Penn State's fortunes in 2012 remain to be seen. With a new regime leading the way on the sidelines though, some of the key players will remain the same on both sides of the football. Some of those key players are returning from injuries from last year, while others will look to improve off of a solid 2011 season.
Here is a look at five of the most important players on the Penn State Nittany Lions roster in 2012.
Silas Redd was third in the Big Ten in rushing last season, and he only figures to improve on his production from a season ago, his first as the primary tailback for Penn State. Redd is among the best running backs in the Big Ten, and has potential to develop in to one of the top backs in the nation.
But if something happens to Redd then Penn State's running game could be in some slight trouble. Curtis Dukes is out for the spring to concentrate on academics, while Bill Belton is making a position change from wide receiver.
Incoming freshman Akeel Lynch has a decent ceiling, but how much faith would Bill O'Brien have in a true freshman running back in the event something happened to Redd?
Linebacker Michael Mauti's return to the defense will be significant. If at 100 percent, he will be a dependable linebacker that can shut down the outside for the defense. Throw in his veteran leadership and Penn State lineage, and Mauti is a true example of what Penn State football is all about.
Even if he is not up to 100 percent by the start of the season, he will be a nice asset to have on the field. Without Mauti Penn State will lose a solid tackler. The Nittany Lions can make do without him, but with a new defensive coordinator, it would be nice to have as many top-notch players at key positions as possible in 2012.
Jordan Hill is considered to be the next in line following the departure of Devon Still on the defensive line. Hill has emerged as one of Penn State's top interior linemen, and without him, Penn State may not have much of a defensive push in the trenches.
The inside of the defensive line is relatively raw on experience, with one other senior on scholarship (James Terry) and just one junior (DaQuan Jones). Evan Hailes and Luke Graham are red-shirt sophomores this season, and the Class fo 2012 is bringing in four true freshmen who may or may not play this season.
Penn State's secondary was hit hard by graduation this year. Drew Astorino, Chaz Powell and Nick Sukay have all moved on, leaving just Stephon Morris as the only returning star in the defensive backfield for the Nittany Lions.
While Morris figures to have a decent supporting cast, with Adrian Amos having some fans excited about the future of the position, Morris will be looked to as the leader of the defensive backs. The defensive line will have Jordan Hill and perhaps Pete Massaro and the linebackers will have Michael Mauti, Glenn Carson and Gerald Hodges. Morris is the only senior on scholarship among cornerbacks and safeties, leaving him to fill the veteran leadership role.
He has been banged up before, which should be reason for concern for a raw position in 2012.
Given Penn State's struggles in special teams when Fera is not in the lineup, this is one position that should not be overlooked. Penn State had a rough time trying to kick field goals at the start of the 2011 season, while Fera was kept off the field for disciplinary reasons, and it showed just how valuable he really is for the special teams.
Without Fera, Evan Lewis and Sam Ficken combined for two field goals out of seven attempts. Fera converted 14 of 17 attempts once he took the field.
Some say special teams is only noticeable when your team struggles with them. Without Fera, Penn State's special teams woes cannot possibly go unnoticed.
Kevin McGuire is the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast, managing editor of Nittany Lions Den and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and add him to your Google+ circle.