The Penn State Nittany Lions have been scratching and clawing their way back to the glory days of old. Surprisingly enough, the Lions have managed to emerge out of their darkest hour fairly quickly given the sanctions that were placed on them three years ago.
Last season, Penn State had a confusing turn of events, starting off 4-0, and taking the eventual national champions, the Ohio State Buckeyes, to the wire in an overtime thriller.
However, the campaign spiraled downward fast when the Nittany Lions were destroyed by Northwestern, which was followed by tough losses to below par teams such as Michigan and Illinois.
Penn State went 7-6 overall in 2014 and 2-6 in Big Ten play. This upcoming season, Penn State could push their record to a .500 mark in conference play, but that depends on how well junior quarterback, Christian Hackenberg plays.
Two years ago, as a true freshman, the five-star recruit from Virginia stole the show, and looked like he was the answer to the Nittany Lions’ prayers.
He threw for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2013.
Yet in 2014, his numbers were completely different.
He seemed out of his element, failing to find the end zone in six games, and notched a below average mark of 12 total touchdowns through the air.
Not only did he fail at finding the end zone, he failed at finding his teammates. Hackenberg threw multiple interceptions in five games, which is a recipe for disaster at any level.
Was he to blame for all the woes in Happy Valley? No.
Being under pressure every game took a toll on the quarterback. Sacked 44 times last season, only three teams, Wyoming, SMU, and Wake Forest, allowed more sacks than Penn State.
At the end of the day, this season rides on Hackenberg’s shoulders. The question now is, will he be the one to take Penn State to the promise land?
Defensively the Nittany Lions are stacked.
Last season, Penn State was seventh in the country for points against, allowing an average of 18.6 points per game.
A huge reason for their success was the play of senior linebacker, Mike Hull, who is currently now with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent.
His spectacular play on the gridiron last campaign was enough to earn him the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year Award. Totaling 140 tackles last season, Hull’s play will surely be missed.
Despite the loss of Hull, at Linebacker U, Penn State doesn’t recruit linebackers, they reload.
Incoming freshmen Manny Bowen (Barnegat, New Jersey) and Jake Cooper (Warminster, Pennsylvania) are two four-star recruits that could make an impact right away.
Last year, the Spartans cruised to a 34-10 victory in Happy Valley, and if the Spartans can remain focused after their big showdown against Ohio State, the Spartans should roll over the Nittany Lions without a problem to close out the 2015 campaign.