The Penn State Nittany Lions have concluded their recruitment of 2012 prospects, and sights are set on spring practice in Happy Valley.
Penn State's incoming freshman and returning players have a lot of work to do before the Blue-White game on April 21st.
The Nittany Lions have murky expectations for next season.
Some fans would point to Penn State's defense and skill players on offense as a reason for optimism. Others would say that is all true, but the Nittany Lions lack a quarterback and will not do any damage because of it.
The 2012 schedule may lend itself to optimism as well. Outside of Virginia, the non-conference schedule is suspect, and both Michigan teams are absent from the Nittany Lions' Big Ten slate.
It is never too early to start predicting even though many things could chance before Week 1.
Here's a game-by-game prediction of Penn State's 2012 season:
Penn State opens the 2012 season in front of their home crowd against the Ohio Bobcats.
The Bobcats won the East Division of the MAC last season, but they should not present a challenge to the Nittany Lions in Week 1.
Bobcat quarterback Tyler Tettleton returns. He accounted for nearly 4,000 total yards and 38 touchdowns last season. However, he is without his top two targets, LaVon Brazill and Riley Dunlop.
The Bobcats were the 32nd ranked scoring defense last season and return all but two starters to the fold. But, Ohio is not used to facing BCS-conference competition.
Ohio is a solid squad and will fare well in the MAC again this season. Expect Penn State to enter Beaver Stadium with a chip on their shoulder and looking to prove something in Bill O'Brien's first game as head coach.
Prediction: Penn State 41 Ohio 14
Virginia head coach Mike London was reportedly contacted by Penn State concerning their vacant head coaching position during the melee surrounding Jerry Sandusky.
He rebuffed Penn State in the report and denied any contact after the fact. Now, London will welcome the Nittany Lions to Scott Stadium.
The Cavaliers lost to Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl last season. Their 8-5 mark was a step up from their recent bottom-dwelling in the ACC.
Perry Jones and Kevin Parks return to the Cavalier backfield. They accounted for a combined 1,500-plus yards and 14 touchdowns last season.
Virginia loses seven defensive contributors from last season, including star cornerback Chase Minnifield.
The Cavaliers are heading in the right direction, but this should be another relatively easy tuneup game for the Nittany Lions.
Prediction: Penn State 35 Virginia 14
The Navy Midshipmen struggled last season and finished the season 5-7.
Navy will struggle again this coming season, and the Nittany Lions will help the ball roll in that direction.
The triple option can be tough to defend, especially because of the rarity of its use. The Midshipmen run it well and were the fourth-ranked rush offense in the nation last season because of it.
However, Navy must replace veteran quarterback Kriss Proctor and fullback Alexander Teich. Both were major contributors and will be sorely missed.
Defensively, Navy was nothing to write home about last season. That will not change this season, and Penn State should exploit this unit in a big way.
Prediction: Penn State 49 Navy 10
Temple running back Bernard Pierce is moving onto greener pastures in the NFL. His 27 touchdowns and 1,400-plus yards will be missed on an otherwise questionable Owl offense.
A new bright spot on offense could actually come from Penn State. Former backup quarterback Kevin Newsome recently transferred to Temple and figures to compete for the starting job in the spring.
With or without Newsome, the Owls will be offensively challenged in 2012. Pierce was a dynamic presence in the backfield, and the main reason Temple scared the Nittany Lions in 2011.
Temple's defense was third in the nation in terms of scoring last season, but six starters are gone from that overachieving unit.
Penn State remembers last season's squeaker. Do not expect a repeat performance.
Prediction: Penn State 31 Temple 10
The Nittany Lions will open their Big Ten conference slate against the Fighting Illini of Illinois.
Illinois retained bowl eligibility last season despite losing their final six regular-season games. The Fighting Illini defeated UCLA in the Kraft Hunger Bowl.
Illinois returns dynamic dual-threat quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, but running back Jason Ford and receiver A.J. Jenkins are gone.
The Penn State defense should exploit Illinois' lack of proven playmakers.
The Illinois defense only loses four starters, but Whitney Mercilus, Trulon Henry, Ian Thomas and Tavon Wilson were all major contributors to the Fighting Illini defense.
Mercilus led all Division I players in sacks with 16.
Penn State won a defensive battle over Illinois last season. Expect more of the same this year but not to the same degree.
Northwestern is always a tough out for Big Ten squads. Pat Fitzgerald's squad plays hard-nosed, blue collar football against more talented squads.
Dan Persa is finally done terrorizing Big Ten opponents, and Kain Colter will take the reins behind center. Colter was excellent in limited action next season and inherits enough weapons to make good things happen again.
The Wildcat defense returns a ton of talent in the front seven and has a few incoming freshman set to compete for snaps.
Penn State had arguably their best offensive performance against the Wildcats last season. Northwestern is a feisty team because of their head coach and their stubborn players.
The Nittany Lions will get a fight from this testy team.
Prediction: Penn State 30 Northwestern 20
Iowa and Penn State have played epic games in recent years, including a few bitter defeats for the Nittany Lions.
This season will be a tight game simply because of the matchup and the atmosphere in Kinnick Stadium, but the Nittany Lions are definitely the more talented team on paper.
James Vandenberg returns off a 3,000-plus yard, 25-touchdown 2011 performance. He will be without top target Marvin McNutt and troubled running back Marcus Coker.
Vandenberg will also need to be more aware in the pocket. Riley Reiff left Iowa a year early and is a lock for the first round in April's NFL draft.
Iowa's defense is always stout, and they will be again. Broderick Binns, Shaun Prater and Jordan Bernstine are all gone, but every other major contributor returns.
Penn State is more talented, but Iowa has made a habit of spoiling Penn State's fun. The Nittany Lions could be rusty coming off a bye week. Penn State could also get caught looking ahead to next week's matchup against Ohio State, and the Hawkeyes will want a big victory.
This will be yet another nailbiter in this series.
Prediction: Iowa 21 Penn State 20
Ohio State is not eligible for postseason play next season, but that does not mean the Buckeyes are not talented.
The Buckeyes had a very disappointing 2011 season capped with a Gator Bowl loss to the Florida Gators. Do not expect the Buckeyes to have another bad season in Urban Meyer's debut in Columbus.
Quarterback Braxton Miller had a solid freshman season but went through growing pains as well. He lacked a No. 1 option for much of the year which led to a 115th ranked Buckeye passing attack.
Miller will have every skill player back besides running back Dan Herron and receiver DeVier Posey. Expect to the Buckeye offense to improve every week and to be in stride by the time they travel to Beaver Stadium.
The Buckeye offense should be confident with the Buckeye defense backing them up. All 11 starters return, and a plethora of talent arrives in their 2012 recruiting class.
Defensively, the Buckeyes will be very good and very deep.
Penn State has not been overmatched in the talent department yet. This will mark the first time and will not be pretty if Penn State does not bring their best.
Prediction: Ohio State 28 Penn State 10
Purdue went 7-6 last season and defeated the Western Michigan Broncos in the Little Caesars Bowl.
Quarterback Caleb TerBush and running back Ralph Bolden are back to lead the Boilermaker offense. They provided stiff competition for Penn State last season and will not back down in front of their home crowd this season.
Defensively, Purdue returns six starters. They allowed nearly 27 points per game last season and are expected to tread water this year.
Penn State should enter Ross-Ade Stadium with a chip on their shoulder. They cannot afford three Big Ten losses in a row, and Purdue will be hungry to prove themselves against a major opponent.
The Nittany Lions will take care of business in this one on the shoulders of their offense. Purdue's defense will be capable, but Silas Redd should find the seams against the Boilermaker front seven.
Prediction: Penn State 31 Purdue 20
Nebraska should be tough in their second season as a member of the Big Ten.
Dual-threat quarterback Taylor Martinez returns with most of his weapons intact. He accounted for 22 total touchdowns last season. His top three receivers return and should get better as Martinez continues to refine his throwing motion.
Rex Burkhead, Ameer Abdullah and Aaron Green all return to the Cornhusker backfield. Burkhead is underrated and very consistent in Nebraska's read option look.
Defensively Nebraska did not lose a lot in terms of quantity but lost a ton of quality.
Jared Crick was injured throughout his senior season but was a monster in the middle of the Cornhusker defensive line during his career. Lavonte David and Alfonzo Dennard are also gone and their services will be missed.
Memorial Stadium is an extremely hostile environment to walk into. The Cornhuskers are hungry for a piece of the Big Ten crown, and Penn State will struggle to stop Nebraska's ground attack.
Prediction: Nebraska 27 Penn State 21
Indiana was dismal in 2011. The Hoosiers finished 1-11 and did not rank in the top 100 in scoring offense or defense.
The Hoosiers return quarterbacks Edward Wright-Baker and Tre Roberson, but both were shaky last season. Neither are reliable options moving forward for Kevin Wilson's Hoosiers.
Stephen Houston will be the primary option on offense. He had over 800 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground last season.
The Hoosier defense allowed over 37 points last season. They should be better next season mostly because it would be hard to get worse.
This should be an easy victory for Penn State in the midst of a rugged late-season schedule.
Prediction: Penn State 42 Indiana 13
The Wisconsin Badgers had a very good 2011 season due in large part to Russell Wilson and Montee Ball.
Wilson is gone, but Ball is not. That is bad news for Big Ten opponents, and any 2012 Heisman hopefuls.
Ball racked up nearly 2,000 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns last season. He also had 300-plus receiving yards and six scores. He is a dynamic running back and excels behind the Badgers mammoth offensive line.
Joe Brennan will take over for Wilson behind center and will have Jared Abbrederis to throw too, but not Nick Toon.
Defensively, the Badgers return a ton of talent, including Marcus Cromartie and Chris Borland.
The Badgers will not be the same team as last year. Wilson gave the Badgers a different dimension on offense, and the Badgers will not match that vertical presence this season.
However, Ball is still Ball. He will present a challenge for, even the best, rush defenses and that includes Penn State.
Penn State does not forget their embarrassing performance in Camp Randall last season. Do not expect the Nittany Lions to get abused again, but expect a victory to take every ounce of Penn State's energy.
Prediction: Penn State 28 Wisconsin 27
Just a quick recap:
Week 1: Win
Week 2: Win
Week 3: Win
Week 4: Win
Week 5: Win
Week 6: Win
Week 8: Loss
Week 9: Loss
Week 10: Win
Week 11: Loss
Week 12: Win
Week 13: Win
Final Record: 9-3
Penn State is going to have their ups and downs in Bill O'Brien's first season.
The Nittany Lions return talent on both sides of the ball, but their season is up in the air until their quarterback situation is solidified. Paul Jones could emerge as a presence, but until then, it's Matt McGloin's subpar abilities. The Nittany Lions will lean on Silas Redd, and their stellar linebackers to carry their team. If they can, nine victories is within reach. If they can't, seven or eight are more likely.