a few early growing pains on this offensive line, but Smith is primed for a breakout season. It'll be interesting to see what another year training with Craig Fitzgerald will do for this unit.

Next man up: Replacing Stankiewitch

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Heading into next season, NittanyNation takes a closer look at holes left by departing Penn State players and the candidates who might fill them.

[+] EnlargeMatt Stankiewitch
Rich Barnes/US PresswireLions center Matt Stankiewitch will be tough to replace.
CENTER

  • Who: Matt Stankiewitch was a finalist for the Rimington Award, given to the nation's top center, and he's a road-grader who anchored the offensive line. He was a two-year starter who saw action for four seasons, and he played at guard as an underclassman. He was a leader who made few mistakes.

  • By the numbers: Penn State had the No. 82 rushing offense in the country. That number might not be all that impressive, but Stankiewitch still helped Zach Zwinak reach 1,000 yards and average 4.7 yards a carry. Zwinak's strength was running up the middle -- and the middle was this line's strength, too, thanks to Stankiewitch.

  • Job description: Stankiewitch was able to neutralize some of the Big Ten's best defensive tackles, such as Purdue's dominating pair of Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston, two players who didn't grab a single tackle in the backfield. His replacement will have to be a run-blocking specialist, a strong player who can read the blitz well. Taking over for Stankiewitch won't be an easy task.

  • Top candidates: Rising redshirt senior Ty Howle and rising redshirt sophomore Angelo Mangiro. Howle overcame a torn pectoral muscle and returned by Week 4, where he rotated between guard and center and provided a much-needed rest to the starters. He saw a lot of time, but so did Mangiro, who was almost like the Mike Hull of the offensive line. Offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach is also a candidate to slide over to center, but Howle and Mangiro will then compete for his spot.

  • One to watch: Howle. When OG John Urschel was asked late in the season who impressed him the most, Howle was the first name that came to mind. Howle stands at just 6-foot, but the offensive line didn't really skip a beat when he came on the field in relief. He's a bigger lineman than Mangiro (298 pounds to 291) and has more experience at center. Mangiro might be the better guard, but Howle appears to have the edge at center.

Top 5 moments: OT victory on Senior Day

December, 14, 2012
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NittanyNation will be counting down the top five moments of Penn State's season this week. The No. 1 moment of the season: Winning in OT on Senior Day

Michael Mauti choked back tears, and Matt Stankiewitch stared up at the private boxes as Penn State unveiled "2012" in blue numbers along the facade, honoring these seniors and making sure they'll be forever remembered among teams who won national titles and conference championships.

This ceremony happened before the kickoff on Nov. 24, and these Nittany Lions were determined to win on this emotional day. After a year of uncertainty and pledges and transfers and loyalty, these players vowed to uphold the notion that Penn State was neither down nor out.

On the last time these seniors would step foot inside Beaver Stadium, they held nothing back. Jordan Hill seemed to occupy every space on the interior and finished with a dozen tackles. Matt McGloin brushed off an early deficit. Gerald Hodges wore his fallen comrade's jersey.

This back-and-forth game, an instant classic, saw Wisconsin score a game-tying touchdown with 18 seconds left in regulation. Shortly after, Penn State's hopes were pinned on Sam Ficken -- who statistically was the worst kicker in the nation after the first few weeks. He redeemed his Virginia struggles with a 37-yard FG to hand PSU the lead. A pessimist would call it incredible, an optimist, poetic.

One possession later, as Bill O'Brien whispered Hail Marys and the team locked hands on the sideline, the Badgers would hook a field goal wide left. An entire offseason of adversity and disappointment, of struggles and loss, came to head at that moment, spilling over -- for some players -- in the form of tears and others with smiles. Most screamed; some remained silent.

Senior cornerback Stephon Morris tossed up his helmet in a fit of ecstasy -- so high that he couldn't find it a half-hour later. John Urschel had a goofy grin plastered to his face. Ficken called it a fairy-tale ending.

And, for this Penn State team, it surely was. This was the exclamation mark to Penn State's season, the proof that PSU was stronger than these sanctions. This was perhaps the most memorable final regular-season game in all of Penn State's 126 seasons.

This was a statement game. This was a game that showed, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the Lions were stronger than the sanctions and that O'Brien was one of this nation's best coaches. This showed Penn State wasn't going anywhere.

And that's why it's the top moment of the season.

O'Brien, Mauti earn ESPN.com honors

December, 10, 2012
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Bill O'Brien was named ESPN.com's Coach of the Year, and Michael Mauti earned a spot on the accompanying All-America team.

O'Brien's award comes on the heels of an improbable 8-4 season in which he helped pull together a university reeling from unprecedented sanctions. The coach quickly gained the loyalty of his players, and his offensive mind helped PSU overcome the loss of 10 offensive starters and the transfers of Silas Redd and Justin Brown.

Another reason this Penn State team stuck together was Mauti, who was often called the heart and soul of the defense. Mauti said he'd run through a brick wall for O'Brien, and opposing running backs often felt they had to run through a brick wall to get past Mauti.

The fifth-year senior finished with 96 tackles, three interceptions and three forced fumbles in 11 games. Even when he became seriously injured, he still attended team meetings and his teammates honored him by placing a "42" sticker -- Mauti's number -- on the side of their helmets against Wisconsin.

Including Mauti, five players were also named to ESPN.com's All-Big Ten team.

Sophomore wideout Allen Robinson, tight end Kyle Carter and center Matt Stankiewitch represented the offense, while Mauti and defensive tackle Jordan Hill were selected on defense.

Click here to see the All-America team, and click here to see the All-Big Ten team.

Big day for PSU on the awards circuit

December, 3, 2012
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Two of Penn State's offensive seniors and head coach Bill O'Brien received national honors Monday.

[+] EnlargeMatt McGloin
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarMatt McGloin won the Burlsworth Trophy, honoring the best player who started his career as a walk-on.
O'Brien became one of nine finalists for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, and center Matt Stankiewitch was named one of six finalists for the Rimington Trophy. Quarterback Matt McGloin moved past the finalist lists and was handed the 40-pound Burlsworth Trophy during a ceremony Monday, given to the nation's best player who started his career as a walk-on.

O'Brien, unanimously named Big Ten Coach of the Year by the coaches and media, joins Ohio State coach Urban Meyer as finalists from the Big Ten. The other coaching finalists include Utah State's Gary Andersen, N.C. State's Dave Doeren (who coached NIU this season), Notre Dame's Brian Kelly, Florida's Will Muschamp, Stanford's David Shaw, Kansas State's Bill Snyder and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin.

The winner will be announced Dec. 13.

Stankiewitch is the lone center representing the Big Ten. He's joined by fellow finalists Mario Benavides (Louisville), Braxston Cave (Notre Dame), Dalton Freeman (Clemson), Khaled Holmes (USC) and Barrett Jones (Alabama).

The winner will be announced Thursday on ESPNU. The last Penn State player to win the award was A.Q. Shipley in 2008.

"It's a great honor to be a finalist for the Rimington Trophy," Stankiewitch said.

McGloin, dressed in a suit and green tie, accepted the large Burlsworth Trophy -- 15 pounds heavier than the Heisman -- by beating out San Jose State offensive tackle David Quessenberry and Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs.
Penn State senior Matt Stankiewitch has been named one of six finalists for the Rimington Trophy, which goes to the nation's top center.

The full list of finalists:
Jones, who won last year's Outland Trophy, will be tough to beat for this award. But Stankiewitch had a terrific season and will try to make it two in a row for the Big Ten, as Michigan's David Molk took home the Rimington in 2011.

The winner will be announced as part of ESPN's Home Depot College Football Awards Show on Thursday night.

Position review: Offensive line 

November, 30, 2012
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Every day during the next two weeks, NittanyNation will take a closer look at each position and how Penn State fared over the course of the season.

Up today: Offensive line

Zach Zwinak
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarThe Penn State offensive line saved its best for last, helping Zach Zwinak run wild on the Wisconsin defense.
There were some early growing pains, especially when Donovan Smith's injury forced Adam Gress and Mike Farrell to play musical chairs. But, by the end of the season, this unit evolved into a team strength -- one of Penn State's deepest positions that capitalized off the new strength program.

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Penn State 10: Week 13 rankings 

November, 26, 2012
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Zach ZwinakAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarZach Zwinak had a career-high 36 carries for 179 yards against Wisconsin.
This is Week 13 of NittanyNation's power rankings, a top-10 list of Penn State players who surpassed expectations and proved most valuable in a given week.

After an overtime win against Wisconsin, several new players were added to the rankings. Some defensive contributors moved up slightly, and a few made big leaps on the list. Whose performance left the biggest impression, and whose contributions were the most surprising? This week's top 10:

1. DT Jordan Hill

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College Football Player Rankings: 41-60
Chris Spielman and Brian Griese discuss the players ranked 41-60 in ESPN.com's top 100 college football players.
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